5 mins read

Psychology series: the motivations behind consumer behaviour

Rawnet Academy
Work Experience
Rawnet Academy

Work Experience

Have you ever wondered what drives you to buy something? 

Some of the reasons behind a purchasing decision are obvious, for example buying food and water to meet our basic human needs or purchasing a new carton of milk because you have just run out. But, when it comes to making “want” instead of “need” purchases other motivational factors which are not so obvious come into play. It is vital that marketers understand the psychology behind these ‘other’ motivational factors in order to determine the best way to market a product or service. 

But first, why is motivation so important? 

Motivation is the key reason, conscious or non-conscious that we behave in a certain way and choose one product over another. It is believed there are two types of motivation that influence our behaviour: positive and negative.  

  • Negative motivation describes behaviour which is motivated by the goal of avoiding an undesirable outcome, such as brushing your teeth every day to avoid tooth decay. 

This type of motivation can be seen in many different adverts, for example, the 2015 Ring doorbell advert. In this advert, viewers see two scenarios - the first shows a burglary taking place due to the homeowner not having a Ring doorbell, whereas, in the second, the Ring doorbell is shown to prevent a burglary from taking place. This conveys the message that with the Ring doorbell, consumers can avoid getting burgled, motivating them to purchase the product. 

This message is consistent across the customer journey, from when consumers first see the advert to landing on the Ring website. Customers are navigated along the journey through storytelling, creating a need for the Ring doorbell, and playing on the emotions of having peace of mind and security.




  • In contrast, Positive motivation describes when we pursue a certain goal to gain a reward- for example, working out every day to keep fit. This type of motivation can be seen in many marketing campaigns to drive consumers to purchase their products. For example, in L’Oreal’s 2015 ‘Power on’ advert, the goal of having beautiful, glossy hair is used to sell their product, highlighting how if viewers use their product, this goal can be achieved.

The 3 main motivators for consumer behaviour

1. Social Influence: Status & Conformity



Psychologist Russell Belk (1988), argues that the aspiration to achieve a desirable social image strongly influences our buying habits, suggesting that when an individual purchases luxury items or goes on an expensive holiday, they are signalling to others about their status in society.

Brands have relied on status for years, using it as a way to target specific audiences - just think about Hermes, the orange box and brown ribbon packaging are associated with elegance and class, targeting individuals who identify with the company’s image as well as those who want to emulate the wealthy status.





Our buying behaviour can also be motivated by the desire to fit in or as a result of the attitudes and behaviour of our reference groups. Just think back to your childhood, did your parents have a tendency to buy from certain brands or a preference to certain shops? These consumption patterns and preferences witnessed as a child can influence your attitude and in turn your buying behaviour.

If we believe that others are ‘right’ or we want to be accepted into a group we have a tendency to conform to their views. Marketers often take advantage of this when marketing and positioning their products on websites to persuade consumers to buy their products; just think about Amazon, for example, say you wanted to buy a new speaker, Amazon helps you decide which speaker to buy through the inclusion of a ‘Best Seller’ tagline, a rating out of 5, a pop up saying how many people have bought it in the last hour and thousands of reviews, strongly motivating you to purchase the speaker.


2. Attitudes and beliefs

Our attitudes and beliefs can also motivate our buying behaviour; psychologist Festinger (1957) argued that if there is an inconsistency between our beliefs or attitudes, a state of cognitive dissonance arises. 

Cognitive dissonance is simply a mental conflict experienced when your beliefs don’t match up with your actions, leading to negative, unpleasant feelings. An example of cognitive dissonance is feeling guilty about eating meat because you consider yourself an animal lover. When conflicts like these arise, we try to resolve them and change our behaviour accordingly, in this case, the individual may reduce the number of animal products they consume and eat vegetarian substitutes.

In marketing, cognitive dissonance relates to the expectations and feelings a consumer may have about brands and their internal logic when deciding to buy something. Marketers should consider potential consumer conflicts or expectations that might affect their buying decisions and resolve these conflicts in favour of what they’re trying to sell. For example, say a consumer is looking to buy a new car but they are conscious of their environmental impact, a company may decide to create an ad campaign which addresses this concern by highlighting how eco-friendly their car is.


3. Emotional Motivation

We may also be motivated to make a purchase by what is known as the ‘dopamine effect’. When we make a purchase, our brains release the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter dopamine which signals a reward and creates pleasurable feelings. Marketers want to try and harness this reward system to reinforce buying behaviour. This can be achieved through free samples or free trials - offering a taster can create a positive association with the company and consumers are more willing to purchase the item themselves. Marketers can also implement gamification and loyalty strategies such as a point system in which consumers can register to get discounts on products, this creates a rewarding relationship with consumers and can trigger greater dopamine release when consumers receive their purchase.


In conclusion, consumer behaviour is driven by many psychological factors, from underlying attitudes and beliefs to social influence and emotional reward. It is important for marketers to understand what motivates their potential customers to make a purchase across the customer journey in order to maximise engagement and sales. This can be achieved through customer journey mapping and target audience personas; by getting in the mindset of potential customers, brands can achieve optimum results. 

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