Why People Buy: 5 Aspirational Marketing Tactics for Retail Brands

aspiration marketing retail

Brands, more than coming up with complex sales strategies and over-the-top marketing tactics, are increasingly shifting their focus to understanding (and capitalizing on) why customers buy. 

The reason? Understanding what triggers customers to buy helps brands analyze consumer motivations, which can then be used to plan marketing campaigns that drive more meaningful results.

The subconscious part of a buyer’s mind—which is what retailers want to understand—stores feelings, emotions, and, most importantly, aspirations. It shapes their idea of who and what they want to be.

And from a psychological lens, this desire to become a better version of themselves pushes buyers to buy products that promise that transformation. 

Great marketers and brands tap into these aspirational desires. For example: while a luxury brand like Gucci does sell high-quality, fashion-forward clothes, what it’s really selling is a status symbol that helps buyers send a message to the world. 

This is how aspiration-based marketing follows the age-old saying: Sell the sizzle, not the steak. It combines the science of human psychology with the art of selling to configure subconscious thinking in a retail brand's favor. 

Why and how aspiration helps drive retail sales 

Most buyers focus on the outcome of their purchases rather than the purchase itself. The reason: they’re most concerned with how a product will help them go from where they are to where they want to be. 

A gym membership, for instance, promises the outcome of a more fit physique—which attracts people to buy. It’s the end goal of the consumer that drives the purchasing decision, not the membership itself.

“Today, it’s not just buying products, but entering into a lifestyle,” shares Ana Andjelic, author of The Business of Aspiration. “It’s not just my closet, it’s a collection. Every item becomes a collectible and has specific value because it has a story.”

Researchers have found this to be true, too. One study documented that a variety of aspirations (e.g., status, success, and achievement) characterize consumers’ emotional attachment toward brands through representing one’s ideal future self. 

As a result, aspiration fuels the customer journey across every touchpoint, from discovery to research to purchase and beyond.

aspiration marketing retail


What’s the reason aspirational-focused marketing is on the rise as of late? According to Anuj Kapoor, professor of marketing at IIM Ahmedabad, “It’s economics (surplus income) and psychology (aspirational products make users feel good and evoke hope).”

Knowing this, brands today are getting more strategic about tapping into these aspirational motivators across marketing efforts, experiences, and more.

5 aspiration-based retail marketing tactics that boost sales

All consumers have peak quality standards, which psychology defines with the term “quality world.” People compare the real world with this fictional quality world when making buying decisions.

It’s essentially a distinction between “what we have” and “what we can have.” 

aspiration marketing retail


Aspiration-based marketing uses this distinction to motivate people to buy. There are many ways this can be done, but there are a few core tactics used to portray this contrast (and influence buying behaviors).


“You always want what you don’t have” is a popular saying that perfectly exemplifies the fear of missing out (FOMO). The marketing world identifies this deep-rooted psychological need to want what you don't have as FOMO.

FOMO marketing draws on people’s anxiety about missing out on something they don’t have. It can take many forms, such as:


Limited-time sales and one-time lowest offers drive people to claim the deal before it slips away. Express’s “Last Day” sale banner is an excellent case in point that deploys above-the-fold copy to create a sense of urgency around a limited-time discount. 

aspiration marketing retail



Messaging like “Only a few items left” and “Limited items available” pushes customers to buy an item before it sells out. Ugmonk’s “Only 1 left in stock” microcopy on a product page is the perfect example of this at work.

aspiration marketing retail


At its core, FOMO marketing is all about pushing people to buy now rather than later, adding a sense of urgency to aspirational desires. It works, too: 60% of buyers make reactive purchases in under 24 hours because of the fear of missing out.

2. Community as a source of influence

Buyers have endless information online to research and review before making a purchasing decision. Dr. Robert Cialdini’s six principles of persuasion in his book Influence show how positive peer influence has massive sway when it comes to aspirational buying behaviors.

A community of brand advocates is a powerful way to create influence, as it holds the power to nurture trust and confidence in your brand through customers' real-life experiences. 

Such a community offers:

  • User-generated content that solves existing and potential buyers’ problems
  • Peer-to-peer interaction among customers and prospects to maximize social validation 
  • A network of brand ambassadors and evangelists

#TikTokmademebuyit videos are a prime example of community-driven commerce. The hashtag—with over six billion views—is a live recommendation channel for the TikTok community. It’s the perfect blend of brand community and social commerce, influencing millions of purchase decisions around the world. 

aspiration marketing retail


Sephora’s Beauty Insider Community also shows the impact a brand community can create. While beauty brands mainly collaborate with influencers across social media channels, these campaigns can’t build the same trust as a community of actual shoppers. This community increases engagement rates among its members, leading to a 22% increase in cross-selling opportunities and a hike in upsell revenue that falls between 13% and 51%

aspiration marketing retail

3. Exclusivity and access

Remember when toilet paper was sold out at the start of the pandemic? One of the biggest reasons people rushed to get more toilet paper was the scarcity principle, which states that the more unattainable a product is, the higher it is valued. 

Marketers put a spin on the scarcity principle to create a feeling of exclusivity among buyers.

Nike's limited edition sneakers and Rolex’s limited edition watches deliver the promise of owning something exclusive—which provides a sense of prestige and importance. The aspirational emotions attached to exclusivity push people to buy even if they don't need the product. 

Aspiration-based marketing: Retail’s time-tested success story

Aspirations play an invaluable role in people’s buying decisions, as they present a path to a better version of a consumer’s life—whether it’s through a simple pair of shoes or a piece of luxury jewelry. 

Today’s retail brands can construct their marketing strategies around consumer aspirations to boost sales by thoroughly studying why their customers buy, instead of focusing on passing trends and viral marketing strategies.

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