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Two Fundamental Motivators

Now that we know them through the decision process. Motivating users is like getting a donkey to move by using a carrot and a stick. The carrot is held in front of the donkey as a potential reward for moving forward, whereas the stick is used to hit the donkey as a reminder of the punishment for not moving. So, for us humans, we can summarize our fundamental motivators as the desire for reward and the fear of punishment:

  1. The desire for reward. We all have a desire to gain something or to be rewarded. This can be based on objective reward attributes (for example, the side air bags in a sports car will help protect you in a collision) or emotional ones (for example, a sports car will show others that you're young and affluent). Rewards are about communicating to users the type of person they can be or the results they can accomplish by doing business with you. That is why we will continue to have bikini-clad women selling beer for the foreseeable future.

  2. The fear of punishment. This is the fear of being hurt or, more importantly, losing out on something. We humans like our freedom of choice; anything that compromises our freedom to pursue opportunities or our freedom to choose will prompt us to act. That's why discounts and coupons are set for a limited time, and shopping channels always tell us that there is only a limited number of cubic zirconia rings left. They are capitalizing on our fear of losing out on our freedom to choose to compel us to act.

This understanding leads to an important insight that can give you a leg up on your competitors: To effectively reach your customers, present your product or service in terms of the rewards it provides or punishments it helps them avoid.

Of these two motivators, however, it is always more effective for you to emphasize the consequences (punishment) of not acting than to promote the value of what you have to offer. For example, if you were selling all-inclusive resort packages to Mexico, you might take one of these two approaches:

Approach 1: Reward sales pitch

User's response


Approach 2: Punishment sales pitch

User's response


The reward approach emphasizes the benefit to the recipient, but it doesn't motivate the person to transact. The punishment approach, however, really forces the vacation shopper to respond immediately. As you design your web site, always think about how to incorporate these two fundamental motivators to move users forward.

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