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Discretionary Effort - 5 July 2011

Have you ever wondered what motivates a consumer to buy one product over another? Marketing superstar Seth Godin thinks he has the answer. His research indicates that the most dominant marketing levers are fear, hope, and love. Marketers tend to use one of the three to compel people to buy whatever it is they’re selling.

Fear as a marketing lever can be seen in politics, where politicians use it to trigger an emotion within the electorate. They’ll invoke fear about out-of-control crime; fear about the spiralling costs of living; fear about anything to frighten people into voting for them.

Hope as a lever can be witnessed in wealth magazines that promise to show readers how to get rich; there’s hope at speed-dating nights where people aim to find The One; and there’s hope in beauty products that implicitly guarantee youthfulness and good looks.

Love as a marketing lever is much more difficult to sell. As Godin writes, “Few products or services succeed out of love. People are too selfish for an emotion that selfless, most of the time.” Companies like Google and Apple are able to trade on the loyalty that comes from those that love their brand, but most companies don’t attract that kind of diehard loyalty.

The same three marketing levers apply in the workplace when trying to get employees to deliver more than you ordinarily expect. To get discretionary effort out of employees, a marketing exercise is required that compels them into doing more. And as the marketer / manager, you have the same three options available to you.

Fear as a lever can be used when adopting threats as a motivator. This is a legitimate option if you’re at risk of losing an important account, or if your company’s survival is at stake, or if an employee’s poor performance is below standard. The trouble with fear as a motivator is that it’s effective in the short term but unsustainable in the long term. It burns employees out.

Hope as a lever can be used when you adopt bribes as a motivator. If you promise to give someone a pay rise, or a bonus, or a promotion, or time off, or a gift of some sort in exchange for a greater level of output, then this could be a very effective option for you. The trouble with hope as a motivator is that it can be expensive and some promises are difficult to fulfil.

Love as a lever can be used when you adopt loyalty as a motivator. This is when employees work harder because they want to, and not because they’re scared or greedy. It comes as a result of having a meaningful relationship with a boss who consults them and cares about their input. It also comes when they clearly understand why greater productivity is required.

There’s a place at work for each lever. You just need to discern which one is the most appropriate to use at which time. In regards to consumer marketing, Godin says “Brands that are loved usually start the process by loving their customers in advance.” Similarly, employers that are loved usually start the process by loving their employees in advance.

 

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