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Why People Buy: Part 3, Identity

Why People Buy: Part 3, Identity

Liston Witherill
Liston Witherill
2 min read

Have you ever noticed how many different roles you take on? For example, I’m an author, speaker, entrepreneur, husband, brother, son, uncle, athlete, musician, photographer, consumer, and so many more. The summation of these roles creates my identity.

The definition of identity, according to the built-in Mac dictionary, is:

identity: the characteristics determining who or what a person or thing is

The characteristics of my identity change over time. That is, my identity isn’t just who I am now, but also who I want to be.

This turns out to be a crucially important fact in sales.

When Toyota released the original Prius in 2001, it looked like just another car. In fact, it looked almost identical to their Toyota Corolla model that same year. The car sold well in its first 3 years on the market, but it wasn’t the breakout hit it would later become. Hybrids were a new category at the time, but there was a bigger problem with the Prius: it looked like a regular car. There was no visual indication that it was a hybrid.

In 2004, Toyota released the model that gave the Prius its signature look: a squared-off trunk with high rear brake lights. Now when people bought a Toyota Prius, they put their identity on display: ”I’m someone who makes responsible choices and cares about the environment. I’m doing my part.”

I recently watched the movie The Shape of Water. In one scene, the antagonist visits the Cadillac dealership to shop for a car. The salesperson says to him, “Cadillacs are for men of the future. You’re a man of the future, right?”

Every time we buy something, it’s for a better future. That better future includes a better version of ourselves. People buy the identity they seek. If your service can contribute to their identity, all the better.

You may be thinking, “this is only for products. I sell a service.”

Let’s look at programming then. You have a client who needs better code to reduce support issues and improve the security of their product. Those real-world outcomes are highly desirable and have important business reasons behind them. But the identity your client is buying may be “I’m someone who takes care of my users.”

If you’re a consultant who helps organizations engage with their employees, vendors, and customers, the outcome you deliver is more engagement. The identity your buyers are seeking may be “I’m someone who cares about culture,” or “I’m someone who tries new things to help my company.”

Whatever it is, wrapped up in every sale is an identity that your prospect is seeking.

To figure out how it applies to you, just fill in this sentence from the point of view of your client:

I’m someone who ________________.

What is the identity you can help your clients realize?