Why Customers Buy: Two Simple Reasons

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If you're curious why customers buy, you'll find the answer comes down to something very basic. Human behavior is dictated by one of two primary motivations: to avoid pain or to gain pleasure.

This theory, known as the pain-pleasure principle, has been used as a motivational technique by managers, lawmakers, and parents of strong-willed toddlers around the world.  

And it’s also used by smart marketers.

If you're looking for the reason why customers buy, most people consider price, quality, availability, testimonials, guarantees, and a bunch of other important factors. But the decision to buy actually started far earlier.  

Before pulling out the debit card, the customer made a crucial, though probably unconscious, assessment. And they came to believe that this item—whatever it is—would either move them away from some kind of pain or move them toward some kind of pleasure.

Sometimes the motivation is obvious. You buy a hot fudge sundae because it’s oh-so creamy and sensual and enjoyable to eat. And you buy a bottle of Ibuprofen to alleviate agonizing physical pain (or the fear of said pain).

But sometimes you have to dig a little to figure out the underlying motivation.

Why Customers Buy: To Avoid Pain

Pain can be physical, mental, emotional, and/or relational. And, generally speaking, people try to avoid it all:    

  • Physical discomfort

  • Insecurity

  • Embarrassment

  • Heartbreak

  • Failure

  • Insignificance

  • Anxiety

  • Conflict

  • Fear

  • Loss

If your product or service moves your customers away from pain, your copy should first draw attention to the pain.

Use emotional language to paint a clear picture for them, emphasizing just how awful that pain is.

Use powerful words that evoke negative emotions. For example, choose words such as agony, scary, suffering, lurking, teetering, exhaustion, gullible, and collapse.  

When possible, research your customers and use their own words to describe the frustration, disappointment, anger, and other kinds of pain they are trying to avoid.

By focusing on and even agitating this pain, you’ll be doing two things in your copy. One, you’ll show the readers that you really do understand their pain. You get it. Two, you’ll awaken that negative feeling and compel them to find a solution.

Why Customers Buy: To Gain Pleasure

Pleasure is also found beyond physical sensations. Emotional pleasures include the following:

  • Recognition

  • Success

  • Admiration

  • Satisfaction

  • Confidence

  • Mastery

  • Wealth

  • Free time

  • Rest

  • Friendship

  • Good food and drink

Does your product promise some kind of physical or emotional pleasure? Your goal here is to vividly describe the positive feelings customers will experience as a result of your offer. Tap into their pleasure-centered emotions and tell a story that puts them right in the center of bliss.

Again, use powerful language to convey this kind of pleasure. For example: sensual, thrilling, respect, stimulating, compelling, enchanting, gratifying, successful, decadent, exciting, and thrilling.

Of course, some products promise both—a way to avoid pain and a path toward pleasure. Commercials for whitening toothpaste, for example, promise fewer cavities (pain avoidance) and brighter smiles (pleasure in the form of confidence, attractiveness, and the promise of enjoyable kisses).  

According to the theory of loss aversion, people would rather avoid pain than pursue pleasure. They would feel the loss of $100 being stolen from their wallet more acutely than they would feel the joy of finding the same amount on the sidewalk.

So if your product does both—avoids pain and offers pleasure—you might find that the pain-avoidance angle delivers better results.


Why customers buy comes down to two simple reasons. They either want to avoid pain or gain pleasure. Smart marketers use emotional language to show people how their product or service promises to deliver either one or both of these sensations.

They may hire a copywriter who understands why customers buy to write ads that persuade a customer to make a purchase. To find out more about how a copywriter can help you write compelling copy, click here.

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