Marketing, Startup Advice

It’s not about the product: A bartender shares her insights into consumer behaviour

Martin Kovacs /

Consumer behaviour typically follows certain well-established patterns, regardless of the industry, however delving deeper into this behaviour reveals motivations are not always as they appear at face value.

At Medium, bartender and digital marketer Kris Gage says there are overriding similarities between her two occupations.

“My day job is in digital marketing,” Gage writes. “By night, I bartend. And it’s kind of remarkable how consistent the two are  — mostly because: people are people.”

It’s not really about the product

Gage stresses the importance of looking beyond the immediate consumer desire for a product and questioning underlying motivations, be it a customer in a bar or one who is shopping at a clothing outlet. Need is not always a straightforward proposition, she says.

“Unless you are selling electricity or heat or the absolute most basic of food and clothing to someone in dire straits, you are never, ever selling a product,” she writes.

“And the need is never what it seems. Understanding these needs goes a long way. You almost never want to speak or market directly in terms of these needs, because it freaks people out and breaks the ‘magic’ of what they’re doing, but understanding the deeper motivations goes a long way in building rapport.”

Guidance is a key

While some customers may be well-informed when it comes to the type of product or service they are seeking, many will appreciate a helping hand.

As both a bartender and digital marketer, Gage says that the number one question she is asked is: “What do you recommend?”

“People know that this is your domain,” she writes.

“They know you see countless exchanges just like this one every single day. They trust your expertise. And, most importantly, they trust this more than they want to entrust themselves with the responsibility of deciding.”

Gage says consumers typically want to know what other people are doing, effectively ensuring that popular products have a good chance of staying popular.

“Social proof is a powerful thing,” she writes. “And with great power comes great responsibility.”

Consistency or novelty? Both are motivators

Gage observes that people thrive on consistency, whether it’s knowing where they are going to sit when they walk into a bar or knowing what type of drink or what food they wish to order.

On the other hand, novelty, keeping up to speed with the latest developments, is also a powerful consumer motivator, with Gage observing that people are also attracted to the new and novel. For this reason, giving away free samples can encourage reciprocity, with customers in turn feeling motivated to spend more.

“The caveat, however, is that it has to seem targeted, special and unexpected,” she writes.

“If customers know that you’re giving everyone a sample of beer,  or 10% off ,  the magic is broken. They’re definitely still going to reciprocate  —  but it’s going to be in like-kind. They’re going to treat you as a source for discounts.

“If you want this, awesome  —  seems like it’s working fine for Costco. But if you don’t want this, tread lightly. Build the relationship instead,  or alongside.”

NOW READ: You don’t need to optimise everything, just these two things

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Martin Kovacs

Martin Kovacs is a journalist with experience covering the IT, consumer electronics, retail, finance and energy sectors.

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