INCENTIVES: Marketing the feel-good factor - If you want to influence people’s decisions and actions you’re going to need to know how their minds work. Robert Gray reports on the latest research

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 are effective.

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

are effective.

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

management process.

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

Evans disdainfully.

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.

Camera shop

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,’

says Bradshaw.

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

therapeutic value.’

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.