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What Is Motivation? (Consumer Psychology 101)

Posted On  March 5, 2020
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Motivation is the reason, conscious or nonconscious, for behaving a particular way in a certain situation. Brands are constantly in search of new ways to motivate consumers to engage with, promote, and ultimately buy their products and services. The decision-making science behind motivation is an essential element to building brand equity and a loyal customer base.

What factors influence consumer motivation?

Three main factors work together to predict consumer behavior: emotions, situation, and personality:

  • Emotions – Humans use feelings as information about objects, tasks, products, and people. These emotions are flexible and context-specific. For example, a consumer can feel either relaxed at a spa or excited at a basketball game. Both are positive emotions but are very different on an arousal levels. Relaxation may motivate someone to linger and let their minds wander, while excitement may motivate them to cheer loudly, buy a beer, or a team jersey.
  • Situation – Situational cues may make certain ideas more salient or top of mind, causing people to act in ways they otherwise might not. The next time you’re in a grocery store, pay attention to how many “free” samples you eat along your shopping journey. Research shows that people tend to taste more samples when they see others sampling them as well.
  • Personality – People vary in the relative importance they place on different human needs. For some individuals, the need to belong (i.e., being able to build and maintain strong connections with family and friends) is of great importance, while others are driven by their need to explore is a major driving force (i.e., to discover and create new things). Differences in the predominance of these needs influence consumers’ reactions to ads, preferences, and shopping strategies. For instance, a person who is high in “belonging” is more likely to spend his hard-earned money on a family trip to Disney over a personal shopping spree.

Are consumers always conscious of the motivations that influence purchase decisions?

Not necessarily. We are creatures of nonconscious attitudes, beliefs, and feelings activated by stimuli and subtle cues in our surrounding environment.  We refer to these stimuli as “primes.” Priming is a powerful way to motivate consumers to adjust their behavior without them even being aware of it.

For example, one study showed that playing French music in a store led to an increase in French wine sales. Why? Because there is a link between what the nonconscious mind perceives (e.g., French music), the mental representation underlying that perception (e.g., France) and a corresponding behavior (e.g., French wine purchase).

Primes activate our underlying emotions and personalities, which in turn cause us to act one way or another. Think of the last time you had a bad day at work and ended up buying that bottle of wine, bag of chips, or ice cream that you otherwise wouldn’t have.

Why is it important for brands to study consumer motivation? 

Nonconscious beliefs, perceptions, and emotions are at the heart of every purchase decision. Understanding the brand-specific why beneath people’s perceptions and behaviors is critical to developing and strengthening consumer engagement, loyalty, and love. In other words, consumers will connect to your brand more strongly if you tap into the deeper reasons for their purchases (i.e., the emotional, personal, and situational “whys”).

What methods and tools can brands use to measure consumer motivation? 

At the Pragmatic Brain Science Institute®, we don’t ask what consumers’ motivations are. Instead, we derive them with our well-established frameworks and tools, including Emotion Circumplex, Rapid Choice and BASE-IC analysis. Through these tactics, we get a more accurate understanding of what consumers are feeling and their likelihood to take action.

What brand does a great job motivating consumers to buy their products or services?

Nike is a great example of a brand that knows how to spur consumers to action and be loyal. From its TV and print ads to its events and in-store displays, the Nike brand evokes   associations of innovation, inspiration, and self-empowerment with consumers. For example, the “Dream Crazy” ad featuring Colin Kaepernick, LeBron James and Serena Williams reinforces the brand’s link to personal achievement, social justice, and strength, winning it an Emmy for outstanding commercial in 2019.

In order to motivate purchase behavior as Nike does, brands need to tap into these nonconscious needs and stir the underlying emotions in a consistent context or situation-specific fashion.

 

Are consumers motivated to buy or engage with YOUR brand? LRW’s Pragmatic Brain Science Institute® can help you design and test market strategies to keep your product or service top of mind. Contact LRW today!

Written by Allison Bajger
Allison is a behavioral scientist with over a decade of expertise. Prior to joining LRW, she founded a strategic consulting firm helped companies better understand the behavioral patterns of consumer choice. She taught Consumer Behavior and Social Psychology courses at multiple universities. Allison received her B.A. in Psychology Summa Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa, an M.A., M.Phil., and Ph.D. in Behavioral Sciences (Social Consumer Psychology) from Columbia University. She is a Board Member of the Columbia Alumni Association and Columbia Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

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