Startups: The Six Basic Needs that Drive Searches and Buying Decisions

Photo by Jo Szczepanska on Unsplash

Should you orient your startup product or service to a single emotional need?

Searches are the primary action taken by a potential buyer these days. Whether it’s Google, Amazon, or an industry resource like a directory, we start with a search. That search usually gets more specific based on the level of knowledge the buyer is acquiring as they search. This acquisition of understanding is why you need to develop content that follows that knowledge-gathering journey. But regardless of the nature of the buyer journey, research shows that the searcher is seeking satisfaction of six basic emotional needs, even for the most analytical B2B buyer.

These six emotional needs drive buyers: Surprise me, thrill me, impress me, educate me, reassure me, help me

The fascinating thing about this set of needs is that a buyer seeks satisfaction of all of them, though not necessarily all at once. So their first need may be help me or educate me. Your content should supply these basic needs for the buyer with limited knowledge who is educating themselves.

The surprise and thrill modes are the aha moments that we hope to instill in a buyer as they gain enough knowledge to make a leap to the next level of understanding. A surprise may lead to such a leap and the resulting thrill gained by this light bulb moment may be the payoff.

Once our understanding of a subject is sufficiently advanced, we start to become a more sophisticated consumer who can weed out the lesser offerings and work their way towards those who impress them. This is a critical stage because they are narrowing in on a solution and weighing one strength or weakness against another. At this point it may be necessary to reassure them by offering reputational content like testimonials, case studies, reviews, or reference customers, customers who they can talk to about their experience. Unfortunately, the rise of paid influencer marketing has diluted the power of reference customers as a reputation tool. It isn’t widespread enough to sow the doubt that things like unverified 5 star reviews on Amazon created. But people’s skepticism will likely grow, one of the reasons i don’t currently advise my clients to use paid influencers. You do not want your reassure me content to turn into the opposite!

Pairing your content strategy to these need stages

I use the word ‘stages’ with some trepidation because these are emotional needs and they do not always follow a logical growth path. However, from a content strategy perspective it helps to have some kind of framework. The staged approach described above matches well with the buyer journey. However, your content and the timeframes a potential buyer travels through can mean it involves different needs at different times. Let’s look at a hypothetical content/need match for a B2B product.

  • Help Me Need: The buyer is seeking to understand the territory on a broader basis. They need to understand what questions they should ask, who the players are, general pricing and implementation issues, etc. A solid introductory basics guide may be the right content for these needs.
  • Educate Me Need: With a basic level of knowledge, the buyer enters a stage where their understanding needs to get deeper. Glossary articles, FAQs, positive/negative Reviews, advisory articles dealing with specific challenges like training and implementation, and even ready access to product documentation can help a prospect educate themselves.
  • Surprise Me Need. While it may seem counterintuitive to surprise someone with unexpected information, it helps if you think of this content as information that pushes them to the next level of understanding. This may be a more complex piece like a white paper, research study, or eBook that clarifies the difference between your product’s core capability vs. an option that may seemed like a good choice but is really designed for something different. This is often the stage where options are discarded as not actually being viable candidates. This is where you achieve that product/market fit that startup pundits use as a gauge of a startup’s success. ROI calculations and case studies detailing examples of a core competency can push the buyer’s understanding closer to a decision.
  • Thrill Me Need: B2B buying isn’t necessarily a process we associate with being thrilled. But if a buyer is trying to solve a difficult problem that is causing headaches at their business, finding a solution that looks like a great match can generate a big sigh of relief. We all like solving problems with elegant solutions. A series of videos that show a product in action can clarify things and provide a deeper understanding. These videos should be sophisticated and avoid overt pitching or glossing over details. If you don’t address the hard stuff you’ll sow doubt and that kills the thrill.
  • Impress Me Need: I always assume a B2B buyer is collecting a short list of candidates and recommending these candidates to decision-makers, along with a matrix of strengths and weaknesses like a SWOT analysis. Give them one that accurately places your offering in its place among your competitors. Don’t gild the lily- this content should look like a third party analysis, not a ‘we’re perfect’ piece. This is why larger companies pay consultancies like Gartner or Forrester for studies that give them reputational viability. As a marketer you should be knowledgeable enough about you product and competition to do your own version. Rest assured that if you exaggerate or falsify things you’re get caught- there is simply too much information out there and the search engines have gotten really good at filtering the legitimate from the illegitimate.
  • Reassure Me Need: Your buyer has reached the stage where they must either make a decision or influence one. They are personally on the line- never forget that every buying decision has a personal impact on the decision-maker. Assuming they have likely reached out to your sales team at this stage, that sales team should be providing them with reassurance content. Access to other users, third party reviews, or detailed testimonials with names and titles. This is a vetting process and they are looking for red flags. Anticipate this and give them reassurance that they are making the right choice.

A framework for your content marketing

Buyer journeys, persona development, and emotional needs stages all offer frameworks for helping your prospective customers make choices through a program of content that matches these stages. Understanding emotional needs ensures that you address the personal issues and desires behind a buying decision, including understanding the risk a buyer may be taking in their choices. The emotional needs framework gives you a map to be there as they navigate through their process.

Former software marketer. Former musician. Writer, nine non-fiction books, two novels, Buddhist, train lover. Amateur cook, lover of life most of the time!

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