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My embarrassing iTunes receipt

Written by Justin on April 26, 2014

Marketing is convincing people to take out their wallets and buy.

Let that sink in for a second.

If I’ve left my wallet in another room, what pushes me to get up from my desk, go find my credit card, and come back to finish a checkout?

One way to understand why people bought a product is to examine the sequence of events that lead up to the purchase.

My embarrassing iTunes receipt

Here’s a real example from my own life: this is a bit embarrassing, but I just received this receipt from iTunes:

Comics, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 - $1.99
Comics, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #2 - $1.99
Comics, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #3 - $1.99
Comics, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #4 - $1.99
Comics, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #5 - $1.99
Comics, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #6 - $1.99
Comics, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #7 - $1.99
Comics, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #8 - $1.99
Comics, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #9 - $1.99
Comics, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #10 - $1.99
Comics, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #11 - $1.99
Comics, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #12 - $1.99
Comics, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #13 - $1.99

Last weekend, I spent $26 on TMNT comics. Why did I do this?

I was sick in bed from Friday to Monday. Laying in bed, feeling nauseous, I needed something simple that could distract me from my illness. I thought a comic could be the perfect antidote: it’s not heavy reading, it’s easy to consume, and it’s entertaining. I found Comixology on my iPad, bought my first comic and was hooked. After I finished it, it was easy to buy the next one. And the next, and the one after that.

So it’s simple, right? I’m hiring the comics to do a specific job: to entertain me while I’m in bed.

But that’s not the end of the story. There are even deeper forces at play here.

For example, why did I choose Ninja Turtles? And why did I even think of comics?

To answer that, we need to go back about 25 years to my 8th birthday party:

Justin Jackson's 8th birthday party in 1988

That birthday, my friend Travis gave me a TMNT comic. I was a huge Ninja Turtles fan and was really excited to read it, but after the party was over, the comic disappeared. I couldn’t find it anywhere.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles original comic book

It’s funny, but the thought of that missing comic has stayed with me to this day. I’ve had a longing to read it ever since I lost it. So while I was sitting in my bed, sick, my real thought wasn’t “I should buy a comic” it was “I should buy that Ninja Turtles comic I’ve wanted to read since I was 8”.

There’s a sequence (affected by different forces) behind every purchase. The folks over at JTBD have a nice way of presenting the timeline here:

Why do people buy? The purchasing timeline

For some purchases, the progression of events happens very quickly. For others, it takes much longer. Maybe even 25 years!

Using these insights

Every purchase has a story. Your job (as a marketer) is to discover that story.

We can gain valuable insights by looking at the history behind a purchase which we can then apply to building and marketing products. In my case, we can see that nostalgia was a powerful force, but there are certainly others. Understanding those early triggers will help you unlock the puzzle of how to reach customers with your message. (More on this here)

Your turn

The best way to understand these concepts is to practice them on yourself.

Find a recent purchase you’ve made: something for your business, your most recent Amazon delivery, or a receipt from iTunes.

Ask yourself these questions:

Once you’re done, I’d love to hear what you learned: answer my question here on Twitter.

Cheers,
Justin Jackson
@mijustin

PS: This post explained why understanding the purchase timeline is important. My upcoming book explains how you can apply these principles to build and market better products.

Thanks to Fred, Chris, Michael and Chris for their early feedback on this post.

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