The Science of Why Summary and Review

by David Forbes

Has The Science of Why by David Forbes been sitting on your reading list? Pick up the key ideas in the book with this quick summary.

What do you really know about your customers? Sure, you couldn’t possible know everyone’s shoe size, or how many siblings or children each customer has – but there are other things you really should know. For example, what drives your customers to grab your products off the shelf and not your competitor’s? Or, conversely, what makes customers pick your competitor’s products over yours?

In The Science of Why, the author takes a closer look at just such questions. By presenting the findings of his own scientific research, he opens a window into the minds of consumers, and puts forward the MindSight Matrix, a tool to help you see the different factors at play when consumers choose what to buy (or not to buy), what they think and what motivates them – in other words, knowledge you definitely want to have when deciding on a marketing strategy.

In this summary of The Science of Why by David Forbes, you’ll discover

  • why it’s difficult to sell a Gucci handbag to a punk rocker;
  • the importance of distinguishing between three different consumer motivations; and
  • how to turn a marketing strategy into a successful marketing strategy.

The Science of Why Key Idea #1: Use the MindSight Matrix to understand why consumers buy.

So, you’ve got great marketing, a fantastic business and an ingenious product idea. But your target market doesn’t seem to see it this way – because they just aren’t buying your product. What’s wrong?

If you’re at your wits end, there’s a tool that might help: the MindSight Matrix. This problem-solving technique maps out the various motivational forces that drive consumers.

There’s one main force that motivates action: a desire for change. Whether an elderly lady buying a new pair of slippers or a young professional joining a gym, all customers are looking for change, and the MindSight Matrix helps pinpoint exactly what kind of change is wanted.

There are three categories of desired change: expectations, experiences and outcomes. Expectations are what customers want to change in the future. To attract customers hoping to change their expectations, marketers should focus on giving them a vision of the future where the product has opened up new opportunities for them. Experiences are what customers want to change in the present moment. And, finally, outcomes reflect how satisfied customers are with their past choices.

There are also three categories of motivations: intrapsychic motivations, instrumental motivations and interpersonal motivations. To identify motivation, we have to specify where we want the change to take place.

Change can either be internal or outward-directed. If you want to change how you feel about or perceive yourself, then you’re longing for internal change. If you want to change your outward appearance or physical surroundings, or buy a new product, then you desire outward-directed change.

All internal change is driven by intrapsychic motivations. We’ll take a closer look at these in the next book summary.

Outward-directed change can be driven by either instrumental motivations or interpersonal motivations.

Instrumental motivations are what inspire you to buy those Nike sneakers or that Chanel handbag, or to take that vacation to Fiji. Interpersonal motivations, on the other hand, are what move you to align yourself with a particular reference group – be it punks, clubbers, sports fans or activists.

This might seem complicated, but it will become clearer through specific examples in the next book summarys. Just remember that there are three different types of change and three different types of motivation – with a total of nine different change-motivation combinations.

The Science of Why Key Idea #2: Things we buy reflect how we want to feel about ourselves.

Here’s a question: have you expressed yourself today? And here’s another: have you bought anything today? If you answered yes to the second question, then you can probably answer yes to the first. Many of our purchases are driven by intrapsychic motivations; simply put, we buy things to say something about ourselves.

Consumers that respond to intrapsychic motivations value how a product will make them feel about themselves. These types of consumers are notoriously hard to satisfy, because only they know their true personal desires. To attract such consumers, marketers develop campaigns that focus on how a product will make an individual feel.

For example, a single mother of three is tired of cooking for her kids every night, but wouldn’t dream of letting them eat fast food for dinner. How does she want to feel?

Well, she’ll want to feel like a good mother, one that helps her kids grow up happy and healthy. But she also wants to feel more relaxed, and have more time to herself. By empathizing with this young mother, marketers can create a campaign for a frozen food that highlights what’s important to her: healthy food and stress-free cooking.

The Science of Why Key Idea #3: Intrapsychic motivations reflect needs for safety, social recognition or even skill development.

In the previous book summary we learned about intrapsychic motivations. Now let’s examine three types of shoppers driven by them.

All of us have one of those really indecisive friends. He or she spends ages deciding what to purchase, then gets cold feet at the last minute and leaves the store empty-handed due to some minor worry regarding the product. If you don’t have one of those friends, you might even be that friend yourself. But don’t worry! There’s no shame in it.

Consumers like this are security-oriented: they want secure, reliable relationships with brands. They don’t want to worry about fluctuating quality or sudden price increases.

To please these customers, marketers need to give the impression that their product will always provide what is wanted. A baby food brand, for example, wants mothers to know that their food is nourishing, has recyclable packaging and tastes good. Nothing more, nothing less!

Another type of shopper is the identity-oriented consumer. Such consumers seek brands that confer prestige or social status on their owners. These consumers buy based on what they associate with the brand. Think about women who walk around in Burberry trench coats or men who drive Lamborghinis: these brands reflect who these people want to be.

Finally, there are mastery-oriented consumers. They love brands just as much as the identity-oriented ones, but don’t buy to get social recognition; they buy for themselves. They want to make purchases that help them be the best they can be at their hobby or passion. This means products that are innovative, high quality or professional grade.

Picture a passionate home cook who is in the market for a new frying pan. Of course, he won’t want just any pan! He’ll want the one that will take his crêpe recipe to a whole new level – a long-lasting pan that professional chefs swear by!

The Science of Why Key Idea #4: Instrumentally motivated consumers want to make the best purchase, and appreciate being informed.

While intrapsychic motivations emerge from our internal lives, instrumental motivations are primarily focused on the real world. How do these motivations shape buying behavior? Well, it’s all about outcomes.

Instrumentally motivated consumers want to buy the product that is most efficient and most effective. In other words, these are the types of people who conduct painstaking online research before they decide to buy anything.

These customers will be irritated if you waste their time with a product that doesn’t do what it says on the box – and you don’t want to be subject to their wrath! They’ll make you pay for false advertising, either with damaging online reviews or dramatic in-store outbursts.

What these consumers appreciate is when marketers explain precisely how their product will help achieve the outcome they want. Ad campaigns that are characterized by honesty, authenticity and simplicity are the winners in this regard.

Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign has managed to achieve this, but with a twist. This landmark piece of marketing was unlike anything else before it in the beauty industry.

Rather than implying unreasonable promises to women, like the power of a lipstick to make you look like Kirsten Dunst, Dove made it clear that the women in its ads didn’t need to look like actresses. Why? Because these women were already much more beautiful than they ever realized.

The Science of Why Key Idea #5: Instrumentally motivated consumers like to be empowered, engaged and challenged.

So what kind of shoppers are driven by instrumental motivations?

For one, there’s the empowerment-oriented consumer. They care about achievement, improvement and success, and as a result they won’t buy unless they’re sure a product will help them perform well. It’s the marketer’s job to make these consumers feel like they’re on the right track.

Sometimes, it’s as simple as using encouraging slogans. Phrases like “We can do it” or “Unlock your potential” will make the customer feel excited about learning new things and improving her range of skills with the aid of your product. This will make her more likely to buy.

There’s also another type of consumer that gets excited about possibilities for improvement, but this type has slightly different needs and wants. Engagement-oriented consumers are thrilled by the freshest innovations and the race to obtain the most advanced product before everyone else.

Marketers can attract engagement-oriented consumers by stimulating their senses, and that’s exactly why marketing for tech products puts new sounds, sensations and experiences on show. It’s not just a multisensory experience that engagement-oriented consumers are drawn to, but an experience that they can say they were part of. Taglines like “Don’t miss the moment!” play on these consumers’ desire to live in the present.

In contrast, achievement-oriented consumers aren’t so easy to entice. These consumers are competitive, and don’t want products that merely entertain them; they want to be challenged.

Marketers should approach these consumers more subtly. Messages such as “Let the results speak for themselves” or “Because you’ve earned it” suggest that even these discerning consumers can feel proud to own your product.

The Science of Why Key Idea #6: Interpersonally motivated consumers buy in order to belong.

If you’d rather pay at the self-serve checkout than have a friendly chat with the supermarket cashier, then you probably aren’t a customer driven by interpersonal motivation. For you, shopping means getting in and out as fast as possible.

In contrast, interpersonal consumers deeply value the loyal relationships they develop with a store, a product and a seller. They seek a sense of community and inclusion in brands, and therefore shop at stores where they feel their needs are understood.

Because of this, consumers are more likely to buy from sellers that welcome them, so make your customer feel like a member of your family. If you can manage that, cost and competition won’t deter them from your product anymore.

However, some interpersonally motivated consumers aren’t just looking for belonging. They seek something deeper from brand relationships: nurturance. These consumers are often responsible for caring for others, and therefore seek brands that truly care about them. Again, marketers often appeal to young mothers with this in mind.

Other interpersonally motivated consumers care less about belonging to a brand and more about belonging to a certain subculture or reference group in society. Our reference group is the group of friends and peers that we want to belong to. It’s not just certain pastimes and attitudes that mark a reference group, but the use of certain products and services.

Clubbers, for example, really care about techno music. They’re more likely to spend money on records and turntables, while keen cyclists would rather spend that same money on bike gear. The way these consumers relate to their reference group can differ widely.

Some consumers exhibit low self-esteem motivations when they purchase certain items in order to fit in better or compete with others. High-esteem consumers, on the other hand, want to be role models for their reference group. They pride themselves on their strong values, so taglines like “Set an example” will likely draw them in.

In Review: The Science of Why Book Summary

The key message in this book:

Consumers have diverse motivations. By recognizing the different types of consumers in the marketplace, marketers can equip themselves to improve brand relationships, increase the reach of advertising campaigns and create a sustainable, loyal customer base.

Actionable advice:

Don’t be too abstract and technical when creating your company’s new marketing strategy.

The most effective way to reach your customers is to appeal to their strongest emotions – their dominant psychological motivations.