Online Marketing: What Motivates Your Customers?


Share this post

Posted by: Gabriella Sannino

All the bells & whistles in the world…

A vendor at the mall stopped me the other day. I don’t know if it was my frizzy, messy hair piled in a ponytail or the smile on my face, but he thought he could sell me his wares. I sat down in his chair and politely listened to the virtues of his products. He was a friendly—a great conversationalist—but I walked away empty-handed.

When I left the mall, I called a friend who has worked in sales for years. “I think I am a salesman’s worst nightmare,” I laughed into the phone as I told him my story. Without missing a beat, he replied, “You weren’t the right prospect. That guy needs to do a better job sizing up his customers.”

That comment lingered in my head. We know the goal of marketing is to sell products. There’s no magical formula involved. If customers know about your product and need it, they will buy it. It seems easy enough, so why do even the best marketing plans sometimes fail? A friendly face, excellent product, and perfect sales pitch can lead nowhere. How does this happen?

16 Basic Desires That Motivate the Sale

Research & Studies

The key to this puzzle lies in the hearts of your customers. In the end, people do things—including buy products—because they want to do so. The deciding factor isn’t you or your product. It’s the ideals that drive your customers to do—or not do—something. Successful marketers understand this. They know who their customers are and what matters most to them.

How do you know what will convince your customers they need your product? Researchers at Ohio State studied the factors that motivate people do whatever they do.

  • Acceptance: I want others to approve of me.
  • Curiosity: I want to learn how and why things work.
  • Eating: I want food.
  • Family: I want children and a partner.
  • Honor: I want to be true to the values of my cultural group.
  • Idealism: I want justice in the world.
  • Independence: I want to be myself.
  • Order: I want organization and systems.
  • Physical activity: I want to exercise.
  • Power: I want to be able to influence people
  • Romance: I want to have sex.
  • Saving: I want to collect things I may need.
  • Social contact: I want to have friends.
  • Status: I want to be important in the world.
  • Tranquility: I want to be safe.
  • Vengeance: I want to get revenge.

On a subconscious level, each one of us has certain dominant motivators guiding what we choose to do. This explains why workaholics are truly happy sacrificing relationships and leisure time, while social butterflies cannot imagine life without a bevy of friends and acquaintances. What motivates me to spend my time and money may be very different from what motivates you to spend yours. – And we’re both equally happy with our lifestyles.

Marketing the Right Way

Embrace Knowledge

There’s a right way and a wrong way to use these basic desires in marketing. What’s the right way?

  • As you develop your marketing plan, stop to consider your target market and what motivates them. What do the members of your target market have in common? Are they pet owners? Parents? Senior citizens? Creative types? Of course, your target market is composed of individuals with different motivators, but they also have common motivators. For example, people with children are often motivated by family. Senior citizens living on fixed incomes tend to be motivated by saving. Make a list that represents your market—age, location, lifestyle.
  • Prioritize the desires. Review your list. Which motivators are most dominant in your target market? Young professionals may be motivated by acceptance, independence, power, and status. If your market of young professionals is filled with recent college graduates working in the corporate world, the needs for power and status are likely stronger motivators. Knowing this will help you zero in on what will make them want to buy your product.
  • Develop a marketing plan that shows how your product or service will meet these needs. For example, how can you convince young professionals that you offer them a way to increase their status within their peer groups? Incorporate images of young professionals who are surrounded by people showing they respect them. Use strong language implying how your product will arm them with the tools that bring the honor they strive for.

When Marketing Goes Wrong

Making The Wrong Decisions

The sales rep who tried to sell me his hair products tried several techniques to convince me I needed them. He started with, “See how much better your hair looks with this?” (romance and acceptance). When I didn’t respond, he tried, “Your friends will all be jealous and want to know what you’re doing different” (social contact and status). Again, I refused to buy. Then he asked me about my family and told me about his (family).

He knew that I needed a reason to buy his products. What he didn’t understand was that my need to save money (saving) was far more motivating to me than the factors he assumed would matter. Had he offered to lower the price or demonstrate how I could save money using his products, he would have been more likely to make a sale.

I’m sure you don’t have the time or the resources to make a similar mistake. When you understand what motivates your target market, you can tailor your marketing plan to those needs. As a result, you will spend more time on marketing campaigns that bring results.

You don’t want to invest your time and resources on marketing that falls on deaf ears. Knowing your market and their needs is a key factor in developing a marketing plan that will reach them—in ways that will resonate with them. When you consider their needs, you are well on your way to increasing your conversions.

Comments (11)

  • Avatar
    Glenn Ferrell Reply

    Obviously the importance of these motivators (across any population) shifts dramatically in different times, e.g. periods of peace and prosperity, after a war, in a recession, etc. Since your salesman (as far as I can tell) didn’t listen to you first to understand something about your motivation, he could have at least started with the prime motivator during a recession — “Saving”.

    Then, sometimes it’s about the product. It’s easier to sell umbrellas when it’s raining.

    Of course, you could have just told him that your hair is part of your branding… and if it had been raining and if he was selling umbrellas …

    September 26, 2011 at 6:52 am
  • Avatar
    David Christian-Woodruff Reply

    This is a very interesting and significant article. All too often sales people will just mass sell, using the same technique for everyone and going for a tried and tested method over adapting to various situations and taking the time to assess their ‘target’.
    On a personal note, I feel that this is something that I need to take into account when discussing the sale of websites with my clients. I always feel I have a good read on situations and empathise with them yet for some reason, struggle to adapt when selling products. Having read this article, it really brought to the fore that everyone is different and everyone needs a different pitch to grab their attention. What works for one client won’t necessarily work for another. I’m no salesman and I don’t pretend to be, but taking this into account could certainly help me out in the future.

    September 27, 2011 at 1:52 am
    • Avatar
      Gabriella Reply

      Hey David, maybe it’s the word salesman that puts many people off. I like to call myself a “merchant” at heart. After all when you consider how business started we were all merchants in one way or another.

      When “selling” websites you are discussing a different animal. The World Wide Web is “still” not really mainstream. We forget that a lot of people out there have no clue. They understand that in order to stay competitive they need one. Entrepreneurs know if they are going to compete and immerse themselves globally they have to be accessible with a url.

      I’m sure you are aware and take into consideration the people coming to you either have no clue, or they know so much you wonder why they aren’t doing it themselves? lol Either way, I can tell you from experience understanding and empathizing with the client is not enough. You have to create a standard when “selling” your product. The best way I’ve found is to create questions that address their pain… lack of a better word. Then shut up and listen. Take in as much information as you can. We actually have a questionnaire we send to clients. After 15 years of using it and adding to it it’s still a work in progress since consumer needs have changed.
      As you stated what works for one won’t necessarily work for another. That’s the beauty of this business. That’s what I live for 😉

      October 15, 2011 at 9:33 am
  • Avatar
    Trevor Reply

    Great article, really makes you start thinking down the right lines of who is your target market and what do they want? Working with several business owners it’s scary how many of them don’t have a clear idea of who their target market is. It’s important to know your target market and understand their needs, without that you have little chance of having effective marketing.

    ~ Trevor Kohlhep
    Business Owner

    September 28, 2011 at 9:18 am
    • Avatar
      Gabriella Reply

      Hey Trevor thanks for your input. Therein lies the problem, how can the new business owner, entrepreneurs, companies etc. know unless they listen? Everyone is so busy being busy, they’re not seeing much success. Diving into every social network, looking for new customers, advertising their services on every Facebook page, Twitter account, etc. yet, ask them to discuss their market, or god forbid their data… more often than not you will either get the “deer in the headlight” look or silence from the other end of the phone. 🙂

      October 15, 2011 at 9:46 am
      • Avatar
        Trevor Reply


        Agreed, all to often people get caught up in being “busy” and at the end of the day get little or nothing done. By getting into each social network and ADVERTISING their new business they are less likely to gain new customers. Social media is all about building relationships, it is not the area to share forced advertising onto Fans/Followers. This is a common mistake for many businesses, they try to incorporate traditional marketing in social media.

        For those that aren’t sure what to use social media for I can wrap it up in, engagement, engagement, engagement and interaction. Built relationships with real people and you will get real people visiting your website or store front.

        ~ Trevor Kohlhepp
        Business Owner

        October 19, 2011 at 9:23 am
  • Avatar
    B. Ligerent Reply

    I like to envision the customer and my brand (whichever one I’m doing copywriting for at the time) as two people in a bar. I want the customer to pick up my brand and take him/her home for the night?

    So I ask myself:
    1. What does the customer find attractive?
    2. How can I “package” the product’s messaging to hit those desire triggers? (And how can I do so with credibility? Because people recognize the faker in the bar. Or at the very least, they figure it out later and never take them up on another date.)

    I figure out how to pimp out my brands. Who doesn’t want their product to be the village bicycle?

    October 23, 2011 at 8:42 pm
    • Avatar
      Gabriella Reply

      Hehehe indeed…I learned that perception is 100% reality. Therefore, what the customer finds attractive is the best way to move forward.

      October 24, 2011 at 11:47 am
  • Avatar
    Tim Ryan Reply

    Inspiring, the post is completely inspiring and throws light on even the smallest of details. As a businessman its very important to work on a lot of things and the customers always comes first, customers are our first priority. Besides selling our products and services we have to connect with them, making them feel valued so that we can win their loyalty.

    November 25, 2011 at 4:11 am
    • Avatar
      Gabriella Reply

      Glad you agree Tim. You would be surprised how many people just don’t see the connection. Maybe if they had a mom & pop shop in their careers they could see how important it is to connect to people. I don’t know. I see so much is being taken for granted since people started interacting online. That human element is lost unless we as business owners use research, and data to see how it affects our business. Either way, motivating customers is a constant…

      November 25, 2011 at 3:04 pm
    • Avatar
      Gabriella Reply

      Thanks Tim for your kind words. I do believe when a business is passionate about their industry, service, it shows. Its infectious, and it’s part of their story. The brand, the magic!

      December 5, 2011 at 11:17 am

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Thank you for visiting We are currently updating the site to improve your user experience. During this time, you may experience explosions of dust, paint splotches and all around mayhem. Please excuse the mess. We'll return to your regularly scheduled program shortly.

Online Marketing: What Motivates Your Customers?