Mindset

Why We Buy The Things We Buy with Margo Aaron

WHY do we buy what we buy? That's what I want to know. And, as it happens, I know someone who LOVES geeking out on buying and marketing psychology. When I want to nerd out on the psychology behind marketing, Margo Aaron is my go-to.

Susan Boles
January 5, 2021
41
 MIN
Podcast

You're not a spreadsheet and you're not a calculator.

You're a person with experiences, feelings, and history. But when most of us think about managing money, we think about it like it's math. We expect to make decisions about money like a calculator.

But managing your money is actually more like figuring out psychology than math. Human beings don't make decisions like a calculator. We make decisions emotionally—and that includes financial ones.

Learning how to manage your money well is part skill, sure. But a whole lot more is about examining your own relationship with money and dealing with all that baggage you're bringing to the table.

How you think about money, the choices you make with your own money, and the relationship you have with it is ultimately impacted by a lot of stuff BESIDES just those decisions. It's influenced by what you learned about money as a kid. It's influenced by your reactions to previous decisions you've made with your money - both good and bad.

We all have a completely unique and individual relationship to money that's influenced by all those factors. By examining that relationship, we can understand WHY we do the things we do and think the way we think, identify those influences -- and ultimately be able to make more conscious choices about what we do with our money.

All this month we're going to examine the psychology behind money and why we think the way we do about it.

To kick us off, I want to talk about buying things because that's where most of us start thinking about money. What should we buy? Or even SHOULD we buy something? We're bombarded with messages every day that encourage us to buy, buy, buy. Sometimes we even get told that it's patriotic.

But WHY do we buy what we buy? That's what I want to know. And, as it happens, I know someone who LOVES geeking out on buying and marketing psychology.

Meet Margo Aaron. She's a psychological researcher, turned marketer and the founder of That Seems Important, which is quite possibly my favorite blog in existence. She also co-hosts "Hillary and Margo Yell at Websites", an award-winning show about marketing and teaches writing and marketing to business owners.

When I want to nerd out on the psychology behind marketing, Margo is my go-to.

Links

Listen to the full episode to hear:

  • How shopping was INVENTED (yes, I said invented!)
  • Why we buy things we WANT instead of only things we need
  • How to ethically use the power of psychology for good in your marketing

Learn more about Margo Aaron:

Learn more about Susan:

Episode Transcript

Margo Aaron (00:00):

This idea that we're rational actors making rational decisions is absolutely unfounded. Human beings are predictable but completely irrational. We are emotional. So, when you understand that almost every action is motivated by emotions, then buying behavior becomes a lot more understandable. It seems less confusing as to why we buy what we buy and how we determine what we want.

Susan Boles (00:34):

You are not a spreadsheet. You're not a calculator. You are a person with experiences and feelings and history. But when most of us think about managing money, we think about it like it's math. We expect to make decisions about money like a calculator. But managing your money is actually more like figuring out psychology than like math. Human beings don't make decisions like a calculator. We make decisions emotionally, and that includes financial ones. And learning how to manage your money well is part skill, sure. There are certainly techniques and skills to learn that are a part of it. But a whole lot more is about examining your own relationship with money and dealing with all that baggage you're bringing to the table. I'm Susan Boles, and you're listening to Break the Ceiling, the show where we break down unconventional strategies you can use to save time, boost your profit, and increase your operational capacity.

Susan Boles (01:30):

Morgan Housel has an excellent new book out called The Psychology of Money, and in it he says that your personal experiences with money make up a super tiny amount of what's happened in the world, but it makes up about 80% of how you think the world works. How you think about money, the choices you make with your own money, and the relationship you have with it is ultimately impacted by a lot of stuff besides just those decisions. It's influenced by what you learned about money as a kid, how you saw your parents dealing with money. It's influenced by your reactions to previous decisions you've made with your money, both good and bad. Your relationship with and access to money is heavily impacted by your societal class, your demographics, and your generational wealth or lack thereof.

Susan Boles (02:18):

We all have a completely unique and individual relationship to money that's influenced by all of those factors, and by examining that relationship we can understand why we do the things we do and think the way we think. We can identify those influences and ultimately be able to make more conscious choices about what we do with our money. So, this month we're going to examine the psychology behind money and we why we think the way we do about it. To kick us off, I want to talk about buying things, because that's where most of us start thinking about money. What should we buy? Or even, should we buy something? We're bombarded with messages every day that encourage us to buy, buy, buy. Sometimes we even get told that it's patriotic. But why do we buy what we buy? That's what I want to know. And as it happens, I know someone who loves geeking out on buying and marketing psychology.

Susan Boles (03:11):

Meet Margo Aaron. She's a psychological researcher turned marketer and the founder of That Seems Important, which is quite possibly my favorite blog in existence. She also co-hosts Hillary and Margo Yell at Websites, which is an award-winning show about marketing. And she teaches writing and marketing to business owners. So, when I want to nerd out on the psychology behind marketing, Margo is my go-to. Margo and I talk about how shopping was actually invented, why we buy the things we do, and how to ethically use the power of psychology for good. Hey, Margo. Thanks for coming back to the show.

Margo Aaron (03:48):

Hi. Thanks for having me.

Susan Boles (03:50):

So, you wrote a really excellent article a while back about how we buy things that we don't need and that we're not really buying what we think we're buying. So, tell me a little bit more about that.

Margo Aaron (04:02):

Yes. So, this has to do a bit with the invention of shopping. I don't know if your listeners know this. I did not know this, but the concept-

Susan Boles (04:10):

I didn't know it until I read your article.

Margo Aaron (04:13):

The concept of shopping is a modern-day invention from industrialism. So, back in the day, and I would say this is unique to the last 100, 150 years, we didn't have ways of making things at scale. So, if you wanted to purchase something like a glove or a new hat, you literally made it or you went to someone whose job it was to only make those things. And then you had them for a very long time. We also didn't have plastic and a lot of the more disposable type of packaging. So, things were made of glass, they were made of steel, they were made of tin. So, they lasted longer, and you took care of them. You also inherited things, and you kept them for a very long time.

Margo Aaron (05:01):

With the rise of the fashion industry in the early 20th century, which created the idea of fashion seasons ... So, that was one. That was an invention, which blew my mind, because I just thought that was a staple of life. Why would you wear the same thing every season? But no, no, no. We wore many things for years and years and years and years. It didn't change. That's why when you watch old movies and you can't really tell the difference between the 15 and the 1600s it's because styles didn't change that much until way later. Now they change, what, every three months we have new seasons.

Margo Aaron (05:36):

So, anyway, this rise in changes in our supply chain, so how we made goods, their availability and our ability to get them to market, and then the way in which we put them in a store and organize them. So, a department store for example or a grocery store, those didn't exist until the early 1900s. This idea that you could go into a store and pick something out for yourself or your family is an invention. It's new. It's brand new. And when it first came on the scene, it was actually considered very uncouth. So, the wealthy people got things commissioned or made or inherited, and then what shopping allowed was this democratization of opportunity.

Margo Aaron (06:25):

Back in the day, you really had a huge disparity between the haves and the have-nots, and shopping came around with the rise of the middle class. So, if you were someone who didn't live in a mansion ... Let's say you lived in an apartment in East London. And for the first time in human history, you could go into a department store with money that you earned and purchase a lipstick. The question of functionality starts to come up. Right? You're like, "Well, what do I need a lipstick for?" Right? You technically have the things that you need, but you start being able to buy things that you want.

Margo Aaron (07:02):

And this is where the conversation, the question you asked, Susan, gets so interesting, is that the invention of shopping led us to the ability to buy things we want, because if we're really, really honest about what we need, we don't actually need that much, and it's hard to determine the lines between what's a need and what's a want in a 21st-century world, because right now you could argue to live as a human being you don't need an iPhone, but good luck getting a job without an iPhone or without email or with wearing the same shirt every single day. Right? You cannot do those things.

Margo Aaron (07:38):

So, when we think about what motivates our purchase behavior, we have to understand this history, because the purchase behavior is predicated upon this idea that you could purchase things you want that lead to a life that is better, different, or more self-actualizing than the one that you currently have.

Susan Boles (08:00):

Yes. The whole idea that shopping was something that was invented kind of blew my mind, because it is such a staple of how we live and how we think about buying things now, to realize that a pretty relatively short time ago it just wasn't a thing, it wasn't an activity, it just wasn't a thing.

Margo Aaron (08:25):

It just wasn't a thing. There's a really great fictional scene. If y'all want to geek out on this, there's, I think it's on HBO, a series called Selfridge's about the man who brought department stores to London from the United States. I think they started in Chicago, but it really wasn't a thing in London. And he was a shmuck, let's be clear, but it's fascinating what the cultural change and revolution happened as a result of this. And there's a wonderful scene. I think it's in the first episode where he goes to buy a glove, and he goes to what's called a glove store. And he makes one simple request that all of you will kind of roll your eyes at when I tell you, but he says ... The woman hands him a glove. She asks what his size is. And he says, "May I see other options?" And she's like, "I'm sorry. What?" And she gets fired for showing him different gloves that he could possibly buy.

Margo Aaron (09:22):

So, it's a fictional scene, but it's indicative of how people thought about goods back in the day. These weren't items of self-expression. They were items indicative of status, and they were items indicative of inherent worth. But you didn't really have the option to "What kind of glove person am I?" I mean, today you see someone with leather gloves. You don't think that this was something that they inherited. You think, "Oh, okay. They're a leather glove person." The color tells you something about whether they're practical or not. There's so much about who we are that's inside of our purchases now, where before it was uniquely practical. "This is something I need to cover my hands, because it's cold."

Susan Boles (10:02):

So, if we are no longer just buying things that we need, why do we end up buying anything at all ever, or how do we go about deciding what we want to buy?

Margo Aaron (10:19):

Yes. So, this is where we have to understand a couple of rules of buying behavior. It takes us back into the psychology of motivation and why we do things. So, number one, this idea that we're rational actors making rational decisions is absolutely unfounded. Human beings are predictable but completely irrational. We are emotional. So, when you understand that almost every action is motivated by emotions, then buying behavior becomes a lot more understandable. It seems less confusing as to why we buy what we buy and how we determine what we want.

Margo Aaron (11:04):

So, the question I posed in my article is why do we buy things we don't need, and the conclusion is because we think we need them. And the definition of need is something that we ... It's very personal what we determine is something we need or not, and that line between what we want and what we need is really blurry in today's world. So, to use the example of a T-shirt, technically you only need one shirt if we're talking about it physically covers you from the outside world and keeps you from getting scratches. And maybe you need two, because you don't want that shirt to be dirty and you care about hygiene. But technically you'd be fine off of that, but we can't ignore the circumstances in culture and society in which we live which have its own norms.

Margo Aaron (11:53):

There are consequences to which shirt you choose, why you chose that shirt, and which circumstance you wear it in. So, if you have a T-shirt and you're wearing it to go for a run, that probably makes sense. If you have a T-shirt and you wear it to a black-tie wedding, it's going to be inappropriate. So, we have all these social rules and professional rules that lead us to status rules and upward mobility and surviving in our version of the world, that the line between need and want is really blurry and up to us to determine and distinguish what that is. I mean, you see it all the time in parent world when we talk about what is actually spoiling a child. What is too much toys? What's not enough? And we don't actually know the answer. It is based a lot on what we think is necessary to live a good life.

Margo Aaron (12:48):

Shopping has been placed in this domain of self-expression and self-actualization, and here's where it gets really interesting, is that we live in the first time in human history where upward mobility and self-actualization really are possible and stuff is not really about stuff. It's about what that stuff represents. So, this is where human beings not being rational actors is really important. We are emotional beings. And when stuff begins to represent something else, like it begins to represent belonging or group status or upward mobility or manifestation of desire or identity and self-concept, then we're not actually ever buying the stuff we're buying. We're not ever actually buying a shoe. Right? We're buying inclusion into a group, whether that group is "I want to fit in at work," or perhaps "I want to make a statement by not fitting in at work." Regardless, the stuff that we own, the things that we wear, the things we choose to share with others in the form of stuff, it's not actually about stuff.

Susan Boles (14:02):

It's that time of year, time to set some new goals or consider your New Year's resolution. And if you're like a lot of business owners I know, you might be thinking that this is the year you're going to get your shit together when it comes to your money. And when you start reviewing that P&L statement you get every month, you're going to be more intentional about how you spend and closely tracking the ROI you're getting. You're going to get clear on exactly how you're making money and how you can make more of it with working yourself into the ground.

Susan Boles (14:34):

Now, if you're both nodding your head and feeling the anxiety rise in your chest as I describe these financial goals, I see you. We all have the best of intentions about how we're going to manage our business finances, but few people actually follow through on learning how to manage their business's money or execute the financial plans they create. You want to feel like you're on top of your money stuff, but it's tough to climb over all the questions and reports and bank accounts and spreadsheets.

Susan Boles (15:06):

That's where I come in. I help you think like a CFO. Working together, you'll learn the skills you need to confidently make database decisions about how to spend your money and how to structure your business so you make more. You'll build a more resilient business that's efficient and easy to run, and you'll create meaningful financial processes so you're never caught with your pants down again.

Susan Boles (15:30):

Think Like a CFO is a six-month accelerator, online workshop, and coaching program that will teach you to think about your business like a CFO would. We'll cover six core topics, including risk and resilience, investing in your business, scaling sustainably, and your relationship with money. You'll also get dedicated implementation time and live support so you don't get stuck on the details or the execution, and you'll get a clear path to true, small business financial literacy so you can connect your money to every other aspect of your work, from daily operations to long vacations.

Susan Boles (16:09):

Think Like a CFO is enrolling right now, and when you register before December 31st you'll also get my course Not Rocket Finance, which is the perfect primer for Think Like a CFO. To find out more about Think Like a CFO and finally get your business shit together, go to scalespark.co/CFO.

Susan Boles (16:31):

If we then kind of turn this around and we, as business owners or as marketers, want people to buy our stuff, we need to position it in a way that it feels like something they want and, even better, if we can make it feel like they need our product or whatever. So, there's a lot of psychology and sometimes manipulation that goes into convincing somebody to buy something. What are some of the techniques that marketers and salespeople can use to modify our behavior and get us to buy their stuff?

Margo Aaron (17:21):

I'll explain a couple-

Susan Boles (17:24):

Meaning ...

Margo Aaron (17:24):

In an ethical way?

Susan Boles (17:25):

In an ethical way.

Margo Aaron (17:29):

Let's talk about ethics for a moment, because I think there's an important distinction between deception, manipulation, and influence. And a lot of marketers will tell you there's a blurry line, and I do not believe that. I think there is a very, very clear line. I think that deception is bad. Persuasion, influence, and even a little manipulation can be good. They're generally neutral. But I'll explain the difference, and the difference hinges on this.

Margo Aaron (18:00):

Deception is lying, and it tends to be in the domain of claims. So, saying something about your product that is not true, so claiming that it cures cancer or claiming that it causes weight loss, using a testimonial that isn't true, doctoring photos, all of that is deception, and it's lying, and it's wrong.

Margo Aaron (18:23):

Now, manipulation, influence, persuasion can be a different category because of this irrational, emotional quotient of human behavior. And what I mean by that is we have to understand that human beings are motivated by emotions, and we rationalize our emotions with reasons, with good reasons. So, most of the time when we want to buy something, we are moved by a feeling, and then we use features of the product to tell us why it's okay to buy this. It's like when you're convincing yourself that you really need those shoes. "I'd wear them a lot. My other ones are kind of outdated. Oh my gosh, they're on sale." Those are rational justifications for an emotional decision you've already made.

Margo Aaron (19:13):

So, understanding that this is how our motivations for purchase work, there are certain levers you can pull to increase someone's likelihood to buy. Now, here's where the ethical line gets interesting or where I would argue that it's actually helpful. Now, most companies think that they have competitors within their category, that you're deciding whether you want McDonald's or Burger King, that you're deciding whether you want to go to barre3 or Bar Method or Xtend Barre, you're picking between different options within a category.

Margo Aaron (19:50):

It turns out that's not actually how we shop, and I found this out when I was doing a study for an exercise studio where we were trying to do the very famous competitive analysis. And when we got deeper into the data, what we found is that people weren't making a decision about which exercise studio to go to; they were deciding whether they should exercise or not. So, most of the time your competition is apathy. Your competition is clicking X on the website or on the window. It is marking as read. It is walking out of the store without buying anything. That's generally your competition. And when that is your competition, these persuasion tools can be very useful to influencing action.

Margo Aaron (20:39):

So, an example I like to use is my dentist. My dentist uses so many persuasion levers, and it is so incredibly helpful in getting me to do what I actually need and want to do, which is get my teeth cleaned. They will use something called urgency and scarcity, which is creating a sense of immediacy and loss. So, they'll send me a text message which is in a convenient form. Right? I get it on my phone. It's interruptive, but I see it. And it says, "Hey, you're running out of time to use this ..." I think it's like there's a certain amount of money before ... I have to make an appointment at a certain time or I lose this cash. And that 10 times out of 10 makes me set an appointment to go see my dentist, because what they're competing with is just my forgetting and my sincere desire not to go to the dentist, because who wants to do that?

Margo Aaron (21:38):

So, it's a small tool that they can use that gets me to do something that I actually do need to do and eventually want to do but keep bunting the ball down the field. This would be an example of persuasion and influence that is slightly manipulatable, but it's genuinely helpful. Right? It's not deceiving me. It's not using facts that are untrue. It's not assuming I'm dumb. I think when it comes to the ethical discussion, we do have to consider intent.

Margo Aaron (22:06):

A lot of times when I talk to companies they don't treat their customers as if they're people. When part of your using these tools and deploying influence tools in an ethical manner, it comes from recognizing that there's a human being on the other side. And if they don't genuinely want your product, don't let them buy it. Let them live their life. They don't have to buy your product. There's plenty of people that do. Where I think it's helpful is, if there is someone out there that has the problem that you solve, then using these tools is genuinely helpful, because you can help them overcome their own inertia and their own apathy to do something that they want to do.

Margo Aaron (22:44):

And I think this is hard to understand, because our framing of sales, and you did it right here, is talking about convincing people. How do you convince people to buy your thing? How do you make people do things that they don't want to do? And the answer is you don't and you can't. You can't make someone do something they don't want to do. Anyone who's had a toddler and you need them to eat vegetables will understand, or even a teenager with a curfew. You can't make people do things they don't want to do, but you can help them do the things they already want to do.

Margo Aaron (23:16):

So, here's the key, all. What your marketing goal is and where these tools of influence can be genuinely helpful in a moral way is to connect what someone already wants and the desires they already have to the product or service that you sell. That's the key.

Susan Boles (23:35):

That is powerful. And I think so many of us feel like sales are icky or we're uncomfortable with them. There's all this mindset and emotion tied to ... Especially if you have a service business that's sort of related to ... You're essentially selling your own services. You're selling yourself in a non-prostitutey kind of way. And trying to get people to buy your thing can sometimes seem very, very convoluted and scary and icky, and then we run away from it, where the thing that I have always appreciated about how you approach sales is that you're just there to help people, and that's it. And if they need the thing that you sell and you tell them about it in a human way, they're going to be grateful that you sold them the thing, because it'll genuinely help them.

Margo Aaron (24:37):

That's right. That's right. And something to remember is that people don't like to be sold, but they do like to buy. Right? We all love buying. I mean, go into anyone's house, and the first thing they want to show you is some new gadget. Right? They want to show you their new TV. They want to show you their shows. People love showing you new door handles and different parts of interior design. If you've ever met anyone who's redone their kitchen, beware of going in their house.

Susan Boles (25:03):

Yeah. So, we are redoing our kitchen, and so are our neighbors, and you mentioning the door pulls ... I literally walked into our neighbors' house the other day, and she had all of the different selections of door pulls. And me, her, and our whole group of friends stood in her kitchen, staring at door pulls, to try and figure out which was the best door pull.

Margo Aaron (25:26):

That's right.

Susan Boles (25:28):

We had this conversation for like 45 minutes where we were talking about door pulls.

Margo Aaron (25:32):

That's right. That's right. And that's a perfect example. I mean, we love to buy. We love the dance of deciding which one and looking at how it looks and then ... I mean, there is a fun part of shopping that we forget when we think about sales, because we have this image in our head of this used car salesman who pushes things on people that they don't actually want. And the good news is that doesn't work, and it's a buyers' market right now, and part of that is it's not just the economy, it's the rise of the internet. So, the fact that you can Google information immediately means the seller doesn't have more information than you for the first time in human history.

Margo Aaron (26:12):

So, we've leveled the playing field there, and that's where the psychology becomes even more important, but also it's an issue of respect. Right? People want the car. Right? You want to go to a car dealership, because you want a car, not because you want to walk into a minefield where you're going to be taken advantage of. So, I think you and I are having this discussion resting on a few assumptions that we should probably make clear, which is that, if you're in business, you are not consciously trying to deceive people with the widget that you have or the service that you provide. Now, we've all met those people who are full of baloney. I don't know if I can curse on here.

Susan Boles (26:49):

Feel free.

Margo Aaron (26:52):

I have done deals with people where I found out later that they can't actually provide the services that they sold, and that is really sad and unfortunate. I think being in marketing, you see the same sort of stereotype as salespeople where people think marketers are full of poo-poo, and in large part it's because they are. A lot of marketers don't understand marketing. They do one, tiny part of the marketing pie, and they sell the sizzle and not the steak. And what we're talking about is that doesn't work. You can fool someone once. You can't fool them twice. And you don't want to.

Margo Aaron (27:26):

So, part of what you're feeling when you feel resistance to sales is, one, the legacy of sales that you think is bad, that you're reacting to; and two, what you're feeling is the fact that you're a good freaking person with a sense of integrity, and that's a good thing. So, what I'd like to offer is a reframe. It's not that sales is icky. It's that you were introduced to a version that no longer works and isn't true. And the version that does work is thinking of yourself as the solution to someone's problem.

Margo Aaron (27:53):

I call it the problem-solution framework in my Skillshare course, but the idea is simply what problem do you solve. And not just the actual problem. This is where need and want, the distinction between the two is really important for how you position yourself. It's that you know you saw the very real need, but that doesn't mean the need is what your customer wants to buy. And it's really, really important to know what problem your customer thinks they have, not the one that you know you need to solve.

Margo Aaron (28:26):

So, I like to use the example of weight loss, because most trainers or coaches I've talked to will tell you that, to get to the bottom of a lot of weight issues, it has to do with emotions. Sometimes it's trauma. Sometimes it's loneliness. Sometimes it's family. I mean, there's a lot of things that underlie why and how we eat, and that is not what you lead with when you try and sell. You also call it weight loss when that's not actually what you're selling. Right?

Margo Aaron (29:04):

You call it weight loss, because the person that you want to help is identifying their emotional problem as a weight loss issue, and that's how you're thinking about it. Usually if you're like, "I'm going to make you fall in love with your body," and that might work today actually in today's market, but most people, especially in the last 30 years, were not thinking that way. They were thinking more, "I want to lose weight." Then you give them the promise of weight loss, and then you fix all the other things, or you address them. Do you see the difference? Does that make sense?

Susan Boles (29:33):

Yeah, absolutely. So, with that in mind, what are some of the ways that we could use this kind of knowledge to help us evaluate our own buying behavior? When we go to decide if we want to invest in our business our buy a personal purchase, does being aware of what's happening, being aware of marketing techniques and ideas, does it make us think about what we're buying and why, or are we just always going to buy what we feel? You really geek out on this. So, when you go buy stuff, are you super aware of your own buying behavior, or are you just aware of the marketing and you're still buying the emotional-

Margo Aaron (30:16):

Oh my god. No. I'm as susceptible as anyone else. It's funny. We talk about this within the marketing world, and my favorite moment of validation is when Daniel Kahneman ... If you guys know him, he won the Nobel Prize for basically figuring out that human beings are irrational. That's an oversimplification. He's the guy who did system 1, system 2 thinking. Not important. The point is he discovered biases. And someone asked him the same question, like, "You know about biases. Now are you less susceptible to them?" And he was like, "Oh, no, I'm also a human being." And that's how I feel when it comes to marketing. Absolutely. I'll see a two-for-one deal, and I'm like, "Oh yeah," and I'll spend three times as much money and buy so much more product. And I'm like, "Wait, you didn't need that," but it made me feel like I was getting a deal, and I'm a sucker for a deal.

Margo Aaron (31:06):

So, no, we all have our own susceptibilities, but I will say where it can be helpful and a useful tool is in cultivating self-awareness. So, if you have a tendency to binge purchase when you're feeling sad, for example, cultivating self-awareness, whether through mindfulness or meditation or journaling or all the different ways in which you can do it, you can actually start to understand your motivations for purchase. So, while you're not always aware of your biases in buying, you can understand when like, "Am I buying these shoes because I want to fit in and I'm insecure, or am I buying these because it's a genuine expression of who I am? Am I buying this because it's on sale?" I mean, you can start to have that discussion with yourself and then end up ... Where I think the golden land is, is not to not buy or not be susceptible but to be fully aware of why you're buying what you're buying and be happy with it. Be satisfied with where your money is going.

Margo Aaron (32:07):

So, if you're someone who ... You and I are both fans of Ramit. He talks about a lot of money psychology. And one of the things I love that he says is spend a lot on the things that you actually value. I think where we experience discontent is when we spend on things we don't value. An example of that I can give you guys is I would find myself feeling so resentful and angry when I spent exorbitant sums of money on gifts for other people. And I thought this meant that I was a horrible person until I dove deeper into trying to understand why and my motivations for purchase and all of the things we're talking about here today, and I realized I don't value gifting, obligatory gifting on holidays as a form of love. That doesn't work for me. And I reshifted what our gifting policy was. So, now we give really bad child's art. Anything my daughter makes is what you're getting now. And it's very enjoyable for me, because people have the same expression as if you gave them a sweater you don't like. They're like, "Oh, this is great."

Susan Boles (33:17):

But it's your kid-

Margo Aaron (33:18):

But it's free.

Susan Boles (33:19):

... so they can't touch you.

Margo Aaron (33:19):

Exactly.

Susan Boles (33:20):

They can't be like, "Oh, this is ... I don't like this." Because it's your kid. You can't mess with that. That's brilliant.

Margo Aaron (33:28):

That's right. That's right. Then they feel it's meaningful, which is important to me, and it also helps me declutter the house, and it makes my kid feel good. So, there's a lot of benefits that are more important to me. And then I took the money that we saved, and I put it in the places where I liked to spend exorbitantly, which is on food. I love spending money on food. I hate being the person who doesn't want to get the good appetizer. I want to spend money to just try the food.

Margo Aaron (33:56):

Anyway, the point is finding that balance, it helps to have that self-awareness to understand what's driving your purchase behavior and so you're experiencing less buyer's remorse, getting more responsible with your spending. And you're still going to be emotionally motivated for your purchases, but that's not a bad thing. We talk about emotions like they're bad, but really it can be fun. I love my penchant for costume jewelry. I love that I can wear something ridiculous one day and be in a different costume the next day. That is a thrill. So, we can relish in this new consumerist economy that we live in without feeling taken advantage of.

Margo Aaron (34:37):

And we can also, and I think it's important that we do this, point out the places where the marketing is leaning into deception and not influence, when it's lying to us about ... This earrings that you're buying, it's not going to cure your cancer. The crystal is not going to cure your cancer. A lot of this is around claims. The ingredient lists we put in food, and we say it's one thing, and it's not. I don't know if you guys have followed the debate on the word natural flavors or spices or even the deregulation or lack of regulation on the term natural. That is something where it gets filed under manipulation, and I would call it deception.

Margo Aaron (35:20):

First of all, natural, there's something called the naturalistic fallacy, which is the idea that we assume anything natural is good, but we forget that AIDS and murder are also natural, and so is bacteria, so is COVID. So, it's called the naturalistic fallacy, because you put that word on food, and suddenly people think that means the food is good for you. So, it's not regulated. That's the argument, is that natural is not a term that you can technically define, but it is untrue. So, something like that is where you're being manipulated.

Margo Aaron (35:51):

So, you can become a more informed consumer in that way, Susan, to answer your question of where we can make sure we're not manipulated, but this is where it gets dicey, because we cannot be expected to be experts in every category. And I've written about this as well, but this is where I reveal my own hypocrisy. I know everything there is to know about buying food ethically and where there's manipulative and deceitful marketing practices going on. But you take me to the clothing section of the store and I don't know what the heck's happening, and I'm way more motivated by my desire to fit in and look cute than I am child labor laws. Right?

Margo Aaron (36:31):

So, there is a problem in this country with how we talk about what our products and services are, but, being that most of the people listening are in the service-based businesses, which means you are in very much control of your own supply chain and aren't dealing with suppliers or problems of distribution that put some of these ethical problems into question, you have much more control over how you deploy these tools in a useful and genuinely helpful way.

Susan Boles (37:01):

I love that. So, is there anything you think we should talk about that we haven't touched on yet?

Margo Aaron (37:06):

Oh my god, Susan, where do we begin? No. I mean, the thing I would want people to take away from this is your customers are human beings, and the best posture we can take when we think about their relationship to stuff, their relationship to money, is contained in my favorite Ogilvy quote, which is "The customer is not a moron. She's your wife." And the more empathy we can pull in to our marketing processes, the better. And that is not to say it is license to not recognize that you're in a sales transaction. This isn't license, because our people are on the other side of the spectrum, Susan, where they're like, "I can't sell. Selling is nasty."

Susan Boles (37:49):

"I don't sell things."

Margo Aaron (37:49):

"I don't sell things. It's boastful." No, no, no. That's not what I'm saying. We don't want to get caught in the false humility trap. If you've built something really amazing, you should tell your customer about it. You assume that she wants to know about it. I think we get really stuck in our own heads and how we're going to be perceived or whether we're being ethical. A good way to [inaudible 00:38:07] is to remember that the person on the other end of this exchange is a human being and sitting in her shoes and going, "Okay, what is she thinking in the moment that she has made this decision?" And sitting in that moment is really, really eyeopening for what would be helpful to move her forward in working with you and buying your stuff.

Susan Boles (38:29):

I love that. So, where can our listeners find you if they want to connect or learn more about you and what you do?

Margo Aaron (38:36):

Yes. Y'all can geek out with me. My website is kind of the home base, thatseemsimportant.com. Get on my email list. I have a weekly newsletter where we geek out on topics like this and the creative process and entrepreneurship and hustle culture and all those fun things. I also have an internet talk show with Hillary Weiss, and it's called Hillary and Margo Yell at Websites where we have conversations like this but in a much more angry manner, without a Susan to regulate us. And then lastly, I do a lot of Instagram stories. So, if you are over on the socials, you can check me out there.

Susan Boles (39:15):

Awesome. Thank you so much for coming back to the show and for coming and geeking out about buying behavior with me.

Margo Aaron (39:22):

Absolutely. My pleasure. Oh, and y'all, I forgot. I have an Honest Selling Secrets course on Skillshare. It's 19 minutes long. So, if you want to go a little deeper, you can check that out.

Susan Boles (39:31):

Perfect. We'll link to it in the show notes too.

Margo Aaron (39:34):

Awesome.

Susan Boles (39:35):

Margo is my go-to person for ethical marketing and how to think about using psychology in your marketing well. Understanding buyer behavior, the how and why people buy the things they do, is critical, not just as a business owner so that you can ethically sell more, but also as a consumer. Understanding why you want to buy something, that vision of the future that you're buying into, can also help curb the urge for spending. And spending less ultimately means more profit and healthier businesses. So, by being more conscious of how and why we're spending our money, we can potentially be just a little bit more strategic about how we're using each dollar at our disposal.

Susan Boles (40:17):

Now, if this is a conversation that you're interested in going a little bit deeper on or just having a chat about it with other business owners, I invite you to come join me at my Dollars and Decisions round table. It's a gathering of cool business owners, and we talk about things exactly like this. And the next one is January 14th at 2:00 PM Eastern. If you want to join us, head to scalespark.co/dollarsanddecisions, all one word, or just click the link in the show notes to sign up.

Susan Boles (40:47):

Break the Ceiling is produced by Yellow House Media. Our executive producer is Sean McMullin. Our production coordinator is Lou Blazer. This episode was edited by Marty Seefeldt with production assistance by Kristen Runvik.


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