Accordingly to marketing folklore, many years ago a new MD took over at pen company Parker. One of his first actions was to assemble the board of directors and, standing before them holding a top of the range pen, asked: “Who is our greatest competitor?”

The first answer to emerge from the board was "Shaeffer", which produced a very similar product, with a good reputation for quality and style.

Unimpressed, the MD replied: “We certainly compete with Shaeffer to some extent but they are by no means our major competitor.”

Undeterred, a second board member offered a different answer, citing the humble biro. Although these pens retailed at a much lower cost, he reasoned that they were used for the same purpose and therefore writing implements in general were Parker’s major competitor.

“You’re getting better but you’re still not there,” said the MD.

Another board member suggested that in actual fact the telephone was a major competitor and that the market they were in was in fact ‘communications’, encompassing both the written and spoken word.

“More creative but you still haven’t identified our major competitor,” replied the MD.

Eventually the MD gave his view. “Our major competitor is the Ronson cigarette lighter,” he said.

When asked why, the MD explained that the company was in fact in the ‘quality gift market’. Analysis of the sales of Parker pens showed that the majority of purchases were made by individuals buying them as gifts for other people. Their other biggest consideration was a quality cigarette lighter.

The lesson? When it comes to purchasing decisions, the golden nugget for marketers is understanding why  your audience makes a decision. In this day and age, this means looking one step beyond data, focusing on buyer motivation and purchase intent.