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Accept it, our obedient consumer marketplace was hijacked more than a generation ago. Ad agencies worked to soften the blow with engaging creative executions. But the days of proclaiming “Choosy moms choose Jif” and expecting an eager market to eat it up are long gone.

Today’s choosy moms are asking, “Should I give my 8-year-old peanuts, sugar, molasses, fully hydrogenated vegetable oils, fatty acids and salt? And do I need to ‘blast’ my school contacts about allergies?”

As things have become more transparent, things have gotten more complicated. So how do we move from tracking existing behaviors to understanding how consumers will be motivated to decide in our favor?

First, let me offer some comfort. Strategic marketing can become a predictive science once again. It just requires us to connect with consumers at the most fundamental level — how they make decisions.

Established social/psychological theory tells us that behaviors are the product of fundamental motivations — why people want what they want and do what they do — and while behaviors may change, motivations generally remain the same.

In the 1990s, MarketResponse International developed a research methodology to define and quantify segments based on consumer motivations. Originally designed as a means of understanding brands across the many cultures of Europe, the method can isolate the core motivations that manifest themselves in the behaviors Big Data now tracks. Today, it provides a platform for hosting adaptive or interactive customer experiences.

As anyone who has tried to find firm footing on the soapbox of predictive models will admit, behaviors are ever-changing, confusing and often a misrepresentation of what today’s self-reliant consumer is hoping to achieve.

Getting in front of today’s consumer requires getting to the core motivations of an individual’s needs and self-image. Here’s a quick walk-through of how to accomplish just that.

Step 1: Define your Domain

With motivations, you’re not researching a product or service; you’re out to understand a Domain — and by Domain I’m not referring to the lands of a king or the web address you snatched up at GoDaddy.

Instead, you’re defining the experience.

It’s not cars; it’s driving. Consumer reactions to banks are steadfast; research money, though, and the insights pour out. Instead of pet food, you want to understand a person’s relationship with their dog or cat.

The psychological theory underpinning this framework isolates a “productive tension” that gives birth to a decision. We’re all familiar with the expression, “I’m torn between …” It’s similar to the tension experienced by your customers as it defines the Domain in which you compete.

And we view it as the most powerful perspective for understanding your category, competitors and customers. We call it the “Motivational Lens.”

Through a qualitative exploration designed to reveal what individuals are hoping to achieve within a defined Domain, you’ll be able to capture the boundaries of assertive and adaptive role models. And you’ll be able to assess how much energy a person is willing to exert in achieving the most vivid expression of their self-image through their buying decisions.

(Caption: Alfred Adler’s Theory has been adopted as a basis for consumer decision-making. The renowned philosopher and psychiatrist stressed the need to understand individuals within their social context. His theory illustrates how decisions reflect one’s self-image – decisions made from the productive conflict of social and psychological forces.)

Step 2: Create a Motivational Map

As much as I would like to avoid the cliché, there are two types of people. As you peer into the motivational lens, you’ll observe a distinct division between those who work to embrace a positive and those wanting merely to avoid a negative. It’s the first dramatic divide you’ll discover in the qualitative exploration.

The second divide in what becomes your quadrant map is the release of tension that defines where an individual lands on your map. An individual’s decision will be the result of either asserting their will to change the situation or adapting to the norm and changing their behavior to match.

“Self-Image to Need” and “Assert to Adapt” are the optics of the Motivational Lens. In time, this vantage point will serve to explain people’s behaviors in a range of situations.

So, you now have a quadrant map and a new understanding of why you’re winning or losing among specific groups of consumers.

Step 3: Define Motivational Segments

With your four quadrants in place, it’s time to look for deeper divides. Our experience suggests six to seven distinct groups exist within a given Domain. While we’ve defined many Domains, we are still surprised at how discrete segments emerge. Look for significant numbers in what we refer to as the “Acceptance” segment. They know the routine of shopping and buying in your category. With their level of interest being marginal, they’re willing to default to the recommendations of advertising, friends and sales staff.

On the other side, you’ll find the aggressors wanting to have the upper hand. Listen for their buying criteria. While a most demanding group, they can be most valuable influencers. Even better, they’ll provide the market expectations to win the total market.

Most importantly, pay no attention to the outside selves you observe. You’ll know if you’re at the motivational level when tough guys cry and socialists fight for the biggest piece of the pie.

In the end, your exploration reveals insights. Attitudes and opinions coalesce to define the segments within your Domain. You’ll have the platform for differentiating strategies as they are rooted in the Domain and not a product. Finally, you’ll have a new appreciation of why some tactics work and other well-constructed plans fail.

Step 4: Quantify

It’s time to blend the art of qualitative learning with the science of quantitative design. The quantitative design is critical in addition to the modeling expertise of Smart Agent MarketResponse Netherlands. As authors of this field of work in association with the University of Tilburg, they guide us through question design, ranking schemes and can deliver a view of the market that makes the Motivational Lens eye opening. Results reveal why your brand or product is missing out on significant shares of the market, as well as your potential path for growth.

In this model, quantitative defines the size and priority of very specific drivers. Perhaps, more interestingly you’ll see where you and competitors have an advantage among particular motivational drivers. When one pairs this with communications and experience audits your first reaction will be to either hug or fire your marketing agencies.

Did you stake your claim with a cool but alarmingly small segment of the market or speak to the largest common denominator with no real point of difference? Lastly, have you embraced a market dedicated to crushing your margins before they say yes?

In all cases, you will have a logical and new perspective of your category landscape.

Step 5: Put your research to work

At this stage, it’s time to get to work. You’ve developed your own, Domain-specific Motivational Lens.

You’re now able to see the strength in concepts, products and messages on a total and segment-specific basis. It’s time to look at product development and marketing engines against defined goals by segment. The path is straightforward; the last hurdle is the internal consensus.

In our experience, the logic revealed through qualitative examples is so vivid, the presentation and workshop guides write themselves.

Get your audience and get ready for strategic and creative minds to connect in rapid fire. Interactive designers can develop new decision trees based on actual motivations and not the surface behaviors that created “spray and pray” models. You’re now able to engage shoppers at their most basic level, and you’ll be able to adapt through segmented messages and channels; construct communications that are complimentary, logical extensions from mass media to segment-specific messages; append customer files based on their motivations instead of the so-called rules of the model; and let your competitors wonder why they’re losing share across all of their behavioral and attitudinal segmentations.

Innovating and acting on motivational segments is the closest thing to playing chess while your competitors play checkers.


To read a more in-depth examination of this groundbreaking motivational research in the Domain of Shopping, be sure to download “The Domain of Shopping: A Motivational Segmentation for Adaptive Experience Design,” available free for ICX Association members in our Resource Library or for sale here

Cover image courtesy of iStock.
Mark Murray

Mark Murray

Mark is the founder of Cottage 8 Market Planning, which was founded to drive motivated teams from concept to completion across advertising, marketing and retail channels. His 18-year journey has included category-changing assignments across three continents and industries ranging from mobile, healthcare and banking to performance apparel, retail design and payments. He also developed MarketResponse International's Research-To-Work practice, in which he worked with client teams in the development of brand, market and channel strategies. He performed the research for the Domain of Shopping study, which identified six distinct shopping segments based on the motivational model MarketResponse developed as part of its brand research practice, in collaboration with the ICX Association.

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