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The Psychology Behind Marketing: What Motivates People to Take Action

The mind is a fascinating place and what makes us tick is really crucial to understand if you’re planning any marketing campaigns. If we can understand the psychology of why people take action, we can very much apply this to our marketing messages.

This is relevant for organic social media where you want to get lots of people to comment, like and share your posts, as well as being relevant when thinking about how you can increase your chances of people responding to your advertising messages too.

It’s all about understanding what motivates people. According to Jonah Berger, studies show it is the same six principles, called the STEPPS.

Social currency

People love to know something that other people don’t. If they’re going to look good by sharing your info, then they will.

McDonalds have a good example of this – the McRib wasn’t hugely popular in America, it did ok but it wasn’t a top seller, so they took it off the menu and then added it back on again only at certain times and only in certain locations. People started announcing on social media when they had discovered the McRib was back in their town – they felt special because they had discovered it and could be seen as the person to share the secret, and the exclusivity of it made the McRib really sought after again! There’s even a dedicated Facebook page called the McRib Locator.

The point here is that if you give someone social currency and make them feel like an insider, they’re more likely to share it. I know it can be a little more difficult to apply this to every business, but think about how you can make someone feel like an insider and like they have information and tips that not everyone has – if you’re a sales company, maybe it’s your top 3 secret sales closers?


A trigger is a reminder that cues you to think about something else. KitKat is a good example here – they run the campaign ‘take a break, take a KitKat’ and so when people stop what they’re doing to make a cuppa, they might think about having a KitKat too.

Another strong example is a sun lotion company that ran a campaign showing a beach towel with a chalk body outline on it. When people then went to lie down on a beach towel on holiday they thought about that campaign and remembered they could get skin cancer if they didn’t apply sun lotion. The key message here is that people don’t get excited about buying sun cream - they’re not choosing to buy sun cream, they’re choosing to not get skin cancer.

So, what is going to remind people to talk about you? What’s your trigger?


A good thing to remember is: when we care, we share.

So, a post about a free dog that needs a new home gets shared a lot more than a post about a free sofa!

When people have high emotions, whether they’re positive or negative emotions, they’re more likely to respond than if they have low emotions because if they’re not really invested in the outcome or it just isn’t that remarkable, they’re not motivated to spread the word.


We use other people as a signal for what we should do. If we’re out in town and we want to stop somewhere to eat, we’ll choose a restaurant that’s already got diners rather than the one that is empty.

It does act the same with social media content. If lots of people share your content, others feel more compelled to. So, you could shout about your milestone numbers of followers, for example, to entice others to follow too. Or, on your website, if you have a blog you could add a widget to your site that shows the number of times it’s been shared by other people.

Practical value

People don’t just share things because it makes them look good. They also share because they want to help others. That’s why posts about tips or life hacks are so popular and widely shared. So, you could write content that gives practical advice and use lists like ‘6 ways to improve your XYZ’.

People also respond to the actual value of something and how it is positioned. If you’re posting about a special offer where there’s some money to be saved, you should apply the rule of 100 – when something is greater than 100, people are more likely to take action if it’s framed as the amount off rather than the percentage. So, for example, £5 off is the same as saying 25% off if the full value is £20, but 25% off sounds like a better discount. Whereas if the full value is £2,000 then £500 off sounds better than 25%.


People are more interested in stories than sales messages. The big takeaway here? Companies need to stop selling and start storytelling. Show people what you’re all about - what your values are, why you do what you do - rather than telling them. This could be in videos, case studies, or little snippets about things you’ve been doing to help others.

I’m not a psychology expert but it is useful to bear in mind the 6 STEPPS of what motivates people if you want to be remembered and get people to act on your messages. Especially because word of mouth is so powerful for finding new customers. If you can get people talking about or sharing your messages that they’ve seen, you can find new customers.

How are you going to apply the 6 STEPPS in your marketing?

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