Consumer Psychology:

Buyer Emotions

By James Atkinson, LLB

Consumer Psychology - Buyer Emotions: In relation to buyer emotions, some of the questions marketers need to ask themselvs are:

  • What are the triggers that can change the buyer's behavior?
  • How can the buyer be motivated towards certain behavior?
  • Is the buyer mad, sad, or scared?
  • How can the buyer be moved from mad, sad, or scared to GLAD?

Dr. Sharon Livingston, marketing psychologist, (see head article for reference) makes an interesting challenge:

"EVERY purchase in EVERY market is emotionally motivated. This is because all purchases are motivated by human needs and the desire to change an emotional state."

She challenges anyone to come up with ANY exception to this axiom (other than totally reflexive behavior that is not relevant here).

She states that even price-driven and technical markets – and even markets that require rational decisions – all have powerful emotional constituents that stimulate purchase.

Only Four Buying Emotions

According to Dr. Livingston there are only four core buying emotions: mad, glad, scared and sad. Of course, there are many shades and nuances of these four emotions – for example:

Mad – our well being is frustrated and we become angry, enraged, annoyed, irritated, and aggravated;

Glad – we obtain something we want and thus feel satisfied, happy, powerful, inspired, pleased, and thrilled;

Scared – there is something in a situation that makes us worried, concerned, terrified, nervous, and panicky;

Sad – something in our state of affairs makes us depressed, unhappy, lonely, miserable, despondent, and so on.

The goal of marketing is to move consumers from a negative emotion to a positive emotion (glad). Prospects feel different emotions at various stages of the buying cycle:

  • Dissatisfaction – The prospect recognizes an unmet need. This causes him to feel uncomfortable tension
  • Drive to relieve the tension – The prospect is motivated to resolve the tension by finding a solution that will meet his / her need
  • Purchase and reduction of tension – The prospect finds a product that he believes will resolve his need. By buying the product, he meets his need and the tension is eliminated.

But knowing how advertising and promotions makes someone “feel” is only modestly practical from a marketing sense.

This is how Dr. Glenn Livingston, marketing psychologist and Sharon’s husband, explains it:

"Yes we definitely want to know, does our new commercial make people feel 'Glad' or 'Sad' but that is ONLY a measure of valence, it does little or nothing to lend direction to our creative efforts.

It tells us nothing about how to set the mood and tone for our advertising, or even necessarily how to FIX any bad feelings which emerge."

It’s the emotional benefit and not the raw emotion that is significant for marketing. Emotional benefits lie at the heart of why people buy products.

People buy products in order to obtain emotional benefits. So, what’s the difference between emotions and emotional benefits?

Emotions are instinctual and temporary psychological reactions such as those described and labeled above: mad, glad, scared, or sad.

Emotional benefits relate to thought processes that are ATTACHED to a brand or to particular features or marketing applications. This is a mental connection of one’s stable self-concept or self-esteem with a particular product or benefit.

An emotional benefit is essentially a positive statement a prospect can make about him / herself because he / she buys a particular product or brand.

The product or brand supports the prospect’s enduring self-concept, or view of him/herself. Its effect is to raise self-esteem. The ultimate emotional end benefit of buying any product or brand is increased self-esteem. Emotional benefits relate to the “kind of person” who buys a product:

Thus, “I am a caring father because my kids are safer in a Mercedes car”


“I am a financially successful member of the community because I drive a Mercedes”


“I am a sexy person because I drive a fast sports car.”

Let's look at some categories of emotional benefits.

Consumer Psychology > Why Buyers Buy > The Buyer's Mind > Buyer Emotions > Emotional Benefits >