HBR: purchase decisions in the context of a social identity
Social identities are important for marketers because they guide people’s behavior at any given moment. Some behavior will bolster and support the group, and, equally important, some behavior will betray the group. It is no coincidence that people in the same profession—successful athletes, say, or chief executives—tend to buy similar cars and read similar magazines. When it comes to a purchase, the group you identify with at the time of the transaction is a very important factor in your decision.
But a customer’s social identity at such a moment can’t be easily captured through questions on surveys, whether before or after the purchase. Subtle shifts in social context can dramatically change what group we identify with at any instant. Waiting in the business lounge to board a plane, we might reach for Harvard Business Review, not just for its content but also, subconsciously, to reinforce our identity as a successful executive. A chance conversation about the background music with a neighbor in the lounge, however, might lead us instead to choose a music magazine to reinforce our identity as a rock fan.