Don’t motivate to choose your brand. Create conditions where will motivate themselves to use it.

Every single company out there hopes that their customers will prefer it over the competition. There are numerous articles on the net that try to explain what is the best way to motivate people to first purchase and then to the brand. They say how each purchase begins with a current dissatisfaction leading to looking to the most intriguing future promise and then weighing the gains versus the costs of the switching process. They talk about aspects such as affirmation, familiarity, scope or community. They recommend positive, consistent voice, ability to test the offering and promotion of loyalty. This is all great, however, every single one of these articles looks at building loyalty from the perspective of the actions performed by a company rather than pinpointing what people to make pretty much any choice in their lives instead.


What is motivation in the first place? According to Edward Deci and Richard Ryan — two psychologists who study motivation for almost four decades — it is simply the energy for action. We usually think of motivation in a somewhat quantitative manner: we see that someone can have more of less energy to do something. For example, you can be motivated to use AirB&B over or an UBER instead of a traditional taxi service. Interestingly though behaviour is not best predicted by the amount of available energy in people but the quality of the motivation itself. There are two kinds of motivation: the external (also called extrinsic) and the internal (often termed intrinsic motivation).

External motivation

External motivation is sort of carrot’n’stick motivation. We can either be seduced (carrot) or coerced (stick) to do something. Seduction typically happens through the promise of a reward: — If you transfer your money to our bank, we will give you better interest on your saving account. Coercion links to a potential punishment: — If you try to leave us, we will make your cost of switching so high, you will regret this decision thousand times over. Sounds familiar?

Internal motivation

Internal motivation promotes autonomy of choice combined with connection with human values and enjoyment stemming from the interaction with the brand itself. Look at Tom’s Shoes: they combine the pleasure of shopping on their website with the possibility to help others. Their huge success is surely connected to leveraging internal motivation in their customers. If you add a positive endorsement like it is done in games, you are in for a winner.


When externally motivated people act to avoid failure. If a customer feels that she is forced to do something (e.g. sign a contract for two years), or must do what is required (e.g. is allowed to send a complaint only through an online form) or needs to follow what is demanded (e.g. has to listen to the entire offer rather than have her question directly answered) — it is a sign of external motivation at play.

Customers motivated is such a way likely detach from the brand and have little forgiveness and willingness to apply effort to interact with the company. In other words, customers see relations with brands based on external motivation as transactions, as tits-for-tats. They are sticking to the minimal offer that helps them achieve their goals for the lowest price. And whenever in trouble their actions are motivated by self-protection quickly leading to tension and anxiety. One possible explanation why companies apply such strategies in the first place is rooted in trying to protect themselves from unsatisfied customers leaving.


There seem to be three elements brands can use to build intrinsic motivation: by being socially prompt, through creating emotional engagement and by helping the customer to pursue her own interests. Any of these three aspects or a combination invokes a success seeking attitude. Imagine a bank that, instead of pushing the investment products onto their customers, offers a gaming environment where they can learn how to invest. By encouraging skill development, the bank makes their clients feel competent to do something with their money and as a consequence the bank is able to sell more advanced offerings. In other words, the bank in this scenario empowered its customers to be able to do what is possible (i.e., invest their money), leading to the desired outcome (i.e., gaining more from their savings) while making it worthwhile (i.e., by teaching them how to invest).

Intrinsically motivated clients are inclined to seek resolution and look for new opportunities to build positive emotions in relation to the brand. In other words, they see themselves being in a relationship with a brand rather than just going through a transaction.

Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations of a company itself

The motivational attitude towards customers often results from what kind of aspirations motivates a company in the first place. Some organizations are fueled by their internal motivation like, for example, TED association. Other companies are driven by rankings, stock value and quarterly financial goals. Being driven by such external motivators does not render space to invest in better understanding what motivates customers in the first place. Because building on internal motivations of people is not a particularly short-game. It requires consistency and patience, as well as ability to listen.

And the only way to learn how to do it is through collecting a meaningful feedback from your customers based not on a question whether or not they were able to do something in the first place but rather on a question: how did it make them feel?

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