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What Really Drives Consumer Behavior: 7 Emotions That Sell

The study of consumer behavior has been a popular topic for marketers and researchers alike. What drives consumers to make purchase decisions? How can we understand what's going on in their heads when they're looking at a product? In this blog post, we'll explore seven emotions that drive consumer behavior: fear, uncertainty, urgency, anxiety, greed, and altruism.

What Really Drives Consumer Behavior: 6 Emotions That Sell
Photo by Artem Beliaikin from Pexels

Before we explore the six emotions, we need to first understand consumer behavior and its implications.

Consumer behavior is a complex topic that can be difficult to understand. Consumer behavior, also known as Consumer Psychology or Consumerism, is the study of how people make decisions about what to buy and whether they will continue buying it in the future. Consumer behavior is a driving force in the success of a business. Consumer research and motivation have been studied since the 1920s, but it wasn't until 1980 that psychologists began to look into how emotions may drive consumer behavior.

Consumer Behavior includes both mental processes and behaviors. Consumers are influenced by their beliefs, attitudes, values, personality traits, and other psychological factors when making purchase decisions. There are many theories on why consumers behave as they do such as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory which states that individuals seek fulfillment through satisfying different needs such as food, shelter, safety, etc., while others take into account cultural influences such as family upbringing and social class.

Now, that you have understood what is consumer behavior, next you need to understand a bit about emotions.

Emotions are complex, powerful feelings that can influence our behavior. Some common emotions include anger and sadness - these might prompt you to speak or act impulsively. Consumers not only make rational judgments, but also emotional ones.

Emotions, affect, arousal, and pleasure have been discovered to be critical elements of appraisal that were previously neglected. In addition, research has revealed mechanisms and behavioral patterns that do not conform with the standard idea of acting as a result of a deliberate process. Consumers' beliefs and judgments, as well as their experiences and emotions, influence their behaviors and choices. Individuals bring their own perceptions, values, sentiments, and cognitive systems to bear while interpreting the environment.

Due to numerous aspects influencing decision-making processes and the difficulty of measuring them, studying consumer behaviors has long been a tough job. To be able to do so, you must first understand the cognitive, information-processing mechanisms as well as the effective and experiential systems of people. It also necessitates a thorough knowledge of the complex and dynamic interaction between cognitive and emotional processes.

In this blog post, we'll explore how seven underlying emotions can shape consumer behavior:

1) Fear

It is not surprising that fear is an emotion that shapes consumer behavior. Consumer fears are rooted in different things such as safety (e.g., "Is this food safe?").

Consumer fears can also be internalized, like the fear of failure (e.g., "I'm not good enough to do this"). Consumer product companies rely on consumers' fears for their marketing and advertising campaigns. For example, "Beware of these harmful ingredients lurking in your shampoo!"

Fear drives consumer behavior
Source: Aviva Insurance

2) Uncertainty

Consumer behavior and the nature of their spending change when they're uncertain. Consumer uncertainty is not just an economic problem, it's a psychological one as well. Brands take advantage of uncertainty by creating a sense of urgency. They do this by promoting products that are only available for a limited time or that are on sale for a short period of time.

Additionally, brands create a sense of exclusivity by making their products available only to certain customers. Consumer behavior and the nature of their spending change when they're uncertain. When consumers are uncertain about future circumstances, consumer buying patterns can shift drastically in terms of how much money gets spent outside necessities like rent/mortgages.

Uncertainty drives consumer behavior
Source: Volvo

3) Urgency

Often urgency is used as a trigger to cause impulse buys. For example, exclusive offers that only last for a limited time will generate an urgent need in consumers who want to take advantage of the offer and people buy now or they'll miss out. If they're only cheap for a few hours they may just buy one more because it's cheap today but tomorrow it might not be so inexpensive and if you don't grab one now you might regret it later.

Urgency works as a way to sell products during tough economic times as well as capitalizing on consumers' fear of scarcity. If people sense there is a limited supply they will buy soon to avoid missing out on something that might not be available in the near future, this tactic can work during good times as well. Consumers have been known to impulse-buy items when visiting grocery stores or pharmacies because it just seems like too great an opportunity for them to pass up and if you don't grab one now you may regret it later.

Urgency drives consumer behavior

4) Anxiety

Anxiety has been studied as feelings of worry, unease, fearfulness. Anxiety is a type of emotional pain. Consumer behavior can be affected because individuals think they may help by purchasing more than need or avoid buying the product entirely so as not to feel worried.

There are a few different ways in which brands may use anxiety to sell products. One way is by inducing a sense of fear in the consumer. This could be done by showing images of accidents or other negative events in the ad. Another way is by using disclaimers in ads and on product packaging. This allows the brand to acknowledge that there is a potential for negative consequences, while still selling the product.

Research suggests that when bringing a new product to market, new product adoption may be greatest when hope and anxiety are both strong. The findings also point to ways in which marketers might enhance hope and/or anxiety, and they suggest that the use of potentially anxiety-inducing tactics such as disclaimers in ads and on packages might not deter adoption when hope is also strong.

The most potent emotion is when consumers are afraid they will miss out on something they want or need later. Fear-based marketing taps into this natural human response with tactics like scarcity (e.g., limited editions), and time-sensitive offers.

Anxiety drives consumer behavior

5) Greed

Greed is a common (and quite simple) emotion that makes us feel that we gain something from the purchase. Companies use greed to generate revenue by creating an artificial sense of want or need so you'll buy more than one product at a time. Consumer research has shown how spending even small increments of money repeatedly can become habitual until wasting millions of dollars on products becomes easy for some consumers.

Example: "Two for the price of one!"

All “two for one” sales show that most of us have a desire to get as much as possible in the shortest amount of time — and there's nothing wrong with it. Greed is effective because we're wired to want more than what we need, especially when something piques our interest or curiosity.

Greed drives consumer behavior

6) Altruism

Consumer decisions are influenced by social norms, which can be either altruistic or selfish. Consumer choice is also determined by the perceived benefits of brands. Altruistic emotions influence consumer choices in a variety of ways including loyalty to preferred products and an inclination towards healthy preparation practices.

Altruism drives brand loyalty through increased perceptions about quality and trustworthiness as well as alignment with personal needs such as healthiness or wanting to reduce environmental impact.

Altruism can influence consumer behavior in a number of ways. For example, altruism can lead to increased loyalty to preferred brands and products. Additionally, altruism can increase perceptions about the quality and trustworthiness of brands.

Altruism drives consumer behavior
Source: Giovanni Lopez-Quezada

7) Angry/Disgusted

Most people think that it is best to avoid anger -- a negative emotion that will cause you more harm than good. But in some cases, anger can wake us up and spur action; when somebody hurts or injustice occurs we become angry because their pain pains our hearts deeply! Anger can be used by brands to prod us into action (like boycotting a product, for example), and it's an emotion that is uniquely suited to wake people up. Consumer behaviorists would call this emotion "activation."

Another example is disgust. Disgust makes us want to get away from something, and it's often linked with physical contact (e.g., eating icky food). Companies try hard not to make consumers feel disgusted when they think about buying their product or service in order to increase sales.

A study of the most popular pictures on revealed that while unpleasant emotions were less prevalent in viral material than in positive, viral success occurred when the negative images contained a hint of surprise and anticipation.

The Always Like a Girl campaign, which won an Emmy, a Cannes Grand Prix prize, and the Grand Clio award, uses a famous put-down to pique your interest.


In this blog post, we’ve explored seven emotions that drive consumer behavior. By understanding these emotions and how they affect people's decision-making process, you can create a more compelling marketing message to help them make the right purchase for their needs.

If you want to learn more about marketing psychology or simply find out why consumers do the things they do as it relates to purchasing products from companies like yours, consider subscribing ScroogeMarketer.

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