The Psychology of Motivation

Understanding users' internal motivations is as important to marketers as providing external incentives

The post from a friend on my Facebook wall proudly proclaimed, "Congrats KU!" Later that same day, another post from the same jubilant friend said, "Walked in to get the shaft replaced on my driver and walked out with two new putters, a couple of hats and a towel. Hate when that happens."

You may not realize it, but that kind of thing actually does happen a lot. The fact is that people buy more when they are happy. Not only do they buy more, they also socialize more, get out more, exercise more and, in the virtual world, spend more. That's because happiness is one of the subconscious motivations for what we do in the world.

When you want to generate more leads or sales from your business website, understanding motivators like happiness will take you farther than the outstanding offer or big arrow will. The reason is that while some of our motivations come from outside forces (like the outstanding offer), others come from inside.

People generally associate motivation with rewards, praise, incentives and self-esteem. And while these are great ideas for external motivators, the majority of our brain works on a subconscious level. The internal motivators are more powerful and can have a greater effect on our actions without our knowledge. These motivations can be broken into three general groups: needs, thought processes and emotions.

It's likely you've heard of the needs that motivate, as they permeate our very existence. Needs like hunger and thirst are rooted in the subconscious in response to our body's signals. Needs are defined as those things that are essential to life.

So, even though you may think you "need" that new iPad, it's not the same as the need for water. Sex is another basic need, which helps explain the GoDaddy commercials featuring Danika Patrick.

If you want to motivate website users based on their needs, here are some tips. I would caution, however, that these must be used in context. Putting food on a website for auto repair won't work no matter how good the food looks.

- Feature attractive models and people perceived as sexy on the website.
- Use plenty of photos of food. Don't worry about what the interior of the restaurant looks like, put the food on the front page.
- Use water in photos. This works well for travel sites, outdoor recreation websites and when selling beverages.

Thought Processes
The motivation of our thought processes is based on past experiences and expectations. What has been the previous experience ordering online? What is the expectation during and after the order is placed?

You probably would recognize this type of motivation when buying a car or insurance. The stereotypical pushy salesman generally puts people on edge just thinking about the task. Future expectations such as having more time or saving money may persuade someone to consider a new piece of technology, but the expectation based on past experience with a product or service failure would lead you to shy away from purchases.

Here are some ways to use thought processes to motivate website visitors to take action:

- Feature reviews. One bad experience can be diminished with positive, objective product or service reviews.
- Play on the expectation by using benefit statements more than feature lists.
- Use trust factors such as security certificates, business ratings and certifications to put Web visitors at ease. By the way, people base first impressions on how the website looks or feels as a basis for trust.

As mentioned, emotions also play a part in the decision-making process. We possess a wide range of emotions that affect our daily habits and social interactions, energizing and directing our behavior. Whether it's the happy shopper in the earlier example or the frustrated website visitor, there is no way of knowing the emotional state of mind of the prospective customer.

Emotions are usually triggered by situations. The exact shade of green on a Web page background reminds a visitor of the hospital walls when a parent passed away, thus making them leave the website. This may be an extreme example, but it shows how a life experience can transform an otherwise innocuous interaction into a sad feeling. Here are some tips to use if you want to give visitors a good, positive feeling when visiting your website:

- Make the website easy to use. We are autonomous beings who get a sense of fulfillment from being able to successfully do things on our own. Having an easy-to-navigate, useful website decreases frustration that leads to anger.

- Show photos of happy and laughing people, or if the website is about charity and giving, show the people who benefit. We are wired to be empathetic. Using photos to convey situations triggers our intrinsic empathy and we are drawn in to learn more. It's also known that photos of pastoral scenes make people feel happy.

- Watch closely for the facial expressions that people make when visiting your website. If the font size is so small that they have to squint to read it, then they are putting their faces in a frowning position that actually makes them frown and become unhappy. If you see an unhappy person in a photo, you tend to empathize and become unhappy yourself.

There are other factors that motivate from inside, but the main thing to remember is that intrinsic motivators are more powerful than incentives and awards. And while I understand the design of most landing pages, they can still be improved upon by considering the intrinsic motivational factors as described.

Teajai Kimsey Stradley, aka the "Internet Idea Girl", has been marketing on the Web since 1999. Her business specializes in making Internet marketing easy to understand while implementing strategies that work for clients across the United States.

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