Jeremy Smith Apr 7, 2016 4:30:00 AM 22 min read

Optimizing For Conversions: Motivation - Understanding Your Customers

Part 2 of 5 - Optimizing For Conversions:  Motivation & Conversions

What You'll Learn In This Post

How to use your value proposition to meet users’ needs and motivate them to convert.

Whether you are an e-commerce specialist, a digital marketer responsible for lead gen, or are becoming the go-to person on your team for conversion optimization, your job is not just about sales. It is about solving problems.

Users come to your website with questions and problems that they expect you to answer and resolve. This is the intrinsic, or internal, motivation that compelled them to click on the link to your landing page.

If your landing page immediately demonstrates that your site is relevant to their needs and that your product or service offers a unique value proposition, you have provided the first extrinsic, or external, motivation for the user to explore that page and your site further.

Jeff Fuhriman of Adobe said it well:

We are not in the business of selling people on our products; we are selling the personal benefits the product will yield in their lives.

Without motivation, there is no reason for a site visitor to move forward in the conversion funnel.


Motivating Users Requires Balancing Costs with Value

Balance cost with value

We refer to the interplay of motivation, relevance and the unique value proposition (UVP) offered by a product or service as the Conversion Triangle. The Conversion Triangle is the foundation of conversion optimization.

With a solid Conversion Triangle supporting your site optimization efforts, your conversion rates will almost always be better. Without it, you are ultimately going to lose customers and money. It’s that simple.

The two primary threats to the stability of your Conversion Triangle are friction and anxiety, which is a specific form of friction.

One definition of motivation depicts it as an equation:

Motivation = perceived benefits – perceived costs

The costs, whether monetary, personal or otherwise, are friction. To keep a potential customer motivated, you as a marketer must first show them that the benefits (or value) of what you offer outweigh the costs.

What is not so simple is understanding what motivates your potential customers intrinsically and how you, as a marketer and/or conversion optimizer, can motivate customers extrinsically.

As we stated in our initial explanation of the Conversion Triangle, fulfilling your promise to provide a solution to your customers’ problems, and thereby motivating them, requires you to know your customers and their questions, needs, problems, etc.

In other words, for you to motivate a potential customer, you must understand what already motivates them. You have to have a solid customer persona that describes who is coming to your site and what they expect once they are there.

Below I’ll explain how this works and how you can make it work for you.


How Motivation Plays Its Part in Conversion Optimization

Motivation is internal and external. Site users bring intrinsic motivating factors with them, and you can provide extrinsic motivation by what your site says and does. Extrinsic and intrinsic motivations interact with each other.

You’ve no doubt heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Psychologist Abraham Maslow said people must generally be able to fulfill their basic needs before they can think about higher needs. He allowed that there is no strict hierarchy, and one recent theory says all of our needs are interconnected and driven by the need for social connection.

Maslow's Hierarchy of NeedsStill, Maslow’s Hierarchy is typically depicted as a pyramid consisting of:

  • Physiological needs, the requirements to function day to day, such as nourishment, shelter, sleep, elimination.
  • Safety, which, beyond being free from the fear of harm, includes the need for protection from the elements, law and order, financial security, health and access to healthcare, and stability in each of the above.
  • Social needs, which include the need for belonging and affection, typically manifested as having friendships, a mate, family, and membership in a community or religion.
  • Esteem, which includes self-esteem as well as the recognition, respect and appreciation of others.
  • Self-actualization, which is seeking intellectual growth and attainment that is more for personal fulfillment than for outward appearance or gain. At this level, with all other needs met, the individual can realize their true potential.

Each of the needs Maslow identified, no matter how they are plotted, motivates us to act.

The higher levels of Maslow’s pyramid are more closely associated with intrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic motivation is a desire to do something because of a feeling within us, such as pride, while extrinsic motivation is due to someone or something else’s influence, such as money.

But they intermingle: pride causes some to seek money beyond their financial needs. Fear for our safety is intrinsic, but it is often due to an external threat.

One definition of our peak motivation, self-actualization, refers to “expressing one’s creativity, quest for spiritual enlightenment, pursuit of knowledge and the desire to give to society.”

An optimized e-commerce site builds extrinsic motivation, chiefly through reiteration of its value proposition, as well intrinsic motivation by appealing to the needs and higher desires of the site’s specific customer persona.


What Motivates Shoppers Online?

So, how do we apply Maslow to the world of e-commerce?

What are e-commerce and SaaS customers truly seeking, at the most basic level?

Beyond buying staple foods for nourishment, when we make any kind of purchase, the primary goal is some kind of personal gain. It’s not so much the accrual of things as it is a counter to not having something, a hedge against harm caused by the lack of this or that.

We buy products and services to ensure our safety.


We buy shoes primarily to protect our feet. We buy a car so we can drive instead of walk, ride a bike, take a bus, etc., which conserves our energy and our options, and protects us from the elements.

New software ensures that we can perform some function more easily, another way to conserve energy and time, so that we are less likely to suddenly be without them. Consulting services make us safe from the consequences of our own lack of knowledge or lack of time needed to do the work we hire the consultant to do.

EsteemAt some point, we may buy luxury items to promote our esteem. The purchase may be something as innocuous as a new coat or dress because it is in style, but being up on the latest style is a matter of seeking recognition and approval. (And such a purchase is, of course, a luxury to many, many people.)


SocializationA purchase or a non-monetary conversion that puts the buyer/user in a special category of recognition or makes them a member of a specific group might also fill a social need. Being “in style” is also a sign of belonging to a select group.


Some purchases are not about need at all, they’re just for fun or the delight of the buyer. At a higher level, a gift to charity or other support for a nonprofit organization or a cause would also be a way for the site user to please him- or herself as a kind of self-actualization.

Of course, this is all on a subconscious level. No one consults a checklist to see which of Maslow’s needs they have satisfied today.

But if you are to persuade your customers of the personal benefits to be gained by purchasing your product or service, you must respond to their needs. And running down a checklist as you survey your site content is a good way to make sure you are doing so.


How and Where Does Your Site Motivate Users?

We said earlier that answering potential customers’ needs and questions, primarily by stating the unique value proposition (UVP) offered, is website’s primary means of motivating site visitors.

In our explanation of the UVP and its role in the Conversion Triangle, we quote an Investopedia definition for “value proposition” via Google, which calls it “a business or marketing statement that summarizes why a consumer should buy a product or use a service.” Stating how “that one particular product or service” is better than what others offer adds the “unique” factor.

Your UVP is the primary motivator you control. It must address your site visitors’ intrinsic motivations. Our exploration of the UVP for this series explains how it should be applied throughout the conversion funnel.

Here’s how your site’s content can motivate users to convert:

Descriptive Content

A site’s content should make it clear what its product or service can do for the user and why it is better than the competitors’. Landing page content should answer users’ “What’s in it for me?” questions (WIIFM?).

What motivates site users isn’t what you do, it’s what they stand to gain. It’s not that you provide a great home remodeling service. The site visitor is motivated by an image in their mind of the beautiful new bathroom or kitchen that you can create for them.

TrendMark home remodelers

(Image source)

Call to Action

You can write a CTA that reassures the user that there’s something to gain by clicking, instead of something to give up (money, an email address, etc.). The CTA wording can also satisfy users’ need for safety:

  • Free, No Cost (no risk of loss)
  • Low Cost (smaller risk)
  • Money Back / Satisfaction Guaranteed (no loss)
  • Trial Offer (no commitment)
  • Add to Shopping Cart (no commitment)
  • Limited Offer, Now (clicking vs. fear of missing out, or FOMO).

Here's a promise of value to your company and your employees' health for no initial cost and little investment later. Wow!

Call to Action with low cost

(Image source)

Try meeting the users’ social needs with words of inclusion, like “join,” “membership,” and “let’s.”

Prices and Shipping

Again, lower prices mean less of a monetary risk, and “limited time” offers instill a sense of urgency and FOMO. Prices that are “exclusive” or “special” (i.e., discounted) for certain groups of shoppers motivate buyers by satisfying their social needs.

A recent study of international shopping online found that price and shipping costs drive purchases.

Options for fast delivery are motivational, as well. After all, now that they’ve decided to buy it, they want to have it.



There’s not much more exciting to the folks in sales than a “motivated buyer.” But, in truth, every potential buyer brings a variety of internal (intrinsic) motivations, or needs, with them when they come to an e-commerce site.

If you are responsible for marketing a website along with its products and services, you need to motivate users to convert, primarily by satisfying their needs and by explaining the unique value proposition (UVP) of what you are selling.

The motivation of the site user, the relevance of the site to their needs, and the value in what the site offers combine to form the Conversion Triangle, the basis of site optimization. Your focus on optimizing each one is necessary for ensuring conversion rates and revenue continue to rise to management’s satisfaction.

Learn more from our series about the Conversion Triangle — how to use relevance, motivation and the value proposition to boost conversions, and how to eliminate conversion-killing friction and anxiety.


Jeremy Smith

Digital marketer with a penchant for dance; helping clients see the light through the jungle of tweets since before Twitter was cool.