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How to Build a Marketing Strategy for your Small Business Based on Consumer Behavior

Marketing is understanding your buyers really, really well. Then creating valuable products, services and information especially for them to solve their problems
David Meerman Scott
Online Marketing Strategist and Author

Apple did not invent the personal computer, the tablet, the smartphone, or a portable music device. Yet, they have successfully gained a brand following like none other showcasing strong sales, profitability, and market share. Have you ever wondered what made this possible? The answer is a considerable emphasis on consumer behavior. This has been the base upon which they have built their whole communication and marketing strategy.

As a small business owner, you should be spending time and resources understanding the customers, their needs, motivations, and decision process before creating a marketing strategy. 

Marketing Team Planning Content

Consumer Behavior

What is consumer behavior, anyhow?

Consumer Behavior is the study of the decisions of individuals, groups, and organizations about selection, purchase, use and disposal of goods/services/experiences to satisfy their needs or wants.

Starting from the 1950’s, marketing began to shift focus from neoclassical economics to other disciplines including; sociology, anthropology, clinical psychology, and behavioral science. This gave way to a new emphasis on the consumer with the addition of behavioral sciences and new knowledge, including reference group, brand loyalty, and opinion leadership.

Why does consumer behavior matter to marketing?

If you know why consumers choose what they choose, you have a better chance to direct them towards what you are selling as a small business. For example, there was a sudden spike in sales of the not-so-popular Rice-A-Roni, and retailers were struggling to keep up with the demand. Research into why this was happening revealed that the product is part of a famous reality star’s diet plan and the video was viral online. It is important to note that people are likely to spend money on products their favorite influencers are using.

The reason for studying consumer behavior is more than why people purchase products and services. Its role in marketing is so vast that you can better meet the needs of your customers and prospective customers if you know the motive behind their purchase.

Several factors go into the definitions of consumer behavior including:

  • How consumers behave in groups and individually
  • How and why behavioral patterns change based on the types of products and services
  • When are consumers most likely to make a purchase
  • How consumers feel directly before making a purchase
  • What is the post-purchase behavior
  • Which questions contribute to purchase decisions
  • The number of touch points a customer has with the brand or product before making a purchase

Applying Consumer Behavior to Your Small Business Marketing Strategy

The primary goal of marketing a small business is to create and keep customers. The more you understand your customers and the rationale behind their actions, the closer you get to reaching this goal. What motivates them? What are their needs and wants? What’s the effect of their personality on what they’re buying? These are questions that can only be answered by analyzing consumer behavior.

Needs and Wants

A person becomes motivated to purchase when they feel like they’re missing something. Once they’ve identified a need, they hope to satisfy it with a want. These needs can fall anywhere in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and can be need for safety, security, affiliation, esteem, etc. The product or service you’re offering should satisfy one of these needs. For example, a product that meets the prestige need, will be a luxury product. People concerned with their status are willing to pay a high price, so the quality and reputation should be exceptional.

To understand when and where people would want to buy something, it is vital to know how this motivation develops. Consumers process information through exposure to stimulus, paying attention to it, assigning meaning, retaining it, and applying the information to a problem or need that they have. If you know what drives people to purchase products and services, you understand the need that they are consciously or unconsciously trying to satisfy. The next step should be to make this need feel obvious and urgent to consumers and market it in a way that’s attention-grabbing and memorable.

group of men planning strategy

Effect of Personality on Behavior

People’s needs are established differently based on their personalities, income and familial status. Personality is the common link between people and it is defined as characters or qualities that form a person’s distinctive character. By focusing on the personality of a specific person or a group of people, you can establish patterns in the way they think, feel, and act. The way they feel will influence what they need to buy, their thoughts affect their choice of product or service, and their actions will affect how they purchase.

Let’s assume that your target audience is; open-minded people who care about charity. These people generally feel happy, calm, peaceful, and selfless. They’re also likely to consider multiple brands when in search of a product to satisfy a particular need. The brand they end up choosing might be the one that contributes to charity over brands that don’t. Their selfless nature will have them putting the needs of their family and other people above their own. Then they will purchase in a calm thoughtful way and likely react positively to brands that reciprocate their personality. The theme of the marketing campaign can be about charitable giving and how the product/service is aligned with it.  

Understanding Purchasing Behavior

It has been established that customers make buying decisions in a systematic and predictable manner. In many situations, the purchase behavior is routinized and don’t take much effort to make a purchase. This is called habitual buying behavior; a state in which consumers disregards all kinds of marketing he/she is exposed to. This could be because of multiple reasons, including brand loyalty, time constraints, repeat purchases, or other reasons. If this sounds like your small business’s customer, you don’t have to spend time and money competing with other businesses and maintain a competitive advantage. They are very much likely to purchase from you no matter what. The priority here must be to acquire new customers and earn their loyalty.

On the other side is the exact opposite of the purchase behavior discussed above, known as extensive evaluation. Here, people consider promotions and price before making a purchase decision. This is typically for products like cars, home and anything else that involves a considerable investment. These are significant decisions that require time to avoid regret. If your product or service is valuable, your marketing should reflect how your consumers will make the purchase. They are going to research all your competitors, so it is important to stand apart from them. You can set your business apart by creating a small business marketing strategy.

Using Concepts in Strategy

Laddering

Consider doing laddering research to understand why your consumers make product choices. Using this technique, the interviewee is asked for an attribute, and more questions are asked about it until the end goal is reached. The goal will be what moves consumers to make a purchase decision at an emotional level.

Segmentation

Companies, in general, will not survive for long if their marketing strategy is dependent on mass market targeting. Segmentation allows a business to precisely reach the consumer with specific needs and wants. Collect various characteristics and grouping customers together. You can try focusing on your target market once you find relevant characteristics.

Targeting

It can be tricky to target people. Each segment should be targeted differently to maximize potential. Traditionally, targeting was based on demographics like age and gender, but consumer insights have evolved to include more insight into behavior, personality traits, and self-concepts. Some of the benefits of this include (i) understanding customers better (ii) predict their needs (iii) innovate marketing using consumer patterns and interests.

Positioning

The way your products/services are positioned is fundamental, and possibly the easiest fix to issues. What you communicate about your offerings should appeal to your target customer’s motivations; offering functional, emotional, and economic benefits.

Using Consumer Behavior Marketing to get noticed

Recently an Egg became the most liked photo on Instagram. Out of all the aesthetically appealing things in the world, what got the most attention was something that was in your fridge all along. How did this happen? No one clearly knows. A post might do well if it went out on a Monday but may not do well if it went out on a Tuesday.

Jonah Berger, in his book Contagious, has outlined why some content do exceptionally well while others don’t. If you look at them more in-depth, they are actually on consumer behavior attributes that can be applied to your small business’s marketing strategy. Let’s look at these STEPPS in detail.

Pink umbrella in sea of gray umbrellas

Offer Social Currency

People share content online that makes them look good to their broader social circle. Social Currency is all about offering such content that would allow them to project their ideal self to the rest of the world. A small business’s marketing should give them this currency to do that. The all-important question here should be “How can I include something in my marketing strategy or product that make someone who shares it look good?”

The best example of this principle in action is the “share your high score” option in online or mobile games. The users are promoting the app while they are “showing off” their high score. You can use this in your small business’s marketing strategy by means of a “VIP OFFER”; making it look like the recipients alone have special preferences.

Include Triggers

A trigger is the feature of a product or marketing content that makes it memorable. Triggers increase the chance of the product or content staying in the forefront of the customer’s mind, and they are likely to share it with others when the opportunity arises. The trigger should be tied to environmental stimuli so that when the customer experiences this stimulus, they will be reminded of your brand. One brand that has gone a long way using this principle is Coca Cola. The big red Coca Cola Christmas Truck is an image firmly imprinted in the mind’s of many American children.

When creating a marketing strategy for your small business, look for common occurrences like public holidays and day-to-day tasks that you can associate your brand and its products/services. Then find ways to tie them together in a way that brings your brand to their minds in a positive way.

Play with Emotions

People share things that they care about. A key finding of a study published by Jonah Berger after analyzing over 7000 pieces of viral content was that almost all of them evoked some strong emotion. Check out this pie chart showing the most popular emotions associated with viral content.

It is essential to trigger a strong positive emotion in people using your products or viewing your advertising content. Doing so ensures that they are most likely to form a connection with the message and then share it as a result. Pick an emotion (anger, awe, joy, excitement, etc.) that applies to your small business and engrave it into the story of your brand or product.

Make your Business Public

This means incorporating features into the product that advertise themselves. The idea is to have a clear, public facing message that people can immediately resonate with, even if they don’t know your business very well. Assume that you’re sending out an email with an offer that you’d like your audience to share with their friends. It is essential that it speaks to both your current client base and prospects. The content has to be simple and shows immediate impact because a lot of research points to banner-blindness and tendency to skim-read.

Look at your marketing content from the perspective of someone who is going to see it for the first time. How would they react to it? Will they be pulled in to the story quickly or will they have to work to figure it out? One reason why certain content goes viral is that people are pulled into the narrative quickly.

Practical Value

According to a study by the NYT Insight Group, 94% of people evaluate a content’s practical usefulness before sharing it. Basically, useful things get shared. Highlight incredible value and package knowledge in such a way that makes people want to pass it on.

Sell a Story

Did you know that content based on a good story is shared more than other types? This principle should be applied to your small business’ marketing strategy and also to all points of contact customers have with the business.

An engaging narrative isn’t just about including eBooks, case studies, or client testimonials via an email. It is possible to build a story to use every single touchpoint to communicate and build on your business’ mission and identity, whether it’s through an email, a social media post, a blog or an advertisement.


Consumer-centric marketing is a lot more than just a buzzword. The world has and continues to evolve rapidly. What your customers may find appealing today may not work on any other day in the future. The most effective marketing strategies have been the ones that were built based on consumer behavior. Small business owners can either hire an expert marketing professional in-house or get a marketing agency on board. The second option may be a little expensive, but you can always get yourself a small business loan.

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