Last Updated: Nov 23, 2021

What, exactly, is it that motivates people to buy? 

What will transform a casual visitor into a buyer? What motivates them to add something to their basket, and then to go on through with their purchase?

Getting people to move through the buyer’s journey is no easy feat. The difference between companies who succeed and those who don’t is that successful businesses take the time to understand who their customers are, and what makes them tick.

Of course, having a basic understanding of buyer psychology and customer motivation doesn’t hurt as well. With this in mind, let’s take a look at some insight into why people buy, and tips for helping them to move forward in their buyer’s journey. 

Understanding Purchasing Decisions

First things first, when it comes to helping motivate your audience to buy, it’s important to ensure that you’re clear on who your audience is. Make sure you’ve taken the time to outline your target audience and created an avatar of your target customer so that you can start delving into their wants and needs.

Next, it’s time to think about what motivates your audience to buy.

Like Hubspot puts it, people don’t wake up and decide to buy on a whim. 

So why do they buy? 

Harvard Business School professor Gerald Zaltman says that 95% of purchasing decisions take place in the subconscious mind. Many businesses make the mistake of appealing to the logical part of our brains when selling. Some companies can go on and on about specs and features that make their product great but fail to create that excitement or deep desire within potential customers to own it.

People may be interested in your product or service, but simple interest is not enough to make them buy. There’s nothing more frustrating than getting a lot of likes but no purchases. If you want to know how you can change a prospect’s mind from “Maybe I need this,” into “Yes, I definitely need this!” then this article is for you. 

Let’s dive in.

Benefits of Understanding Customer Motivations

Aside from the short answer: it can help to increase revenue, here are five reasons why it’s important to understand what makes a customer tick:

  1. You’ll be able to provide a better buying journey by helping potential customers reduce decision-making time before a purchase. You’ll also be able to address any obstacles or barriers that people may have about your product.
  2. Keeping existing customers costs less than acquiring new ones. When you build authentic connections with your audience, you increase customer loyalty to your brand, get repeat business, and improve customer lifetime value (CLV).
  3. When you’re sure about which pain points and motivations you want to focus on, you can save time, energy, and marketing costs. You’ll be able to refine your marketing strategy and only focus on things that will bring you the best results.
  4. Your brand’s perception, authority, and image improve when you have clear, consistent messages that resonate with your target customers.
  5. Identifying pain points and buyer motivation in marketing campaigns helps you stand out from your competitors. 

The Psychology Behind Customer Motivation

For decades, marketers have been using subtle, yet effective, psychological concepts to encourage people to buy. Psychologist Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a good example of psychology applied to marketing. 

His theory on human motivation says that our decision-making processes are driven by the following needs and desires: 

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs - shows the different levels of human motivation that can be used as driver when making purchase decisions.

(Source: Professional Academy)

Predictably Irrational

It’s also worth noting that our buying decisions, in many ways, are often irrational. 

For instance, how come we don’t bat an eye when spending $75 on a lavish meal out, but then complain about a price hike of $0.50 on a product at the grocery store? We think that we’re making rational choices, but often, our choices are neither rational or logical. 


It’s this concept that Dr. Dan Ariely explores in his book, Predictably Irrational. In it, Ariely (a Professor of Behavioral Economics at MIT), talks about how most perceived irrational behavior (such as a customer going from thinking about buying to pressing “add to cart”)  is predictable, and how some of the big retailers use visual psychological triggers to induce buying behaviors.

It also mentions that when faced with three choices, most people will take the middle choice. It’s worth getting a copy for some good insight into how well-known brands are doing things and is a good read for anyone who’s dealing with pricing.

Customer Motivations to Identify and Use in Your Marketing Strategy

People buy products or services when they have a need or a problem to solve. As the tension from dissatisfaction builds up, satisfying this need becomes even more and more urgent, pushing people to find ways to eliminate it. You have to identify those needs and why they exist. You want your company or product to be top-of-mind as a solution. 

It’s also important to know the trigger points of your audience can either be used for positive or negative marketing. We’ll take a look at how this plays out in positive marketing in a second, but negative marketing is something that you’ll want to avoid at all costs.

This includes classic scare tactics and clickbait strategies, things that prey on fears, insecurities, etc. This includes titles such as, “5 ingredients that could kill you,” or “The world is falling apart, are you prepared?” Sure, those scare tactics might work in the short-term, but they’ll do nothing for your brand long-term. People respond better to positive marketing, and that’s where you’ll want to focus your attention.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at eight reasons that people buy. See how you can use these different motivations to sell your products.

Reason #1: To Feel Better, Highlight How Your Product Will Help Them to Feel Good

Experiencing pleasure (or escaping pain) is one of the most basic reasons that motivate customers to buy something. And it isn’t called retail “therapy” for nothing. Clinical psychologist Dr. Scott Bea tells Cleveland Clinic, “Whether you’re adding items to your shopping cart online or visiting your favorite boutique for a few hours, you get a psychological and emotional boost.” 

Aside from the psychological boost from the act of shopping itself, products that make us feel happy, healthy, and empowered can positively influence our buying behavior. Fitbit taps on our desire to be healthy by posting messages that tell us about “feeling great” and showing how their device can help us feel better about ourselves.

(Source: Fitbit)

Likewise, people buy products to protect themselves from pain or loss. Fears from having our security threatened can motivate us to buy products that protect us from pain or losses. Insurance and security device companies know this is a huge pain point for those who are extra-cautious. 

When using this in your marketing, ask yourself what your target customer stands to lose if they don’t buy your product.

Chatfuel, a chatbot service provider, says it loud and clear in their copy:

(Source: Chatfuel)

Cloudnine Ergonomics also does a great job of showing how much better your work day can be with their ergonomic keyboards:

(Source: Cloudnine Ergonomic Solutions)

Just take care that you don’t go too far, playing off of your customers’ (unfounded) fears to make a sale. This approach should always highlight a real fear or concern, and look to provide a real solution. Avoid anything that could be deemed as taking advantage of your customers in some way.

Reason #2: To Gain Status and Significance, Show How Your Product is for Discerning People

Rock bottom prices don’t always guarantee sales. The proof? America’s luxury retail market that’s worth $51.2 Billion. Wharton marketing professor Pinar Yildirim says, “People buy luxury brands not because they just care about raw materials, craftsmanship, and high quality, but because they want to communicate something about themselves. They want to communicate their economic status, their social status, and consumption does this rather well.”

If your company sells expensive, high-end goods, or bespoke services, it’s important to keep your messaging consistent across your marketing channels. Mr. Porter, an ecommerce marketplace specializing in designer menswear and accessories, uses their Instagram account to boost their image as prestige experts:

(Source: Mr.Porter)

Luxury cars are another great example of this. There are trusty, mid-range brands like Honda that can take you from point A to B comfortably. But for clients motivated by the prestige that comes from driving a luxury car, the exorbitant price of a Porsche or Mercedes is worth it. Mercedes Benz emphasizes this on their Instagram page and print ads, using words that evoke exclusivity such as “majestic,” luxury,” “masterpiece,” and “the best.”

(Source: Mercedes Benz USA)

(Source: Newspaper Ads)

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Reason #3: Because They Don’t Want to Miss Out, Create a Sense of Urgency and Exclusivity

It’s the law of supply and demand- the less there is of something, the higher its value becomes. That’s why rare objects and limited edition products are highly prized. A lot of brands use a limited edition strategy in their marketing.

They create special, never-seen-before versions of their product for a limited time only. A perceived scarcity taps into our sense of urgency and fear of missing out (FOMO), making certain goods even more attractive to us.

A great example of this is Kanye West’s Yeezys for Adidas. His marketing strategy is a combination of social media hype, unique designs that his target audience loves, plus limited quantity releases. The result? Collections that sell out immediately, people on waiting lists, and hardcore collectors paying top dollar at resale shops.

Check out the comments and number of likes on this post from Yeezy Mafia:

(Source: YeezyMafia)

Here are some ways you can create exclusivity in marketing your products:

  • Create a sense of urgency to buy in your copy, such as “Special price ends at midnight,” adding a countdown widget, or indicating the limited quantities of a product that you have on hand. 
  • Introduce special packaging that’s limited edition or themed/seasonal.
  • If you have a physical shop, you can sell items that are available in-store only or online-only.

Make sure to highlight these on your homepage or product pages. 

(Source: Samsonite)

Reason #4: To Save Time or Energy, Emphasize the Time or Energy Savings That It Offers

People love savings, whether that’s time, energy, or money. 

Based on their studies, the Wall Street Journal reports that “People feel happier when they pay to save time than when they buy something nice for themselves.” Everyone’s busy these days with work and their personal lives. Extra time and energy have become luxuries that many people don’t have and are willing to pay for. Products and services that save time and simplify complicated processes can win over many people.

Home gym equipment can take time to set up. MaxPro simplifies the setup process for busy people and guaranteeing that they can “work out in minutes:”

(Source: Maxpro Fitness)

How much time have you lost looking for your Airpods? Apple just came up with the solution: 

(Source: Apple)

Reason #5: To Save Money, Show Them How It Can Help Them to Save

Not everybody is motivated by exotic vacations or watches that show status. There are people who prefer to save their hard-earned money, with some even willing to sacrifice product quality or convenience to avoid spending too much. These price-sensitive consumers are motivated by getting the best deals and offers.

That doesn’t mean you have to bring down your prices. Other ways to give clients more bang for their buck is to:

-Offer free trials to get them to experience your product or service (Or, instead of free, consider a heavily discounted trial to draw in serious customers)

-Give free, exclusive content or physical freebies when they make a purchase 

-Distribute discount coupons, especially for first time orders, members, and returning customers

-Hold special sales every once in a while  

-There are also other pricing techniques that you can use on your ecommerce website. These are:

Anchoring – A cognitive bias where our decisions are influenced by an “anchor” or reference point. Seeing a product’s before and after price reminds customers of the savings they’re getting.

(Source: Walmart)

Decoy Effect – Offering three options with different prices. Two are within reasonable range, while the third is markedly higher; the decoy option. People are more likely to go with the mid-priced option, which is actually the target product that the company wants to sell. 

(Source: Queensland University of Technology)

Subscriptions – Buying in bulk through subscriptions are a great way to give savings to customers. At the same time, it also ensures your sales are covered for a certain period. 

(Source: Crobox)

(Source: MaxPro)

Reason #6: For Personal Development, Show How It Can Lead to Personal Growth and Development

People these days are motivated to upskill and learn new information. We’re seeing the rise of educational content creators like Udemy selling courses. And plenty of modules out there teaching people how to paint, use Adobe Photoshop, or run Excel. Gaining new knowledge has a positive effect on people, making them feel better and smarter, and opens doors to many opportunities. 

Think your product doesn’t directly contribute to improving knowledge? Check out how Williams Sonoma is complementing their physical products with some fun digital education. They have virtual cooking classes that clients can book and attend through their website. It further establishes their authority in the food and kitchen industry and increases customer engagement time with the brand.

(Source: Williams Sonoma)

Provide Social Proof

One final tip for anyone who may still be on the fence about your product, provide social proof. Word of mouth is still one of the best marketing tactics today. Some 88% of people are more likely to trust advice from family and friends and before buying from a company. 

Robert Cialdini, marketing professor and author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, believes that humans look to people around them for advice when they’re unsure about what to do. You can show the trustworthiness of your brand by other means of providing social proof, such as:

  • Highlighting positive customer testimonials on your homepage and product page
  • Running user-generated campaigns (UGCs)
  • Including average product ratings on your website
  • Getting endorsements from experts or influencers in your niche
  • Having a “Press” section where you can highlight media features
  • Adding an “as seen in” banner with logos of publications your company is featured in, like this one from Max Pro:


Thanks to the internet and social media, an average person gets flooded with as much as 6,000 to 10,000 ads every single day. You don’t want your company to drown in this sea of advertisements. With a deeper understanding of the factors that motivate people to buy, you’ll be able to create better marketing messages that resonate with your target audience.

Think about some of the world’s biggest brands: Starbucks doesn’t just sell coffee, they sell a customer experience. Amazon isn’t just a marketplace, people love it because it saves them time and money. There’s more to Apple than just smartphones; they sell innovative tech in sleek hardware. 

The final key to success in making these motivating factors work is to be sincere and authentic with your audience. It will help you keep existing customers and attract new prospects as well. People buy from brands they trust and have emotional connections with, so seek to really solve your target audience’s problems and make your buyers feel great. Before you know it, you’ll have more customers, and the profit and brand trust will follow. 

Do you need to discover what’s motivating your target market to buy? Reach out now for your FREE 20-minute consultation call. Let’s talk about the strategies you need to scale your business –and fast. 

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