Over the years, advances in campaign tracking, analysis and
evaluation have given marketers the ability to ascertain with something
approaching certainty which elements of their communications activities
Yet despite plenty of stalwart work with focus groups, it is usually far
more difficult to pin down exactly why something has worked.
There is, after all, no such thing as a common response. Each individual
reacts in their own way to images and stimuli presented to them and the
circumstances they find themselves in.
Academics and marketers alike have examined these similarities in the
hope that they will reveal basic truths about human psychology. In so
doing, they have sought to learn more about influencing audiences.
How to motivate sales staff? Or how to encourage customer loyalty or to
persuade consumers to buy a certain product?
At the heart of all of this lies the psychology of motivation:
understanding which actions will trigger the desired reactions. But
there can be no universal formula for this, or - if there is - it is as
yet undiscovered: marketing’s holy grail.
’Everyone wants the golden rivet of success, but there isn’t one,’ says
David Evans, chairman and chief executive of Grass Roots Group, a
provider of incentive and employee motivation schemes.
’You can’t motivate anybody - it’s something that comes from within. All
you can do is be a good environmental engineer.’
By this Evans means creating the right conditions for people to motivate
themselves. But this is not so straightforward.
’You’ve got to research the audience as well as the competition,’ says
Capital Incentives assistant managing director Nigel Cooper.
In addition to the audience age and profile, it is important to get a
handle on what they have been offered in the past and what will push the
right buttons today.
A lot of incentives are offered to employees of third-party
organisations, which may be responsible for supplying products from a
number of manufacturers.
In these circumstances, researching what is being offered by rivals is a
fundamental first step.
As these people are not your employees, there is no stick to beat
So they have to be motivated by the prospect of a carrot instead. But
what is an appropriate reward?
Suit your audience
Motivforce deputy managing director Peter Brooks believes it’s horses
for courses. One client, who wished to incentivise insurance salesmen,
saw pounds 250 to spend on a new suit as a valuable motivational
This would have been totally inadequate for another client in the IT
sector, whose brash young sales team enjoy earnings in the pounds
80,000-pounds 90,000 bracket. These key staff were rewarded with a trip
to the US, where they rode Harley-Davidson motorbikes down Route 66,
went whitewater rafting and flew to Las Vegas by private jet.
Although long-haul incentive travel enjoys a high profile, it only
accounts for about 10% of the market, says Evans. Companies tend to
restrict such goodies to their top performers, predominantly in
But, for a host of psychological reasons, travel is a very effective
means of motivation. It appeals to the senses, offers relaxation, and is
attractive to high achievers.
It also helps companies retain their best performers. In most cases, the
incentive trip does not take place until three or four months after the
programme. By that time, the cream of the sales force will already be
making strides toward qualifying for the next jaunt, which can be a
powerful incentive to stay in their job.
Given the cost of incentive travel, the more usual rewards are cash
bonuses or a mechanism which offers vouchers or bonds redeemable against
a range of products. Choice is important, particularly as some
motivation programmes can involve target groups running into the tens of
’I’d say what I do is teach clients that it’s not their own
predilections and preferences that will motivate other people,’ says
Evans. ’A reward should be seen as recognition of good performance.’
As well as providing sufficient choice, it is essential there is no
procrastination or prevarication over the rewards. Says Cooper: ’It’s
easy to demotivate people by delivering their reward to them late or by
arguing about the figures. The second you keep them waiting they lose
interest, motivation dips and it’s hard to get it back.’
According to performance improvement consultancy Maritz, there are five
’change levers’ that can enhance motivation: strategic leadership,
enabling skills, performance measurement, performance reward and
Page & Moy Marketing managing director John Fisher has written a
valuable book on the subject of motivation, A Manager’s Guide to Staff
Incentives and Performance Improvement Techniques (Kogan Page).
One of Fisher’s most cogent arguments is that, despite all that has been
learnt about psychology, there is no motivational panacea.
’All the academic work of the last 100 years has been sporadic in its
usefulness in a business context,’ he writes. ’Many of the principles
are either plain common sense or simply not predictive enough to be
sure-fire winners when it comes to developing the structure of a
motivation programme. There is no magic, scientific formula that will
ring true in every situation.’
However, Fisher does outline some ’general principles’ of corporate
Among them is the assertion that to trigger performance improvement you
must combine an objective with the subject’s emotions and the subject’s
’honest assessment’ that improvement is possible.
Where appropriate, skills training and staff development should be
included so that participants have the tools to achieve higher
performance. Moreover, the incorporation of feedback is essential, so
that participants can measure their performance and modify their
Brooks agrees. ’In any kind of performance programme you need to build
in talk-back mechanics to make people feel more confident,’ he says.
In most cases, money is far from the be all and end all. Workers need to
feel they are making a positive contribution as well.
Indeed, by trying to motivate with money alone, some organisations have
come a cropper. What springs to mind in particular is the scandal
surrounding the mis-selling of pensions some years ago. The juicy
commissions on offer led far too many in the financial services industry
’People who were paid too little in the first place were then motivated
by greed and ended up rolling over old grannies for their money,’ says
In the retail environment, companies such as the Marketing Organisation
have been researching what psychological impact customer service and
sales promotions exercise on consumers in terms of loyalty. Areas where
retailers can add value are being studied keenly because the jury is
still out on the effectiveness of loyalty cards.
There has also been academic research into consumer motivation in retail
environments. Roy Bradshaw, senior lecturer in the department of
geography at Nottingham University, has run a camouflaged-camera
tracking study of shoppers, on and off for the past ten years.
’One of the key factors that determines shopping behaviour is who you
are with,’ says Bradshaw. ’The same person reacts differently when they
are with different people.’
Bradshaw is currently looking for private sector funding to continue his
research into the psychology and physiology of vision in a retail
context. It is his aim to develop a clearer insight into how and why
shoppers move from scanning the distance to focusing in on certain
Further research would give retailers and manufacturers a greater
understanding of how to influence this process, through the way products
are designed, packaged and displayed. ’There’s a lot more practical
research we need to do into how it actually works on the shop floor,’
Robert East, professor of consumer behaviour at Kingston University,
says it is harder than many marketers assume to motivate consumers to
change their shopping patterns.
’People like the idea that we are all active agents who think about
everything, but people don’t have time for that,’ says East. ’People
settle into habits and a lot of behaviour is caused by environment.’
But there are some psychological techniques that can have an impact on
behaviour. Atmospherics is one such - using music or smell to create a
East cites a US study by Areni & Kim which analysed the psychological
effect of playing classical music in wine retail outlets. The findings
showed that while the number of bottles purchased remained relatively
consistent, there was a shift toward purchasing more expensive
One might conclude from this that the psychological impact of the
classical music was to put consumers in a more - dare one say it? -
cultured and upmarket mood.
Practising psychologist Peter Cooper has carried out research into
consumers’ relationship with brands. In his capacity as chairman of
consultancy Cram International, he has advised clients on the
motivations that stimulate brand loyalty.
’One psychological principle is co-dependency. It says people are not
some rounded whole. As they grow up bits and pieces of them get chipped
away. Therefore, we tend to look for brands or products or even
relationships with other people that can replace the bits that are
’Brands help to build a more complete person. You could go so far as to
say that the brands people are loyal to are those that have a
In other words, what succeeds is what makes us feel better. This squares
with the seminal work on the psychology of motivation, Abraham Maslow’s
Motivation and Personality (1954), which introduced the concept of a
hierarchy of needs.
Once our basic needs have been satisfied we are motivated by our
And we all want to feel good.