Consumer needs and motivationmarket research

Motivation is the driving force within individuals that impels them to action. This driving force is produced by a state of uncomfortable tension, which exists as the result of an unfulfilled need. We all have needs, wants and desires. The drive to reduce need-inducted tension results in behaviour that we anticipate will satisfy needs and thus bring a more comfortable state.

All behaviour is goal-orientated. Goals are the sought-after results of motivated behaviour. The form of direction that behaviour takes – the goal that is selected – is a result of thinking process and previous learning. There are two types of goals: generic and product-specific. A generic goal is a general category of goal that may fulfill a certain need; a product-specific goal is a specifically branded or labelled product that the individual sees as a way to fulfill a need.

Innate needs – those we a born with – are primarily physiological; they include all the factors required to sustain physical life (e.g. food, water, clothing, shelter, sex).

Acquired needs – those we develop after birth – are primarily psychological; they include esteem, fear, love and acceptance. For any given need, there are many different appropriate goals. The specific goal selected depends on the individual’s experiences and physical capacity, prevailing cultural norms and values, and the goal’s accessibility in the physical and social environment.

Needs and goals are interdependent and change in response to our physical condition, environment, interaction with other people and experiences. As needs become satisfied, new, higher-order needs emerge that must be fulfilled.

Failure to achieve a goal often results in feelings of frustration. Individuals react to frustration in two ways: they may cope by finding a way around the obstacle that prohibits goal attainment, or by finding a substitute goal; or they may adopt a defence mechanism that enables them to protect their self-esteem. Defence mechanisms include aggression, regression, rationalisation, withdrawal, projection, autism, identification and repression.

Motives cannot easily be inferred from consumer behaviour. People with different needs may seek fulfillment through selection of the same goals; people with the same goals may seek fulfillment through different goals.

Although some psychologist have suggested that individuals have different need priorities, others believe that most human beings experience the same basic needs, to which they assign a similar priority ranking. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory proposes five levels of human needs: physiological needs, safety needs, social needs, ego needs and self-actualisation needs. A trio of other needs widely used in consumer appeals comprises the needs for power, affiliation and achievement.

There are three commonly used methods for identifying and ‘measuring’ human motives: observation and inference, subjective reports, and projective techniques. None of these methods is completely reliable by itself, so researchers often use a combination of two or three techniques to assess the presence or strength of consumer motives.

Motivational research is qualitative research designed to delve below the consumer’s level of conscious awareness. Despite some shortcomings, motivational research has proved to be great value to marketers concerned with developing new ideas and new copy appeals.