Customer motivations: Creating external and internal influences to support growth.

Understanding what motivates your customers and what you can control will help your business develop stronger marketing messages and engagement strategies.

Motivation can be driven internally or externally. Internal motivation is known as intrinsic motivation and external motivation is known as extrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic motivation drives a person to act or perform tasks out of personal satisfaction. Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, drives a person to perform a task for a reward. It is an incentive based motivation.

What is customer motivation and why is it important to your business?

Customer motivation drives your business’ growth. It is the reason why consumers purchase your goods or services.

Intrinsic motivations are stronger forms of motivation then external ones. However, intrinsic motivations are unique to each person and harder to influence. Building motivation within a customer, to consume your product, is a long-term strategy and best achieved through effective branding and public relations. The perception of your brand and the consumer’s awareness as well as the social currency your brand can bring them will assist in creating intrinsic motivations.

Extrinsic motivations are easier to influence however, should be used with caution. Studies have shown that if an extrinsic motivation is introduced for behaviours that a person had already found internally motivating, their intrinsic motivation will decrease overtime.

Before you can implement motivation strategies you must understand and categorise your customers (or target audience) into ‘customer types’ that have distinct behaviours. Start with basic demographics and move to sociographic. In the end, what you want to have is a clear idea of what your customers enjoy. Do they enjoy exploring, socialising, achievement, or are they competitive and thrill seeking?

Customer types allow you to create reward based motivations as well as encourage internal motivations. For example, socialisers may like to share information that gives them some form of social currency (that is – it makes them look good in front of their peers). This might include sharing exclusive offers that only they can distribute in order for their friends to take advantage of it. On the other hand, competitive customer types may prefer more exclusive and product versions with limited availability. This because they are always seeking to have something that others don’t.

How to create extrinsic motivations

Whatever the customer type, extrinsic motivations need to reward your customers for the desired behaviour. Whether it’s a purchase, or sharing your brand, your customers need to receive some form of benefit or reward (other than the product itself). This could be a freebie that comes with the product purchase or exclusive access to other products and services. Sales and discounts can be considered a form of extrinsic motivation. They encourage customers to try your product at a discounted rate. The discounted rate may be enough of a motivation and incentive to complete a purchase they would have otherwise ignored.

How to create intrinsic motivations

Intrinsic motivations do not require  external influences. The purchase of your product (or consumption) brings immediate satisfaction and drives desired behaviours like ‘social sharing’ or ‘repeat purchase’ without an incentive or reward.

Creating intrinsic motivation is done over time through product trust and brand recognition. Customers can become attached to your brand and advocates of your product. When this happens, they do not need an incentive to consume or try new things in your product range. These customers are also more likely to buy your products at full price; and less likely to wait for a sale or discount offer to come through.

Finding the balance between intrinsic and extrinsic motivations

As mentioned earlier, intrinsic motivation diminishes (or can not be created) if your brand consistently places external influence in market. As a marketer and business owner, you must find the balance between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation strategies. If customers have become advocates of your brand and are now internally motivated in their purchase decision, the continuation of offering extrinsic motivations you will create expectations among your customers. Customers will be conditioned to expect external influences and become disengaged or critical when you do not offer those additional benefits or rewards. This can damage your brand and reverse the effects of your branding activity.

An example of conditioning your customers to expect an external influence includes always having a sale. A brand I worked with in the past would participate in a new store sale every week and generally followed a 4 week cycle. The cycle would include deepening the discount as each week progressed. There would then be a 2 week break before a new store sale would start.

So what happened? their customers came to expect store sales and would either become upset if the product they wanted was not part of the sale. If they weren’t complaining, they would instead ask when the product would be on sale. Customers would simply withhold from a purchase they would have otherwise completed at full price. They were all waiting for a sale which meant, unless there was a store sale, no one was shopping.

Once customer expectations are set, it’s hard to change those expectations. The business end up ensuring they were purchasing products at a low enough wholesale rate to support a discount on the full retail price. Their margins had to be assessed at the discounted value instead of the full retail price. This may have allowed them to always be on sale but also made their purchasing decisions harder and limited their product range. They had to purchase products in greater quantities to get the economies of scales (which means they had to sell more). Otherwise, they had to purchase end of line products which were discounted and of varying sizes (which were less desirable to their customers). Re-conditioning their intrinsically motivated customers was a long journey.

Summary of how to create external and internal influences that support growth

What does this all mean for marketers and business owners? while you are building your brand, creating extrinsic motivations or external influences to encourage the purchase of your products may be desirable to achieve immediate short term objectives. However, as you establish and build your brand and product reputation and intrinsic motivations are established, you should try and reduce exposure to the extrinsic motivations to avoid the diminishing effect of internal motivations. This can be achieved by running below the line offers (closed offers that is not publicly accessible) or creating offers that do not have an obvious and predictable cycle.

Don’t be influenced by what your competitors are doing. Think about the brands that never go on sale, or those that have irregular sale cycles. When (or if) these brand go on sale, their customers go bonkers because they don’t know when to expect the next sale.

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