Monday, June 23, 2008

What Motivates People to Act?

Why are you reading this blog right now?

You may have conducted a Google search that brought you here. Or, you may have clicked through from the Allegro website. Or, maybe you simply stumbled onto it.

Why are you still reading? Simple curiosity? Are you looking for specific information? Are you just bored?

Each of these reasons can motivate someone to act. Are there other motivators? You bet. How can you use different motivators to prompt a prospect or customer to take the action you want?

The Old Motivators.
You have probably heard the famous quote by Henry Ford when talking about the Model T, “You can paint it any color, so long as it's black.” Although it has never been proven that Mr. Ford actually said that, it does capture the business approach of the early 1900s. Companies produced mass numbers of exactly the same car, tool, or bag of flour, and people bought them. Little thought was given to why consumers picked that particular product. Often it was the only choice available.

It wasn’t long, though, before commodity items began to compete with each other for the buyers’ attention and money. For instance, flour companies began to gain brand recognition and repeat purchases by creating bags with bright colors and flower prints. Women would then recycle the bags to make clothes and quilts. The flour had appeal because its bag could satisfy multiple needs.

Soon companies discovered that sales and discounts were a great motivator for getting people to buy. In the 1920s, one author wrote that love, gain, duty, self-indulgence, and self-preservation were the five motives to buy. With the emergence of radio and TV, marketers began using sex and status to promote products. Marketing efforts were focused on building brand recognition through repetition and catchy jingles.

The New Motivators.
In the late 20th century, consumers’ motives became more sophisticated and complex. As people had more discretionary income and a plethora of products and services to choose from, it became more challenging to reach them with a compelling message.

As with most direct marketing topics, the experts today don’t agree on what motivates consumers to act. Hershell Gordon Lewis, in his book Direct Mail Copy that Sells!, states that the four great motivators are fear, guilt greed, and exclusivity. Bob Stone says his book Successful Direct Marketing Methods, “People respond to any given proposition for one of two reasons: to gain something they do not have or to avoid losing something they now possess.”

From the old to the new, all of these motives have one thing in common: they appeal to emotion. Most of the time, the reasons for acting on a direct marketing offer are guided by emotion and may even be irrational.

I recently bought a bright orange purse. Did I need another purse? No, I already had a purse that worked just fine. But, I wanted the orange purse because it matched my bright orange car. (That's another story about emotional purchases.) My husband just bought a gigantic crowbar. It's as tall as me. Does he need a crowbar that big? Could he live without it? Yes, but what if he should encounter a situation where he "needs" a crowbar that big? Now he's got one.

What motivates someone to buy an orange purse or a humongous crowbar? It's an emotional decision. I wanted the purse because it makes feel good to carry it. My husband wanted the crowbar because it was too cool to pass up.

Now may be the time to test new appeals and motivations. What is old may be new again. Or, it could be time for a unique, innovative approach or format that you haven’t tried before.

Just remember, people are emotional and irrational. Appeal to human nature!