Motivation & Consumer Behavior: Surprising Link Between Motivation and Consumer Satisfaction

Motivation & Consumer Behavior: Surprising Link Between Motivation and Consumer Satisfaction

You should realize that the starting point in the purchase decision-making process is the recognition of a need or buying motive. Why does a person act? The answer is “As he experiences a need”. Motivation is of crucial importance in contributing to the consumer decision-making process. To understand why and how consumers buy, marketers must first grasp motivation.

Motivation is related to expectations, needs, and wants. Individual purchases an article due to certain mental and economic forces creating desires or wants, which he understands can be satisfied by the articles offered for purchase.

A Marketer should identify the motives that prompt or move consumers to purchase so that he can offer a complete article satisfying their needs. A need must be aroused or stimulated before it becomes a motive.

Motive and Motivation Defined

It is well understood that the buying motives prompt the consumer. Number of buying motives may prompt a consumer to purchase an article such as fear, desire for money, vanity, pride, fashion, possession, affection, comfort, sex or romance.

Thus, his inner motives direct him to behave in a particular fashion. Marketers should, therefore, study and analyze consumer motivation.

But, what is a motive? It can be defined as a drive or an urge for which an individual seeks satisfaction. Motives are all those inner striving conditions variously described as wishes, desires, needs, drives, and the like. It is basically a need sufficiently stimulated to move an individual to seek satisfaction.

A motive becomes a buying motive when the individual seeks satisfaction through the purchase of some article. It is, thus, an inner urge that moves or prompts a person to some action.

Consumers purchase any good as a result of certain mental and economic forces that create desires or wants that they know can be satisfied by the goods offered for purchase.

Berelson and Steiner have defined a motive as the inner state that energizes, activates or moves (hence motivation)…. and that directs or channels behavior toward goals.

For consumer behavior purposes, it may be defined as the drive to satisfy perceived needs by purchases and to alleviate self-image by specific products and brand selection. It is thus related to a force that drives the consumer toward a specific goal.

A consumer’s actions at any time are affected by a set of motives rather than just one motive.

At a particular point in time, some motives in the set are stronger than others, but the strengths of motives vary from one time to another. For example, a person’s motives toward having a cup of tea are much stronger during breakfast time than just before going to bed.

Motives can reduce or increase tension in individuals. When motives prompt us toward our goals, they reduce tension, but if some motives impel us toward one goal while other motives pull us toward a different goal, tension may increase because we cannot reach either goal.

At a particular time, many different motives may influence consumer behavior. For example, an individual who is buying a television set might be attracted by several characteristics, such as brand name, design, and economy.

If a marketer appeals to consumers by focusing only on one feature, his effort may fail to yield the desired level of sales. Three theoretical assumptions about human motivation are particularly important to marketers. They are: A consumer buys a particular product because he is influenced by certain motives.

Every human activity is motivated and is not spontaneous. Consumers are goal-seekers who satisfy their needs through purchases and consumption. In other words, needs are the motivational elements behind the purchase.

et us now highlight on the hierarchy or levels of different human needs affecting their behavior.

The Role of Subconscious Motivation in Consumer Behavior

Freud believed that the interaction between the three forces basically takes place at the subconscious level of the individual’s mind. In his subconscious mind, he uses the defense mechanisms to resolve the conflicts created between the id and superego, thus protecting his self­image.

There are four defense mechanisms one may use. They are repression; displacement; projection; and identification.

By using repression, he sends back the unacceptable feelings created by the id to the unconscious part of his mind. Displacement is a technique that allows one to substitute an acceptable object for a socially or morally unacceptable one in search of pleasure-seeking or tension reduction.

By using projection, an individual basically attributes his own disliked characteristics on to others. And, using identification, he tries to justify his unpleasant behavior by associating or comparing him with someone popular in society for his image or personality.

Psychoanalytic Theory of Motivation To Understand Consumer Behavior

The psychoanalytic theory of motivation was conceived by the famous psychologist Sigmund Freud in the late nineteenth century. His work focused primarily on individuals with disturbed minds.

The concept of irrational individuals lacking control over their own behavior was central to the development of Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of motivation. His theory placed motivational emphasis on sexual and aggressive instincts.

While working with individuals with disturbed personalities, Freud identified three fundamental forces at work in every human mind: the Id, the Superego, and the Ego.


The id refers to the free mechanism that leads to strong drives. The id is present in human minds right from birth. These drives or motives are not influenced by morality or ethics. The id is a force that prompts an individual toward aggression, destruction, and pleasure-seeking.

It motivates individuals to satisfy their basic needs as and when they arise, without regard for social norms, morality, or ethics. If an individual does not make efforts to satisfy their basic needs as they arise, the id tries to lead them toward destruction. Thus, it represents the extreme part of one’s mind—the devil’s part of the psyche.


Another force that operates in an individual’s mind is the “superego.” It is a person’s conscience that compels them to conform to all moral standards. The superego is highly rational and tries to ensure morally right behavior.

It essentially motivates the individual to overlook their basic needs and behave like an angel or a Superman. However, we are neither devils nor angels; we are human beings.

As human beings, we have to satisfy our basic needs, but it should be done in ways acceptable to our societies. This is where the role of the ego comes in. As you understand, the id and the superego represent two extreme forces of our minds and, as a result, are often in conflict.


The ego seeks to balance these two extreme forces of our psyche or mind. It is essentially a reality principle, weighing the consequences and striving to reconcile with reality.

The ego serves as an equilibrating device that leads to socially acceptable behavior and imposes rationality on the id. It considers the consequences of an action instead of blindly rushing into it. The ego guides us in satisfying our basic needs in a way that is both socially and morally acceptable.

In essence, the id urges pleasurable acts, the superego presents the moral issues involved, and the ego acts as the arbitrator, determining whether to proceed or not.

According to Freud, an individual’s behavior depends on the strength of these forces in their mind. If the ego is stronger than the other two forces, the individual’s behavior will be seen as socially and morally unacceptable.

If the superego is stronger than the id and ego, the individual will behave like a Superman or an angel. On the other hand, if the ego is stronger in their mind, their behavior will be similar to that of most other humans in society.

The Cognitive Theory of Motivation for Understanding Consumer Behavior

Cognitive theory is known as the contemporary or modern theory of motivation. According to the cognitivists, motivation is an inseparable part of an individual’s mental structure.

They believe that an individual’s motivation is the result of information processing and the evaluation of problem-related aspects using their mental framework.

The mental or cognitive framework/structure is composed of an individual’s beliefs, values, images, experiences, attitudes, and perceptions.

Cognitivists thus see human behavior as problem-solving in nature. According to cognitive theorists, the motivation of consumers should be studied in terms of the total aspects of their behaviors. Moreover, they believe that the purchase of an item may involve more than one motive instead of a single motive, as we have pointed out before.

This has led to motivation research and has proved to be useful in analyzing consumer behavior. Consequently, it has contributed some useful insights in the fields of advertising and packaging.

Hierarchy of Consumer Needs – Maslow Hierarchy of Needs Theory & Consumer Behavior

Hierarchy of Consumer Needs

Different studies on psychology indicate that all human activities, including consumer behavior, are directed toward satisfying certain basic needs.

But, all individuals do not act exactly in the same way in their efforts to fulfill their needs. These actions not only depend upon the nature of the basic needs but are modified by the individual’s particular environmental and social backgrounds.

Whatever action the individual takes is directed towards reducing tension built up to satisfy basic needs. There is no unanimity among psychologists in regard to a list of basic needs. Abraham Maslow enumerates these basic needs in their order of importance. His hierarchy of needs approach is based on four assumptions.

They are:

  • Through genetic endowment and social interaction, all humans acquire a similar set of motives.
  • Among the motives, some are more basic or critical than others.
  • An individual must satisfy his more basic needs reasonably before he thinks of motives next in order.
  • More advanced motives come into play as soon as the basic motives are met.

Abraham Maslow classifies motivational life in terms of fundamental needs or goals rather than in terms of any listing of drives in the ordinary sense of instigation. He lists the following five levels of needs, arranged in order of their basic importance to the individual:

Motivation & Consumer Behavior: Surprising Link Between Motivation and Consumer Satisfaction

The Physiological Needs

These needs are to satisfy hunger, thirst, sleep, etc. These are the most basic needs, and until they are satisfied, other needs are of no importance. Food, cloth, and shelter are most popularly known as basic needs.

The Safety Needs

The need for physical protection from others and from accidents, financial security, and family stability. Overall, people like to be safe from physical danger and prefer to have a general orderliness in their lives. In modern societies, these needs are more often for economic and social security rather than for physical safety.

The Belongingness and Love Needs

The need for affectionate relations with individuals and a place in society is so important that its lack is a common cause of maladjustment. It is filled by religious organizations, clubs, and family associations. Thus, these needs are reflected in a desire for love, affiliation, group acceptance, and identification.

The Esteem Needs

People need both self-esteem, a high evaluation of self, and the esteem of others in society. Fulfillment of these needs provides a feeling of self-confidence and usefulness and their non-fulfillment produces feelings like inferiority and helplessness. They are basically related to the individual’s feelings of usefulness and accomplishment.

The Need for Self-Actualization

This is the highest level of need. It basically means realizing one’s full potential and achieving all one is capable of.

It involves the desire for self-fulfillment, that is, to become all that one is capable of becoming. In other words, it is the desire to achieve the maximum of one’s capabilities. This implies doing something to develop the talents of the individual.

Although it may be present in every person, its fulfillment depends upon the prior fulfillment of the more basic needs. Relatively few individuals have the opportunity to satisfy this need. Most never reach the point where the first four levels of needs are satisfied.

Maslow also identified two classes of cognitive needs, which are not definitely located in the need hierarchy, but which are believed to exist, perhaps as a function of intelligence and gratification. These needs are fairly high, up the scale of lower-order needs. They are:

The Desire to Know and Understand

These needs refer to the process of searching for meaning in the things around us. They are thought to be an essential precondition to the satisfaction of basic needs.

The Aesthetic Needs

These may not appear to be present among many individuals because of failure to satisfy more basic needs, but among some, the need for beauty is very strong.

Maslow believes that the five basic needs develop in such a way that the most important – that is, the physiological needs – must be satisfied before the safety needs, which are next in importance, can fully emerge in a person’s development; and so on up the ladder from the lower needs (most important) to the higher needs (least important) in the hierarchy.

Maslow also believes that physiological needs are the most prepotent of all needs.

What this means specifically is that in the human being who is missing everything in life in an extreme fashion, it is most likely that the major motivation would be the physiological needs rather than any others. It is quite true that man lives by bread alone when there is no bread.

But what happens to man’s desires when there is plenty of bread and when his belly is chronically filled? Other and higher needs emerge at once, and these, rather than physiological hunger, dominate the individual.

And when these in turn, are satisfied, again, new and still higher needs emerge, and so on. This is what we mean by saying that basic human needs are organized into a hierarchy of relative prepotency.
Maslow explains that the need hierarchy is not as rigid as may be implied by the above explanation.

While most people feel the needs in the order indicated, there may be exceptions in individual cases.

Also, it would be a mistake to conclude that each need must be satisfied fully before the next need emerges. Instead, all the basic needs of most normal members of our society are partially satisfied and partially unsatisfied at the same time.

The knowledge of Maslow’s need hierarchy could be a good guide to general behavior. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is not rigid, and individuals may operate on several levels. Marketers should note that any consumption behavior can satisfy more than one need.

Similarly, the same consumption behavior can satisfy different needs at different times.

Products can therefore be sold to fill a variety of needs. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs “is a useful tool for understanding consumer motivations and is readily adaptable to marketing strategy, primarily because consumer goods often serve to satisfy each of the need levels.

For example, individuals buy houses, food, and clothing to satisfy physiological needs; they buy insurance, radial tires, and vocational training to satisfy safety and security needs. Almost all personal care products (cosmetics, mouthwash, shaving cream) are bought to satisfy social needs.

Luxury products are often bought to fulfill ego needs, and college training and financial services are sold as ways of achieving self-fulfillment”. Marketers should note that, very often, the marketing success of a brand depends on its ability to satisfy several needs at once.

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