Want copywriting x-ray vision? 3 lenses to reveal audience motives

Want x-ray vision into your target audience's brains?.

As copywriters, we need to understand our readers. Or reader. Consensus is that we should always write to one person; and understand that one person quite intimately.

It’s tempting to list their age, income and where they live but those details are usually irrelevant.

The problem is that consumers usually don’t go about their shopping by conforming to particular segments. Rather, they take life as it comes. And when faced with a job that needs doing, they essentially “hire” a product to do that job.

“…  the jobs-to-be-done point of view causes you to crawl into the skin of your customer and go with her as she goes about her day, always asking the question as she does something: Why did she do it that way?” Source.

A story to illustrate.

Harvard Business School professor, Clayton Christensen, shared this case in his MBA course.

A popular fast food restaurant wanted to boost sales of their milkshakes. To cut a long story short, they did some research found a surprising job the milkshakes were performing for customers.

“Most of them, it turned out, bought [the milkshake] to do a similar job,” Christensen writes. “They faced a long, boring commute and needed something to keep that extra hand busy and to make the commute more interesting. They weren’t yet hungry, but knew that they’d be hungry by 10 a.m.; they wanted to consume something now that would stave off hunger until noon. And they faced constraints: They were in a hurry, they were wearing work clothes, and they had (at most) one free hand.”

The milkshake was hired in lieu of a bagel or doughnut because it was relatively tidy and appetite-quenching, and because trying to suck a thick liquid through a thin straw gave customers something to do with their boring commute.

While the motives of your target market might seem obvious, it’s worth digging a little deeper to see if that what’s really going on when they make the decision to buy.

The lesson: Don’t just consider what your target is looking for. You must also think about why they are looking for it.

Powerful motives run deep

When you can mirror readers’ thoughts and feelings, you show them that you understand them, and that generates feelings of trust and credibility. And when someone trusts you their barriers to your persuasion are way down.

But understanding your audience can be hard. I mean, if they’re just like you, it’s easy but more often than not you’re writing copy to persuade an audience that’s entirely unlike you.

So how do you go about the task of understanding the why behind their actions?

This post covers three different lenses that can give you x-ray vision about your audiences’ motives.

Let’s begin with Bob Bly

Copywriter Bob Bly (All Hail) has a fantastic list of motivators. He explains that people buy something:

  • To be liked
  • To be appreciated
  • To be right
  • To feel important
  • To make money
  • To save money
  • To save time
  • To make work easier
  • To be secure
  • To be attractive
  • To be sexy
  • To be comfortable
  • To be distinctive
  • To be happy
  • To have fun
  • To gain knowledge
  • To be healthy
  • To gratify curiosity
  • For convenience
  • Out of fear
  • Out of greed
  • Out of guilt

I really like the simplicity of these motives. We can all identify with them and they give us lots of different angles to work with.

Keep in mind that most people will usually have more than one motive.

When we buy a car, we might be buying it to be secure, to be comfortable and to make work easier. But dig a little deeper and our real motives are probably closer to being liked, loved and appreciated… to feel important and to be attractive.

It depends on the car of course. My beat up Honda CRV will live cultures growing in my kids’ car seats… not so much. That baby really was all about convenience.

Let’s dig deeper into marketing theory

In marketing theory, all those motives can be broken down into the five basic priorities that drive our decisions.

Maslows Heirarchy of Needs

This is a classic marketing diagram known as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

  1. First, we look after our physiological needs. We make sure we have shelter, food, water and warmth so we can survive.
  2. Once they are taken care of, we look to make sure we are safe. Safety could be lock and key protection or something more high-level like contractual safety.
  3. When we can survive and we’re safe, we look to fill our need for social interaction and love. Following that, our self-esteem.
  4. Finally, when we have what we need to survive, we’re safe, we have a sense of belonging and our self-esteem is being taken care of… then we look to achieve our potential as humans.

Let’s end with some research

The last model I want to share with you was created by Ernest Dichter, known as “the father of motivational research”.

He mapped out 12 motives that drive our desires, fears and our shopping:

Power/Masculinity/Virility Strength and dominance!
Security Safety as well as home comfort
Eroticism Sexuality and desire. Sex sells!
Cleanliness/Moral Purity Cleanliness isn’t just functional, moral purity is often implied in the colours and imagery used
Social Acceptance Companionship, approval and love
Individuality The desire to be unique
Status Feeling important, respected and successful
Femininity All things associated with being feminine
Reward Maximising our payoff
Mastery over environment Competence and mastery. Can be closely related to reward and power.
Disalienation The desire to feel connectedness to things. This is often seen in fast food outlets. The food can be a little different around the world but there is a sameness that we crave.
Magic and mystery Powers unseen, surprises and moods

You can see the parallels with Bob Bly’s list and Maslow’s Heirarchy. Esteem… acceptance… security… mastery…

3 lenses = deeper understanding

The lesson: when you understand what really motivates someone to act, you can override their rational brain.

That’s the one telling them NOT to buy. Instead, you talk to the little voice that’s really running the show.

When you look at your target reader through multiple lenses, their motives develop subtleties that give them depth. That makes them a little easier to ‘hear’ when we get to trying to capture the right tone of voice.

Together, these models give you different lenses to see your reader through, which means lots of different ways to consider their motives.

Take some time with this. Dig deep into the why. Your life experience counts for a lot here.

Your task

Before you sit down to write a headline, call to action or an entire website of copy, take some time to consider what is really motivating your audience (beyond the obvious rational motives).

And dig deep. Because the motives that live deeply within in us usually have the most power.

When you understand them, you can choose copywriting language that cuts straight to the heart of the matter.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Want to Hit Turbo on Your Copywriting Business?

Want to Hit
on Your Copywriting Business?

Of course you do.

Find out your copy biz shortcut so you can focus on the actions that will accelerate your business growth.

You’ll learn what YOU should focus on right now (spoiler alert: it’s not all the things) and get a bunch of tips, advice and extra resources to help you take action.

Have Some Feedback?

Let us know if you see any missing content, weird bugs, or just have general feedback about the new site design!