Harry Beckwith

Harry Beckwith J.D.

Unthinking

The Surprising Clout of Comfort

Why Do We Buy What We Buy?

Posted Jan 12, 2011

During the last month, I've heard friends offer those reasons for choosing a Toyota Camry, Sumatran coffee, and the University of Minnesota, respectively.

I make my living from understanding choices like these: I'm a marketer. And as a passionate Stanford football fan and advisor to its athletic department, I pay special attention to one revealing "buying" decision that thousands of young men will officially announce on February 2:

How does a coveted high school football player choose his college?

You probably assume that these 18 year-old stars choose the schools with winningest teams, like Texas, Florida and USC. You are right-often. Yet every year, these top players must try to choose from among several attractive options. How do these young men choose?

I know the answer because I often talk with these fellows. They give me the same answer I hear when I ask clients of my professional firm clients, "Why do you continue to work with this firm?" Their answers include a word I hear more often than all other words combined: Comfort. "I just felt comfortable with them."

Comfort?

It's one of our greatest needs, and it helps explain another pattern in all students' choice of college. Care to guess the average distance between a student's college and home? It's 94 miles. "Close enough to get home when you want," a University of Oregon admissions officer told me, "and far enough to keep your parents from just ‘stopping by.'" Among entire college populations, 94 of 100 students come from in-state or from a bordering state.

And as it turns out, so do the the football players. Every year, the state of South Carolina produces a disproportionate number of America's best high school football players. And every year, coaches from all over America fly to these young men's homes to praise their mother's pie. And each year, with few exceptions, those players ignore all that fawning and choose one of two major instate schools, South Carolina or Clemson.

Even 290 pound kids who thrive on flattening people make sure that their moms are never far away.

Do we choose the "best," whatever that might be? Not that often. Instead, we choose most products and services the same way we choose a pair of slippers.

We choose the ones that just feel comfortable--the ones that are "just good enough."