How to Motivate Customers to Act: Tips From Seth Godin

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "This Is Marketing" by Seth Godin. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What kind of pressure should you put on customers and potential customers? How can you get them to move toward your product and not away from it?

In This Is Marketing, marketing expert Seth Godin contends that effective marketing is ultimately about changing people’s lives. But, to do that, you must do the basic work of convincing them to buy what you’re selling.

Read more to learn how to motivate customers to take action with insights from Godin.

How to Motivate Customers to Take Action

To effectively engage your target audience, it’s important not only to communicate that your product or service is tailored to them but also to inspire them to take action. Godin provides advice on how to motivate customers, saying that it requires you to apply pressure. This might be convincing them to sign up for a newsletter, purchase a new product, or support a candidate. You can achieve this by presenting a relatable problem and offering a solution that resolves it. By presenting this combination of problem and resolution, you can motivate your audience to alleviate the pressure they feel by actively engaging with your brand.

How to Apply Pressure Using Your Marketing Story

In Building a StoryBrand, Donald Miller offers a seven-part formula for crafting a story that connects with customers and leads them to engage with your brand.

Part 6 of the formula is about applying pressure by telling your audience what’s at stake if they don’t act. Miller explains that without a sense of negative consequence from not buying your product or service, the customer won’t feel compelled to buy. For instance, you can tell customers that your chiropractic services will improve their posture, but unless you also tell them that bad posture can lead to back problems, they likely won’t feel enough of an urge to engage your services.

Miller adds that when applying pressure, it’s important to elicit only a moderate amount of anxiety about the negative stakes for your customer. If you overplay the negative stakes (”You’ll damage your back irreparably without my services!”) you’ll repulse your customers, but if you underplay the negative stakes (“There’s a small chance your back might hurt occasionally without my services”) you won’t create enough of an urge to buy. 

One way to apply pressure is to challenge the status or position of your core audience. Godin defines status as an individual’s perceived position or rank within a particular social group or hierarchy.

(Shortform note: According to some psychologists, people tend to have a preferred status (high or low), and often default to playing that status in relationships and interpersonal interactions. This preference can lead to mastery in one status and feelings of incompetence in the other. For example, one person may feel confident when taking charge and leading others (high status) but feels uneasy when placed in a subordinate role (low status). Another person may feel most comfortable in supporting and assisting others (low status) but feel anxious when placed in a position of authority (high status). Identifying and acknowledging your preferred status can help you become more self-aware and adaptable when navigating different social dynamics.)

Godin argues that many of our decisions are driven by the desire to maintain or shift our status, but we do so in different ways. Some people seek to maintain or shift their status through a sense of belonging, while others do it through superiority.

Belonging is about the desire of people to connect with specific groups or communities whose opinions they value. To apply pressure on people who seek belonging, provide opportunities for them to belong. Jones Road Beauty exemplifies a brand that skillfully utilizes the concept of belonging to apply pressure on its customers. By promoting natural beauty and authenticity, Jones Road Beauty taps into individuals’ longing to be part of a community that shares these values. Through inclusive marketing campaigns featuring diverse models and fostering active online community groups, Jones Road Beauty cultivates a sense of inclusivity and creates opportunities to belong.

Superiority, on the other hand, is fueled by people’s desire to differentiate themselves and demonstrate their dominance. Godin writes that to apply pressure to this audience, you need to provide them with opportunities to excel and outperform others. Tesla effectively applies this concept to exert pressure on its customers by showcasing groundbreaking electric vehicles with cutting-edge technology and performance. Their marketing campaigns highlight exceptional features, positioning Tesla as a leader in the electric car industry. This motivates individuals to invest in Tesla vehicles as a means of showcasing their superiority and staying ahead of the curve.

(Shortform note: The desire to fit in and to stand out aren’t necessarily incompatible. According to a study in the Journal of Consumer Research, the two desires often coexist. People want to fit in with a group while also wanting to express their individuality. Researchers found that people are able to satisfy these seemingly conflicting motives by choosing a brand that represents their in-group for group identification while selecting unique elements such as colors or styles to set themselves apart. For example, a snowboarder might wear a popular brand jacket to show they are part of the snowboarding community but choose an uncommon pattern to be different from other snowboarders.)

How to Motivate Customers to Act: Tips From Seth Godin

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  • Why traditional marketing strategies are no longer effective
  • Why you should aim to build trust, authenticity, and empathy with customers
  • Guiding principles for successful marketing in the modern age

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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