What motivates your customers? How to find out and take advantage

Posted by Forrest Brown on 18 Mar, 2019
View comments Marketing
How to use keyword analysis for a deeper insight into what drives your customers.

Customer motivation.

How often do you stop to consider why customers choose your product over a competitor’s?

If you’re like most marketers, you probably attribute your success to how well you appeal to your ideal customer profile (ICP). A customer’s nationality, level of education, age, marital status, and estimated annual household income all factor into how you plan your marketing efforts, but you probably spend much less time talking about what motivates your customers.

Maybe there’s a simple reason for this: it’s harder to ask someone about their motivations than it is to ask them for their zip code.
But as a marketer, understanding your customers’ motivations lies at the heart of what you do. Your job is to introduce your company to the people who might be interested in buying your products or services, and what you know about those people informs how you try to reach them.

So how do you ask a customer what motivates them without it being weird? Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be awkward. In fact, you can learn a lot about what motivates your customers without ever even talking to them. The solution lies in motivation theory.

What motivates people?

I took a class during my senior year of college called Consumer Behavior. It began with me learning about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and ended with me doing an hours-long qualitative research study on Dungeons and Dragons players as a consumer subculture.

It also made me question my underlying motivations for every purchase I ever made.

“Do I really listen to podcasts because I like them, or is it because I want to be perceived as more cultured or intelligent?”

“Am I driving this old Volvo because it’s an affordable, reliable mode of transportation [it wasn’t] or because my dad has an old Volvo and I want to be like him?”

I don’t remember most of what I learned in that class now, but one thing that’s stuck with me is that motivations drive consumer behavior, and those motivations are not always what they appear to be. There are many theories of motivation out there, but the ones that stuck with me the most come from cognitive psychology.

The Cognitive Theory of Motivation says there are two kinds of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.

Extrinsic motivation is usually the result of an incentive or a consequence, whereas intrinsic motivation has more to do with self-actualization.

Being extrinsically motivated would mean doing something because you think it will have a direct, tangible benefit to you. Being intrinsically motivated would mean doing something because it makes you feel good about yourself or makes you feel fulfilled in some way.

In both listening to podcasts and driving an older Volvo with habitual engine problems, I was intrinsically motivated to make those consumption decisions because I used them as a form of self-expression.

I’m laying it all out here about the weird, maybe embarrassing reasons I had for taking certain actions, but how do you glean this from customers without conducting probing personal interviews?

How to identify what motivates your customers

The good news is you don’t have to get your customers to spill their guts to find out what motivates their consumption habits.

Looking at the search keywords in Google Analytics that send most people to your site, you can get a glimpse into whether your customers are mostly intrinsically or extrinsically motivated based on the way search queries are worded.

Let’s say you own a meal kit delivery business. Your company puts together recipes, gathers the necessary ingredients, and ships them out to your customers, who then prepare the meals at home. Sound familiar?

You start out offering a wide variety of menu options, but keeping all the ingredients for this menu is costly. You decide to narrow your focus to a specific group of people, so you take a look at your Google Analytics to find an opportunity.

What you see comes as a surprise: the three biggest search terms for driving traffic to your website are “family meal kits,” “affordable meal kits,” and “cheap dinner ideas.” You invested heavily in your brand to make your company appeal more to young professionals and newlyweds, but based on what Google is telling you, your biggest audience seems to be in a different stage of life.

Using these insights, you can infer that these people are probably more extrinsically motivated than intrinsically motivated. Generally speaking, families probably place a higher value on getting healthy, affordable food than they do on trying different ancient grains and specialty ingredients like harissa paste and purple potatoes. Families usually aren’t that big on sharing pictures of their trendy meals on Instagram, either.

If this assumption seems solid, you can use what else you know about extrinsic motivation to adjust your marketing efforts. Let’s take a look at what that might look like.

Using customer motivations to your advantage

Now that you know your audience is more extrinsically than intrinsically motivated, you can begin to roll out an adjusted marketing strategy based on what else you know about extrinsic motivation.

Remember, extrinsic motivation places a higher emphasis on reward and punishment, so use this duality to your advantage. Do you have a referral program set up yet? Now might be a good time to make one. Are you on Instagram? Make a post asking your followers to tag three of their friends for a chance to win a week of free meals.

Think of ways you can integrate reward systems into every aspect of your marketing plan. Another key consideration of your plan should be content. Are there any ways you can use blog posts or videos to appeal to your customers?

Consider these ideas:

  • A blog post about how to get kids to eat vegetables

- Reward: Your kids will eat vegetables and be healthier

  • An infographic with techniques on reducing cleanup time after a meal

- Reward: You’ll have more time to spend with family after dinner

  • A video on how to shop smart at the grocery store

- Reward: You’ll reduce clutter from your kitchen and save money

Of course, these ideas are tailored for a meal kit delivery service, but this should get you thinking about how you can target your marketing efforts to what motivates your customers.

Recognize, too, that motivation isn’t always so cut and dried. As I said earlier, people’s motivations are complex—a person might be primarily extrinsically motivated, but there could also be some intrinsic motivations factoring into their buying behavior. It might be worth looking into these and building some marketing campaigns around them.

To sum up

Marketing is tough, but delving deeper than  the surface demographics can make your job easier. Different incentives motivate different people, but you don’t have to have the full, detailed picture of every customer’s motivation profile to do a better job of marketing to them. Use keyword analytics or a keyword planning tool such as Wordtracker to get a general idea, and go from there to do what you do best.

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