How can we create great customer experiences? How can we attract loyal customers who champion our brand? Well, first we need to know what our customers motivations are. And, far too often, we underestimate them. Customers are humans, just like ourselves, who are complex with layers of motivations. Sometimes they don’t even know what they’re after. We need to dig deeper, beyond surface-level motivations, to satisfy our customers. We need to understand not just what they do, but why they do before we can successfully communicate with them.

“People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole!” – Theodore Levitt

I often see companies emphasising the features of their products, when they should be advertising the benefits it provides their customers. John Caples, a wildly successful advertising copywriter, once said “the most frequent reason for unsuccessful advertising is advertisers who are so full of their own accomplishments (the world’s best seed!) that they forget to tell us why we should buy (the world’s best lawn!) it.” Caples goes on to talk about the importance of knowing that customers are self-interested and to think about WIIFY (What Is In It For You) in relation to them.

Let’s take some of the most advertised products in the world, makeup and cars, as test cases:


  1. Glam’s customers aren’t buying their eyeshadow because it uses the best pigmentation on the market, they’re buying it because it’ll make them feel and/or appear audacious.
  2. Mercedes-Benz customers aren’t buying their vehicles because of their high horsepower, they’re buying them because they feel it’ll boost their status.

We need think about the reason why our products exist in the first place and what motivates our customers to buy them. Appeal to their underlying emotions, their fears and desires.

Why can it be hard for us to see what motivates people?

In the fantastic book Made to Stick (everyone in the marketing industry should read this book!) the authors discuss how we tend to disassociate our needs from the needs of our customers. They highlight this by referencing Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (how we move up and down it simultaneously) and some research around it. They found that when asking people what they, themselves, were after in given situations it tended to be needs higher up the pyramid like esteem and self-actualisation. But when asked what they thought their customers wanted it tended to be needs further down the pyramid like security and belonging. So, to summarize, we often see ourselves living in Maslow’s penthouse, as it were, but see other’s as living in Maslow’s basement. We need to imagine our customers more complexly (they’re not static 2D images but dynamic 3D people!) and put yourself in their shoes.

Daniel Pink, in his novel Drive, talks about extrinsic vs intrinsic motivation and how we’re moving towards the latter. He talks about three motivation models that have developed over time. Motivation 1.0 is driven by biological needs like hunger and shelter. Motivation 2.0 is driven by ‘carrot-and-stick’ rewards and punishments. Motivation 3.0 is intrinsically driven by autonomy, mastery and purpose. Autonomy meaning having control over your life, mastery meaning consistently getting better at something, and purpose meaning to be part of something bigger than ourselves. Pink’s work mostly focuses on workplace motivation but can be applied to many things, including the way advertisers treat their customers. Far too often I’ve seen advertisers appeal to Motivation 1.0 and 2.0 needs (Maslow’s basement), instead of 3.0 (Maslow’s penthouse) needs.

How can I reach people with why?

Once you understand your customers motivations (their drives, needs and objectives) you can reach them by communicating your why effectively. People buy why you do, not just what you do. If your why is shared by, or resonantes with, your customers then they’re likely to turn into loyal ones. They likely won’t be one-off customers who were manipulated into buying your product but, instead, on-going customers who champion your brand as if it was theirs. People often collect brands like causes they believe in, they ‘like’ them on social media as if a badge of honour. They want to show the world that Glam’s is their makeup brand because they’re bold or that Mercedes-Benz is their brand because they’re prestigious. This kind of brand symbiosis is what grows communities with influencers who champion their why.

Simon Sinek’s famous TED talk and book Start with Why is about this, it’s aptly summerised in the image below.

Sinek explains that we make decisions using our limbic brain (gut feelings) more than their neocortex (rationalisation) which means we have to emotionally connect with our customers instead of providing them the facts. He created The Golden Circle to reflect this, it serves as a reminder to communicate from the inside out by starting with why first. Sinek mostly talks about how leaders inspire their people, but it also works with how brands inspire their customers. Let’s go back to our advertising examples to see how they utilise The Golden Circle. With Glam’s being audacious is the why, the best pigmentation (made up in this case) is the how, and eyeshadow is the what. With Mercedes-Benz status boosting is the why, the high horsepower  (made up in this case) is the how, and a car is the what.

By focusing on how our products and brand effect our customers, and what they really motivates them, we’ll be creating great experiences for loyal customers.

*please note that I use the word product throughout the article but it can be interchanged with services or whatever you’re promoting

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