The hidden motivators that make people buy stuff

April 19, 2010 by Dean Rieck
Filed under: Psychology 

hidden buyer motivatorsIf you’re writing an ad to sell a new floor mop, the very first question you should ask yourself is “Why would someone want to buy a new floor mop?”

It seems like an easy question with an obvious answer: to get the floor clean. Right? Well, maybe. But it’s usually not that simple.

Sure, maybe I have a dirty floor. But why do I care if my floor is clean? Why is my old mop not good enough? Could it be that my neighbor’s floor looks nicer than mine and what I really want is to fit in? Keep up with my neighbor? Avoid embarrassment?

There are two levels in every buying decision. The first level is logical: I need a new mop because my old one isn’t doing the job as well. The second level is emotional: I’m embarrassed by the stubborn spots on my floor (or whatever my individual reason might be).

This second level is where you find the “hidden motivators” that control the buying decision. People assume they make rational buying decisions, but really their decisions are almost exclusively driven by emotions. After people make an emotional decision, they rationalize it with logic.

You must understand the hidden motivators that trigger a buying decision if you want to write effective copy for a new mop or any other product or service.

Here are a few of these hidden motivators. This isn’t a complete taxonomy, just a sampling to get you thinking about the underlying emotions behind every purchase.

People want what they don’t have and more of what they do have.

In America especially, people are trained to expect more and more from their personal lives. People seek to gain:

  • Time — for themselves, their family, their interests
  • Comfort — ease, luxury, self-indulgence, and convenience
  • Money — to save, to spend, to give to others
  • Popularity — to be liked by friends, family, and significant others
  • Praise — for intelligence, knowledge, appearance, and other superior qualities
  • Pride of accomplishment — doing things well, overcoming obstacles and competition
  • Self-confidence — to feel worthy, at-ease, physically or mentally superior
  • Security — in the home, in old age, financial independence, provisions for age or adversity
  • Leisure — for travel, hobbies, rest, play, self-development
  • Fun — feeling like a kid again, doing something for no good reason, goofing off
  • Prestige — feeling of importance, a member of a select group, having power
  • Enjoyment — food, drink, entertainment, other physical contacts
  • Health — strength, vigor, endurance, longer life
  • Better appearance — beauty, style, physical build, cleanliness
  • Exclusivity — being in on something special
  • Envy — having something others desire
  • Ego Gratification — to support or enhance self-image
  • Business advancement — feeling successful, getting a better job, being one’s own boss
  • Social advancement — keeping up with neighbors, moving in desirable social circles

People want to avoid loss.

Just as people seek to gain what they don’t have, they also seek to avoid losing something once they have it. The potential loss of any item on the previous list is a strong motivator.

People want to avoid unpleasantness.

While people are driven to seek out pleasant things, there is an even stronger drive to avoid unpleasant things. This is not to say that negative appeals are always best, just that they work on a more basic level. When a negative appeal is appropriate, it can be potent. People want to avoid:

  • Embarrassment
  • Offense to others
  • Domination by others
  • Loss of reputation
  • Pain
  • Criticism
  • Risk
  • Work
  • Effort
  • Discomfort
  • Worry
  • Doubt
  • Guilt
  • Boredom

People want to be seen in a favorable way.

People like to think of themselves in a favorable light. Plus, they are sensitive about what others think of them. People want to be seen as:

  • Smart or savvy
  • First or best at something
  • Unique, one-of-a-kind
  • Creative, either generally or in a special area
  • Good parents
  • Efficient
  • Recognized authorities
  • Up-to-date, well-educated, or “with it”
  • Gregarious and sociable
  • Influential, able to get things done
  • Independent and individual
  • Popular, well-liked
  • Part of a group, “one of the boys”

There is no way to know exactly what emotion will trigger a buying decision for a particular person. In most cases, there are several hidden motivators working at once. But with a little thought and common sense, and maybe some customer research, you can probably identify a handful of hidden motivators at play for any given situation.

The important thing to remember is that people almost never buy a mop just to get dirt off the floor.

Related posts:

  1. Are you satisficing? How people REALLY make decisions
  2. How to type thousands of special “hidden” characters

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Smart Comments

5 Comments on The hidden motivators that make people buy stuff

  1. Chris Mower on Apr 19th, 2010 10:47 am
  2. Hey! Sweet post. It’s interesting to see how many times people forget about the emotional reasons for a purchase. Most of the written ads I read have too much logic in them and not enough emotion… I’ve also seen the opposite of that where it’s all emotion and no logic…

    Both cases are menos effectivo.

    The most effective sales letters I’ve found are the ones with a healthy balance of emotional and logical decision purchases. The emotional helps the buyer to pull out his wallet. The logical helps comfort the purchase.

    Thanks for sharing. You’re articles are always top notch.

  3. Joshua Black | The Underdog Millionaire on Apr 19th, 2010 2:35 pm
  4. Great post on the emotions of purchasing. Too many small business owners lose sight of this fact when they are trying to get a product off the ground.

    It’s just like the old saying “Don’t tell me about your weed killer. Tell me about my crabgrass.”

    People are much more likely to spend money to cure a pain than they will to provide pleasure. It’s really easy to put off a vacation when the money gets tight, but if the roof is leaking the one that gets there the fastest is the one that gets the sale.

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog Millionaire

  5. james on Apr 20th, 2010 6:17 pm
  6. just signed up–so far the experience has been very pleasurable. Haven’t had a chance to look around too much but this article was very helpful…and dont be shy–I don’t mind you trying to sell me some stuff once in a while too—e-book bundles, why doesn’t anyone sell e-book bundles, call ten of your copywriting friends, add your own, and name a price, sir. I shall be waiting.

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