Motivational marketing is not a new concept, but it is controversial. This strategy marries classic behavioral science, psychology, and the basic needs and desires of humanity into a marketing approach that goes beyond the product or service it’s selling.
Motivational marketing goes beyond the basic features and functionalities of a product or service, addressing the intrinsic desires and self-identity of the consumer. It takes the powerful human desire for self-determination and uses it as a tool to tie a product in with the inspirations and aspirations of the consumer. Most importantly, it provides a clear image of how the product ties in with the customer’s own vision of their future and view of themselves.
In this article, we will further define what motivational marketing is, provide some examples, and discuss the benefits and criticisms of this marketing theory.
There is a reason why tech companies have been at the forefront of marketing in the past decade. Catering to an increasingly young audience, tech companies such as Apple, Facebook, and Beats by Dr. Dre have been known to use attention-grabbing and sometimes outright bizarre marketing strategies to gain attention.
Consider the fact that according to recent surveys the average web developer working in the United States today has less than five years of working experience because they began their careers in a completely unrelated field. It’s clear that the tech industry is dominated by young professionals with different motivations and ideas than their parents. Understanding your customer demographic and what motivates them – and, as a marketer, being careful not to inject any of your own personal perceptions and ideas into that vision – is key to motivational marketing.
All marketing professionals understand the importance of being aware of your core customer demographics. In motivational marketing, however, it’s important to boil this demographic down to several key buyer personas: a certain type of person rather than a diverse group of people. This enables marketers to have a deeper understanding of the typical buyer for their product or service. It allows them to truly delve deeper into the motivation behind the purchase of their product.
Let’s say you are a company that sells gear for outdoor recreational activities. Your customer demographic on social media can be described as middle to upper-middle-class individuals from suburban locations aged 25-55 years old. To gain a deeper understanding of this customer segment, you try delving deeper into certain buyer personas. One such buyer persona is a 42-year old married professional male with children who value physical fitness. Let’s call him Harry the Hiker.
Let’s take a look at how you could use motivational marketing to inspire Harry the Hiker to choose your outdoor gear over all the different options available.
In order to use motivational marketing to inspire Harry to choose your brand over all the others, you must have a deeper understanding of the buyer’s journey. According to marketing experts, there are three stages to a buyer’s journey that every brand needs to understand: the awareness stage, the consideration stage, and the decision stage.
The awareness stage revolves around a problem or needs the buyer has. It is the marketer’s job to help raise awareness of this problem or need in a way that draws attention to their product as a potential solution. Let’s turn our focus back to Harry the Hiker. As a married professional with children, he probably has a lot of responsibilities and experiences some long hours at the office. He’s a person who enjoys seeing the fruit of his labors and does not shy away from challenges.
Harry is energetic and driven, but long days at the office have him feeling a little more drained than usual. Harry feels like he is missing something in life: an outlet for his naturally energetic, upbeat personality that is not tied to work or family responsibilities. Maybe he wants to feel the thrill of accomplishment for his own sake, which is what used to motivate him in his younger years. Making Harry aware of this need is key in motivational marketing.
The next step in this buyer journey is to make Harry consider what his options are for solving this problem. In our scenario, encouraging Harry to embrace the beauty, rigor, and solace of hiking could be presented as an answer. By contrasting the wild outdoors to the restricting, stuffy confines of an office setting, Harry can be motivated to learn more about hiking options near him.
Finally, in the consideration stage, Harry is fully committed to starting hiking as a recreational activity. He is researching the gear he needs to buy and is watching videos from social media influencers active in the outdoor recreation scene. By making Harry feel like he is in control, while also inspiring him to make a decision in favor of your brand, motivational marketing utilizes a balanced approach between the product and the consumer.
Your outdoor gear company can use imagery and carefully crafted copy on your website and social media to draw attention to your online store and compel your buyer persona to embrace your product as a solution to their needs. Consider the popular outdoor clothing outfitter North Face, whose slogan is ‘Never Stop Exploring’. This simple slogan is inspirational, motivational, and catchy. It encourages even older and less physically active people to engage in outdoor activities.
It also subconsciously causes the reader to contrast the outdoor aficionado’s life with someone who has “stopped exploring,” perhaps a person who is immobile, uninterested, or uninspired by adventure. Sometimes bringing a customer’s attention to a persona that they don’t want to identify with is as powerful as doing it the other way around.
There are some drawbacks to motivational marketing, however. Motivational marketing must be subtle and, most of all, it must show an intense understanding of your customer demographic and their wants and needs. If you want to be effective, it can’t come off as exploitative, fear-inducing, or guilt-tripping.
McDonald made this mistake in a UK advertisement targeting one of their prime customer demographics: mothers and their children. In the advertisement, a young boy is seen asking his mother about what his father was like, who presumably died before the boy could remember. After rattling off qualities the boy could not relate to, the mother then says his father’s favorite sandwich was the Filet-O-Fish, just like the boy’s. This advertisement was widely decried as exploitative and triggered extremely negative connotations among viewers who had lost a father when they were young.
On the other side, motivational marketing can be entirely too effective, perhaps in a way that compromises a brand’s integrity. We have all seen how the cosmetics and diet companies of the 90’s encouraged young women to compare themselves unfavorably to mostly air-brushed, idealistic visions of feminine beauty. The unfortunate message there was that, although you are a lot uglier and heavier than this beautiful model, if you buy our product, you can be attractive, too!
Although this message may have translated into high sales for a little while, it also helped fuel an epidemic of depression and eating disorders. Plus, it caused these same women to have negative perceptions of these brands when they were older and wiser – and had more money to spend. Compare that to, say, the athletic wear brands today that show a more diverse group of strong, active women and you will see the problem with the former campaigns.
From these examples, it is clear that motivational marketing can be dangerous for brands and consumers. It’s not only important to use the right tools, but to use them in a way that prioritizes emotional intelligence and ethics.
Motivational marketing is the key ingredient that creates brand loyalty for many of the world’s most popular brands. It can increase a brand’s level of customer intimacy and help them create bonds with their communities that go beyond marketing. It can also give a brand purpose beyond the product they sell and a meaningful place in customer’s hearts.
Take, for example, Dawn hand soap. During the tragic BP oil spill, the company donated over twelve thousand bottles of their hand soap. They were used to help clean wildlife that had been submerged in the sticky and dangerous oil. They documented the rescue efforts in their commercials in a way that was sensitive to the tragedy yet hopeful that humans could fix it. It subtly highlighted how tough their hand soap was on grease, yet how gentle it was that it could even be used on baby birds.
Customers wanted an effective hand wash, but they also wanted to feel like they were supporting a company that was making a difference. The commercial helped raise awareness of both an international and a personal problem, presenting a solution while also inspiring feelings of charitability and brand loyalty among customers.
Motivational marketing is a highly effective marketing tool that utilizes classic behavioral science and psychology to urge consumers to buy your product. When employed as a subtle and emotionally-intelligent tactic, motivational marketing can help bring brands closer to their customers and facilitate a deeper understanding of their wants and needs.
Guest author: Nahla Davies is a software developer and tech writer. Before devoting her work full time to technical writing, she managed — among other intriguing things — to serve as a lead programmer at an Inc. 5,000 experiential branding organization whose clients include Samsung, Time Warner, Netflix, and Sony.