Motivating Customers is a Science
By Tom Dougherty
Why The Great Silence?
If that’s true, and it is most categories in today’s economy, then those companies and their marketers better get cracking.
Because, at the moment, almost all are refusing to communicate any differently than they have in the past, even though the circumstances around them have changed drastically enough their survival is often in question. Those companies are ignoring the fact that there will be winners and losers in these difficult economic times and taking the usual marketing path is a loser’s game.
That does seem counter-intuitive when you consider the fact that the most important element of their business has gone ahead and changed: The consumer. Yet, few have responded correctly to the changed consumer, acting as if their audiences are the same as before. Just with fewer resources.
Therefore, companies must align themselves with the changes in the consumer and note the differences in the way the eight primary human motivators have shifted.
How to Win
The eight motivators form the basics of self-identification and account for a human’s own sense of self. They are what controls product choice and behavior in general, and can be briefly described as Affirmation, Leadership, Desire, Familiarity, Comfort, Change, Community and Scope.
Understanding those motivations starts the creation of communication messages with greater nuances that resonate more strongly with target audiences – and makes those companies and brands relevant in context.
In examining these motivators and the influence of context, products and brands can have more impact within a changing situation by embracing those nuances.
For example, let’s examine the motivator Affirmation. From the perspective of the target audience, Affirmation is about being emotionally rewarded for a specific kind of choice. In the bubbly heydays when industries weren’t asking for government bailouts and consumers were spending, target audiences were looking to be affirmed for making the “best” choice.
They All Work Together
However, Affirmation becomes less about “best” choice in tough times, but more about the “right” choice. That’s the reason why consumers are not buying automobiles now, for example. “Buying that new, fashionable car is not the right choice,” says the Tough Times consumer. “The right choice is doing nothing and staying with what I have.” (“That car is the best choice because it’s got all these great features,” said the same consumer in Good Times.)
Scrutinize any industry today and you will see consumers flocking to the “right” choice instead of what’s best. For example, consumers see the right choice with a cup of coffee as one they can get at the grocery store. It tastes fine, is relatively inexpensive and is free of any extras. Starbucks, for example, does not fill that bill. It’s not “right.” It may be “best,” because of the quality of coffee, the variety of options and the more expensive brand experience.
In examining motivators like Affirmation, not only can companies predict who will succeed and who won’t, but they can also adjust their communications to become more relevant to today’s financially strapped target audiences.
The Eight Keys To Winning
The other motivators also have similar pushes and pulls. If Affirmation is about best vs. right, the rest are:
- Desire (wants vs. needs)
- Leadership (who is responsible for choice)
- Familiarity (easy vs. safest)
- Comfort (taken for granted vs. sought after)
- Change (how strong is the barrier)
- Community (individual vs. group)
- Scope (choice vs. focus)
(Read a detailed explanation of these keys to winning here.) Once you examine these motivators, and rate their importance by considering the intensities in the changing situations and acceleration of change, you have uncovered the nuances that make the difference between a winner or a loser in any changing situation, especially in an economic climate in which companies are toppling.
Understanding the customer is always important, no matter the time, but it’s even more important now because the current context has changed behavior. The surprise is that companies and brands aren’t rolling with the changes even though, in many cases, their very survival is at stake.
Change Is A Friend
You don’t need to go much farther than the advertising we saw during the holiday season to understand that. For example, Target ran a series of ads on Thanksgiving in preparation for Black Friday when shoppers rush through department store doors at 4 am the next day. That series, coming at Target’s most important time of the year, could have been taken from last year. Or the year before. The ad was designed in Target’s familiar red with animation of stick-figure shoppers rushing to Target stores by all modes of transportation – including sailboat – ending with them rushing across the landscape with shopping carts.
What’s fails in those spots is that consumers can only see themselves in the brand – or, at least, this variation of it – as crazed shoppers, willing to risk life and death so they don’t miss out. Does that fulfill a “want” or a “need”? Lurking in the consumer’s mind is that “rushing out” may not be exactly who I am this year.
What should you do?
What is, for example, a retailer to do? Consider its brands in context. If your brand promises “Expect More. Pay Less,” as Target’s brand does, you need to understand if today’s shopper really does expect more now (and whether Target delivers).
Brand works most efficiently in context and Target’s brand could be more meaningful in today’s market if only it would communicate that “expecting more and paying less” is more important now than ever. That it is a “need,” not a “want.” Instead, it played it safe by ignoring the issue altogether – and, therefore, lost an opportunity.
The more you understand the context in which your brand exists and, especially, the context your potential customers see themselves in, the more you can find new ways to make your brand emotional, relevant and fresh for years to come. They “need” it.