9 Human Motivations that Drive Consumer Behavior

Smart marketers are constantly seeking to answer one key question:

What drives consumers to act the way they do?

This is the billion-dollar question. If you can figure out what motivates consumers in their decision-making process, you can market your brand to them on a deeper level. 

After years of studying motivational psychology, we have discovered there are nine psychological motivations that drive most of our decisions and actions.

These motivations are universal to all people, and while it’s possible to see two or three motivations working in tandem, there will always be one primary motivation.

Here are the nine motivations and examples of brands in that space.

Achievement

Achievement is the feeling of being successful, victorious, and proud by overcoming obstacles. Nike is a great example of an achievement brand. Their slogan is “Just Do It.” Just do what, exactly? Whatever it is you want to achieve, let’s do it together.

It’s a simple but powerful connection to make with a consumer: Are you motivated to be successful at something that seems impossible, like running your first marathon?

Nike is saying, “We can help you get there and experience that feeling.”

Autonomy

Autonomy is the feeling of being unique and independent. It’s also a feeling of self-determination in one’s actions, like you’re in control of your own destiny.

Lego is a brand in this space. The blocks let consumers express themselves and create unique experiences and products. The Lego Movie reinforces the idea that the real power of creative expression is to make things that are unique to you.

Consumers who are driven by this motivation will seek tools and resources that help them feel special or that let them customize a product or service.

Belonging

Belonging is the feeling of being aligned, accepted, and connected with others.

Several brands come to mind in this space. Harley-Davidson evokes this idea of the in-crowd and special privilege. If you have a Harley, you belong. CrossFit and professional sports teams also tap into the motivation of belongingness.

Consumers driven by this motivation will seek products and services that help them feel part of a tribe or connected with others.

Competence

Competence is the feeling of being capable by being qualified, prepared, and skilled.

Home Depot is a competence brand. When consumers go into Home Depot, they’re trying to feel competence in a home improvement project.

People influenced by the competence motivation are looking for tools and resources to feel more capable and ready when they need to act.

Empowerment

Empowerment is about feeling authorized and equipped to act on desired choices.

It might seem random, but Doritos and Samsung are empowerment brands.

For several of the recent Super Bowls, Doritos empowered their consumers to create their own commercials, the best of which would be featured in the big game.

Likewise, Samsung positioned itself as an empowerment brand by showing customers what they could accomplish with its technology. Consumers driven by empowerment want to take action on something and feel like they’re in control.

Engagement

Engagement means feeling captivated, excited, and interested in an activity.

When I think of engagement brands, I think of Disney. When you go to Disney World, you’re engaged at every turn by their magical experience. I also think of IKEA stores, which are designed to engage you no matter which section you stumble into.

The engagement of nostalgia brands plays in this space, too. People may buy cereal brands like Rice Krispies for the nostalgic memories more than the cereal’s taste.

Engagement seekers are looking for brands that engage their senses and provide a moment of relief and release from the world.

Esteem

Esteem is the feeling of being approved, respected, and admired by others.

Consumers buy luxury brands such as Lexus, BMW, and Chanel when influenced by this motivation. Social media sites also appeal to people motivated by esteem. Esteem drives people to post photos online and feel good when other users like it.

Esteem-driven consumers want to increase their feelings of respect and admiration.

Nurturance

Nurturance is the feeling of being appreciated, loved, and taken care of by others. It’s also the feeling of having the ability to take care of others.

Gerber and Hallmark are great nurturance brands. When you buy a Gerber product, you feel like you’re nurturing your child. When you send someone a Hallmark card or buy them a gift from their stores, you’re nurturing that relationship.

Those brands build connections with customers by helping them give and receive love.

Security

Security is feeling safe and protected from threats.

Home security brands such as ADT make your home feel like safe from outside threats. Life insurance brands such as New York Life give you comfort in knowing that your family will be taken care of (i.e. secure) if something happens to you.

People who are driven by security are looking for products or services that provide protection from physical or emotional harm.

For more advice on using motivations to prime people’s need for your brand, you can find Marketing to Mindstates by Will Leach on Amazon.