How to Motivate People to Buy

Better Writing

If you’re in business, someone’s got to buy something for you to make money.

At least last time I checked.

(Twitter, call me).

For the rest of you, this article should help you get more people to buy something.

Sick of Hearing that People Buy Because of Emotion?

Well then… that would be a strong emotional response to a logical assertion, no?

But I hear you. Over and over you’re told that people buy according to emotion, and it seems not to make sense when it comes down to selling your stuff.

Maybe that’s because you’re thinking about emotion in the context of feelings rather than motivation.

And that would definitely be confusing, because it’s not feelings you’re after. In fact, provoking feelings can kill the sale instead of prompting it.

Nothing More Than Feelings… (Fail)

Feelings are magnified, messy, and often misunderstood forms of emotion, and that makes playing with them potentially dangerous. What we’re trying to do is motivate people to do something very specific (buy)… not get them to weep, fly into a rage, or jump for joy.

This may be why so many people doubt that we make purchase decisions via emotion. We don’t always detect a strong feeling when we reach for our wallets, so we must be acting from a purely logical standpoint, right?

Not likely. You simply justify your existing desire to purchase with logic. You’ve already decided you want it. It’s still possible to talk yourself out of it, but the motivation to buy was put in place while your logical brain was making other plans.

In fact, any time we are motivated to do anything, emotion is pulling the strings. It’s just usually an emotional response lower than what we think of as a feeling, so we experience our motivations as mostly rational.

But it’s emotion that moves us to act. In fact, the Latin root for the word emotion mean “to move,” because emotions motivate what we do. Psychologists will tell you that motivations are fairly simple and straightforward, while feelings can be quite complicated (we even lie to ourselves about them).

So, when it comes to getting someone to buy, you’re definitely invoking emotion. But by understanding emotional response in terms of motivation rather than feelings, you’ll have a better idea on how to craft your copy.

More Than a Feeling: Motivation

So, again… the goal is not to get someone to necessarily feel. Your goal is to get someone to want, and to act on that want. If that seems like a subtle difference (since desire can often be a very tangible emotion), well at least now you accept that emotion is driving the train.

In terms of motivation, psychologists know that emotions result in one of three basic categories of responsive motivation:


When approach motivation kicks in, you want to experience or discover more of something. Approach motivation involves positive desire, and the perceived value of what you move toward always increases.

Approach motivation makes selling high quality desirable products easy, whether it be an iPhone or black granite kitchen countertops. But it can also be used to sell desirable outcomes, ranging from the Obama campaign for empowered change, to get rich quick and get skinny now products of dubious effectiveness.


You want to play upon avoid motivation when your prospect wants to get away from something of low value. Avoid motivation deems something unworthy of attention, and an inconvenience or annoyance that should be ignored or eliminated.

People want to avoid paying too much on their electric bill more than any desire for features of the juice coming through the wires, unless you’re using alternative energy sources, in which case many will do business with you to avoid adverse environmental impact. Most charities play on avoidance emotions to lessen the impact of poverty, disease, and natural disasters. Rather than taking a beauty approach, Clearasil plays on motivations to avoid the stigma of acne.


With attack motivation, people want to devalue, insult, criticize, or destroy something. When someone is emotionally motivated to eliminate something (rather than simply avoid it), attack motivation is the way to go.

Think about ad campaigns for weed killer and bug spray (Raid kills bugs dead!). Likewise, we’ve seen more than our share of large-scale campaigns designed to eradicate various complicated problems by waging war against them – the war on crime, drugs, terror, etc.

What’s My Motivation?

Using the three basic categories of emotional motivation, you should be able to craft the right kind of story to get people to take action. The problem comes when you’re not clear which motivations you’re actually playing to.

For example, it’s rare that an attack against your competitor will work on the basis of attack motivation, but comparative advertising (Pepsi challenge, Mac Guy and PC guy) can work if you invoke enough approach motivation due to the expressed benefits and differentiation. On the other hand, negative political ads work on independents not by triggering attack motivation, but instead by prompting avoidance… the undecided voter doesn’t want to make the wrong choice.

Thinking in terms of motivation makes selling with emotion a little less mysterious. And spending the time to truly know who your prospects are makes motivation crystal clear.

About the Author: Brian Clark is founder of Copyblogger and CEO of Copyblogger Media. Get more from Brian on Google+.

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Reader Comments (30)

  1. says

    Thank you for this excellent presentation. One thing I really notice a great deal of with small businesses is overall neutrality in the sales approach. Kind of playing it safe. It’s easy to take that route, but it’s also easy to have potential customers lose interest fast. The other end of the scale is trying to hard which has the same effect.

    To me, the business that takes the most effective sales approach is the business that’s also interested in the customer’s best interests. You have to be in tune with what the customer wants to key in on the right motivation. Hopefully in that case the product follows through!

  2. says

    Realizing that you decide what to do and then justify it after the fact is very disconcerting, because it doesn’t feel like that from the inside. But it’s been backed up by all sorts of science (as if Brian’s word wasn’t enough), including fMRI scans.

    For me, the book Prometheus Rising was where I first learned about this. The book explores it from the other angle — from the point of view of a person trying to figure out their own true motivations and choose their own actions instead of acting out of habit, pattern, or after-the-fact justifications.

    And you know, now that I think about it, I see how I’ve been subtly applying the insights of Prometheus Rising in marketing all along. I guess understanding how brains work has many useful applications. (:

  3. says

    Great article, but this typo distracted me (not that it would be difficult…)

    “With attack motivation, people want to devalue, insult, criticize, or destroy something. When someone is emotionally motivated to eliminate ***somehting*** (rather than simply avoid it), attack motivation is the way to go.”

    Hope this helps!

  4. says

    I like this, taking the sloppiness out of emotional appeals. Too often people equate a well-crafted emotional message with goopy sentiment.

  5. says

    Rightly said.

    People want to feel, but they want to feel it themselves. And don’t want people who try to push them around this. Thats the reason they buy, we can just give them the motivation to go ahead and feel what they want to feel.

    Making them feel the feeling is a good feeling of motivation 😉

  6. says

    Another excellent post, Brian.

    I was one of those people who confused emotion with feelings – and one of the things I do is the marketing professor thing (with my M.B.A.)!

    Thanks for sharing!

  7. says

    Thanks Brian! This is the first time I’ve read about the difference between feelings and motivation.

    I’ve always thought of emotional response as a feeling. Partly due to what I’ve learned about “Pain” and “Pleasure”.

    Come to think of it, Approach Motivation would be like “Pleasure” and Avoidance Motivation would be like “Pain”. But to think of them in terms of motivation and not just feelings really clears the air for me.

    Thanks again, Brian!

  8. says

    Insightful post. I think you’ve made a lot of people realise the differences in the buying techniques. Like others have also expressed, I was the same in confusing the two aspects of emotion and feelings, so you have clarified things for many of us.

  9. says

    almost no sale at my site…what a poor! i have no skill on how to promote my site with unique content or link building…there’re no more than 100 visit per day…hufff….

  10. says

    Very true. I have found even when individuals try to remove the emotion from their decision (such as quantifying their decisions through a formalized decision matrix or comparison table), in the end it always comes down to the individual’s feeling about the product or service. In the end if you believe your decision is unemotional (even if quantified) you are just fooling yourself!

  11. Rich says

    I don’t think a large chunk of people buy on emotion at all. Many purchases are scheduled and organized. Shopping lists are not new, and are therefore vetted at least twice.

  12. Federico Munoa says

    This post reminds me of one of the very first marketing lessons I took a long time ago. AIDA –> Attraction , Interest, Desire, Action which will bring you to the next level AICDA –> Attraction, Interest, COMPREHENSION, Desire and Action.

    Excellent post.

  13. says

    I’ll tell you what, that article was very informative. I am actually going to edit some of my webpages right now to apply some of this “motivation”.

  14. says

    I had also thought in terms of “pain/away from” and “pleasure/towards” motivation but not about “attack”, so that was interesting, thank you. Even people who feel good while they buy, and dull afterwards (buyer’s remorse) tend not to think any emotion has been involved .. only copywriters know!

  15. says

    After selling stuff both online and in person for over 9 years, I can say that people buy based on emotion and then justify their purchase with facts, so it’s important to give both. But it really is that simple. The reason we hear it over and over again is because it’s just the way it is.

  16. says

    when i visit blogs with sales offers there can sometimes be a total lack of a call of action and i find this reflects where so many people go wrong.

    top post


  17. says

    Trying to sharpen my copywriting skills (well get some LOL) and I enjoyed this post =) Gave me some stuff to think about! I would love to see more details on the 3 categories to help us along; like more examples, ‘scripts’ if you will – not necessarily ‘here copy this and use it’ but ways one can write using each approach, etc. =)


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