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The Goal: Your customers feeling this when using your product, by Tim Mossholder

The Psychology of Making Something People Love

Building a successful business requires an understanding of why people buy

Bram Krommenhoek
Sep 12, 2018 · 7 min read

Most people fall into the same trap: they try to make something their customers want. They think that down the line, there’s one golden answer to what it is their customers want.

The harsh truth is that your customers will keep on surprising you.

With that said, there are similarities in human behavior that can help you better understand why people buy what they buy.

With this piece, I hope to offer you some understanding of what goes on inside your customer’s mind, so you can align your product to their wishes, and create marketing plans to provide value to the biggest group of people with your product.

Reason 1: Pleasure and Pain

“The world’s biggest problems are the world’s biggest business opportunities.” — Peter Diamandis

Let’s reason back from a group of people who buy — a group of customers, for example Uber customers.

What is a customer? A customer is a persona, or a demand pattern in multiple people. In Uber’s example, it’s simply a group of people who want to go to a desired destination.

What is a demand pattern? It’s a private want that’s gone from private to public. Indeed, in Uber’s case, we can see that they didn’t just create something that a select group of people wanted.

What is a want? A want is the wish to address a lack of something desirable and/or essential. Or otherwise, a wish to move further away from pain, or closer to pleasure.

Each and every decision we make, in essence, is about improvement.

That’s the first answer to why people buy:

  1. Because we want to decrease our pain-levels.
  2. Because we want to increase our pleasure-levels.


Let’s take a look at Uber. They started because they saw the huge pain that came with using a cab:

  • The amount of time it took to be picked up,
  • Having to call a bunch of different providers,
  • Not knowing who would pick you up,
  • Not knowing up front how much a ride would cost you, leading to a lot of uncertainty to being ripped off.

So from a pain-perspective, it made a lot of sense that there was a desperate need for a solution. There was a public want to decrease the pain of using cabs.


When it comes to the pleasure part, two frameworks provide a useful starting point to understand people’s drivers.

The first is by Steven Reiss, who came up with 16 common needs.

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Steven Reiss’s 16 common needs

In Uber’s example, there are a few needs they addressed:

  • Independence: because of the app, people are given the feeling that they are free to do what they want, and can just order a cab whenever they please without having to organize up-front.
  • Status: I mean, who still wants to drive in an old-school taxi that’s not ordered via cab-hailing, right..? Ok I’m kidding, but they’re addressing this pleasure with for example their VIP program. You could even say that Uber’s cars are classy and those give people the pleasure of social standing.

The other one is by Abraham Maslow, who views people in terms of their drives as opposed to a “bag of symptoms.”

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Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

In Uber’s example, there are a few needs they addressed:

  • Esteem: This point is similar to the point above about status.
  • Safety: When you know the background of your driver, and you see ratings of previous customers, you experience a heightened sense of security of body. On top of that, because you know up front what it’s going to cost, you feel safer in terms of your resources.

Understanding what the exact pains and pleasures are is crucial if you want to get to the best product with the best marketing. You need to understand why your customer would buy what you’re selling.

The psychology of that goes much further than simply pains and gains. It’s a starting point, but let’s zoom in more into their emotions.

Reason #2: Emotions

Due to the amount of data that we currently have access to, we tend to forget that we’re selling to humans instead of robots. And even though AI’s gone pretty far, the main difference between robots and humans is that humans still make emotionally-charged decisions.

Because at the end of the day, we don’t want to sit in an airplane. We’re not looking for another pair of jeans. We really don’t want that new laptop.

It’s none of that. Rather, we want to feel a deep sense of adventure. We want to feel significant. We want to feel connected to others. We want to feel a sense of purpose, of growth, of success.

Think about it. That time you bought that really expensive wine to celebrate, or that time your great-grand uncle bought his yellow Ferrari, or that time your best friend took his girlfriend to a $500 stay at a 5-star hotel. What these things all have in common? They sure as hell weren’t bought based on logic. They were bought based on emotions.

Basic emotions

If you’re looking for a starting point, Robert Plutckik identified eight basic emotions, which he paired in polar opposites:

  • Joy — Sadness
  • Anger — Fear
  • Trust — Distrust
  • Surprise — Anticipation

Evidently, our emotions are much more complex than this. If you want to zoom in even more, you get something like this:

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So when building out your solution and setting up your marketing, think about what emotional values your customers are chasing. Then it’s your turn: make them feel it.

Reason #3: Logic

Even though people make their decisions based on emotions, most of them will have to justify their purchase sometime and somewhere to someone.

Oh human, you funny human. Because of course we don’t explain our purchase from authentic reasons. We explain them in a logical way.

If you’d ask your best friend why he’d spend $500 on a hotel stay, the honest answer would look something like this…

“To be honest, it gives me a huge boost in my self-confidence to be able to take my girlfriend to a hotel. It makes me feel a man. It basically makes me feel like a romantic, and is an example to my partner that I’ve made it.”

But, that won’t be the answer you’ll get. It’ll probably look something more like this

“Cool question! I came across this hotel as the highest-rated in town. They have this extra-amazing bathroom that we both miss in our own house, and their view from the top is supposed to be amazing. On top of that, I wanted to treat my girlfriend to something really special.”

And even though everyone knows that’s bullshit, we still explain our purchases this way to our friends and relatives.

What this means for you is that even though your product must tap into the emotions of your customer, they need logic to justify their purchases to others.

Putting it all together

I know that’s a lot of material to digest, so let’s sum it all up.

  1. Do you bring your customers more gain or less pain? The approach is simple: ask them.
  2. What emotional values can you help your customer attain? In order for your customer to take interest, and follow up with action, you need to spark their emotions. Again, simply ask them what they feel when they first discovered it, when they started using it, how they feel about it now.
  3. How can your customers justify buying your product? Once you’ve got a clear perspective on the gain/pain area, the emotions area, you can focus on justification. How do people explain why they use your product?

The secret of making something people use? Putting in the action. Building habits around these three elements so you can gradually evolve to a product that people love. But that’s for later, I’ll leave it there for now.

The Startup

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Bram Krommenhoek

Written by

Failed founder. I share my "Aha"s and "Oh shit"s. As seen in The Mission, The Startup,

The Startup

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