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Review: Why People Buy Things They Don?t Need: Understanding and Predicting Consumer Behavior

By Pamela N. Danziger (Dearborn Trade Publishing, August 2004)

We've lived through the age of cocooning (which perhaps peaked post 9/11). According to Pam Danziger, the author of this month's Readers' Choice award winner, we have now moved into a new era called "connecting," in which people's energy is migrating away from the nest and into the outside world. She also believes few marketers are tapping into this new sensibility. "The connecting trend is about finding ways to link up and forge relationships in our social sphere," Danziger writes. "It is reflected in new linkages through media, travel, and electronic networks, as well as a desire to know our neighbors, get involved with our communities, to be better parents, better employees, better neighbors, better citizens, and better friends. It's about becoming part of something bigger than one's own narrowly defined inner landscape." In probably the best study of consumer purchasing trends since Paco Underhill's seminal Why We Buy, Danziger sends a meticulously researched wake-up call to product developers and marketers in virtually any industry. As much a study of branding as it is of purchasing habits, readers looking for what lies "beyond the focus group" would do well to start here.

BACKSTORY - Danziger, president of Unity Marketing (a consulting firm that serves consumer-product businesses) has conducted extensive surveys on the motivators and justifiers that underscore consumer purchases.

TAKEAWAY - Some would say America's rampant consumerism is a runaway train, yet the author (and many economists) argue that discretionary spending is the engine for the world's largest economy. Danziger helps make clear the segments of discretionary spending that any marketer should understand -- from utilitarian purchases such as a blender that we buy because we think it'll make our lives better to aspirational luxuries such as fine jewelry meant to make us feel good about ourselves for owning them. She also outlines 14 justifiers consumers use when buying, such as stress relief and emotional satisfaction. All of it is carefully analyzed, and can significantly build your brand awareness and, thus, your business.

WHAT WE LIKED - Case studies always enliven data-drenched books like this, and this one cites them on almost every page. The companies which are already riding the wave (Hallmark Cards, Jenn-Air, Bulgari, Ethan Allen) are contrasted with those that are still looking for the beach. Extensive charts may look a little clunky, but their data supports the author's clear, personal style.

WHAT WE DIDN'T LIKE - An over-examination of the luxury-product category seems out of kilter versus coverage of mainstream brands like Sears and Coke. This is particularly notable as the author says she will be turning the spotlight on the luxury segment in her next book, Let Them Eat Cake. There is very little space devoted to the emerging Hispanic and Asian-American markets, and no coverage at all of the oft-neglected gay and lesbian demographic.

WHAT TO SAY TO SOUND LIKE YOU'VE READ IT - Shopping is no longer about the item or service to be purchased -- it is all about the experience. Create an experience that connects with customers' needs (and, moreover, that they tell their friends about) and move the needle accordingly.