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What motivates you? Not: what motivates you when you wake up in the morning; where the usual answer is “a strong cup of coffee”. No. What motivates you? As in: what moves you to do the things you do? To make the daily decisions you make – whether right or wrong? Why do you do what you do?

The answers, if you are willing to delve deep, will likely correspond to a combination of the motivators proposed by Maslow (1943):

  • Physiology – air, food, water, biology (health)
  • Safety – clothes, shelter, stability
  • Love/Belonging – partner/spouse, family, (close) friends, love
  • Esteem – confidence, respect, status
  • Self-actualization – inspiration, creativity, morality, acceptance

It is highly unlikely that you are focused on a single motivator at any given moment. Yes, it is possible that the influence of one of the motivators is stronger than any other, but unlikely that it is your sole motivator.

Say, for example, that you were hungry. You need food. And, according to the basic definition Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, this fits into the physiology motivator (the bottom “rung”). Certainly in dire circumstances, you will accept what is given to you; you must. The body needs sustenance. But consider that your hunger happens at 12pm while you’re sitting in your office and your colleagues suggest a few restaurant options… all of a sudden your physiology motivator is met by your belonging motivator (lunch with friends). Even if you were to eat lunch on your own, additional motivators would seep into your decision-making: do you want to treat yourself (esteem), do you want “to go where everybody knows your name” (belonging), do you want to support a local fair-trade coffee house (self-actualization)? You see decision-making – even of the simplest kind – often (if not always) is a result of multiple motivators, the combination of which is determined by the context of your life in that moment.

Fascinating… But, why are we attempting to discuss motivational psychology in a blog that attempts to talk about business. Because quite frankly, business is 100% built, sustained and grown through people. And people tick because of their motivators.

Businesses need to be conscious of these motivators and how they affect their consumers, their employees, their partners, and their communities – any “person” their business touches. Understanding motivators come from understanding context.

But, isn’t content king?

Content is King; the phrase was first coined in 1996 by Bill Gates. Since then, many online experts have put forward that, indeed, content is king. In fact, Brafton – an online news and content agency – proposes that content is key (for SEO). And, it certainly has its place. Without good, relevant and up-to-date content – especially online – chances are slim that you will captivate your audience. If the content you provide is not a direct answer to what someone is looking for, then your bounce rate will be your enemy. You need content that responds to what people are looking for?

Remember the expression: if we build it, they will come?

1) What if they don’t want what we’re building and, more importantly,

2) Who are they? Do we really know? Maybe if we did – if we truly knew our audience, and understood what they were seeking, what their context was and what was motivating them, our content would be a better fit, and might drive the desired actions we seek.

How do we understand our audience? How do we understand “they”?

Motivational orbit[1]:

Judith A. Samuels, 2012

Consider this scenario:

Imagine yourself as a real estate agent. You receive an email from a Ms. Smith (fictional name) asking for your support in finding a home in a new suburban development. Though your first question may be the amount of the pre-approved mortgage, chances are that information alone will not gain you success in finding this person a home. Agreed?

It’s important to get to know the context of your consumer… Did you know that Ms. Smith was a new mom: her and her husband are in their mid-30s, their son, Benjamin (fictional) is 8 months old and they love their 2 dogs…

Without even knowing it, you went from question 1 – which focuses on the “safety” motivator – to creating a real profile for your client which highlights a combination of motivators: safety (yes, still), love-belonging (community), and esteem (pride in home).

Think about the results you would have come up with had you not known the true context? You could have lost the sale! Understanding motivators and context does generate ROI!

So, what are you doing to understand your consumer’s context?

The true marketing revolution will elevate the role of the business from making money to satisfying consumer needs and desires to making genuine contributions in their communities (local, national and global).


[1] The motivational orbit is my own proposition and is in current evolution.

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