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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

What really motivates?

In a fascinating book, Made To Stick, Chip and Dan Heath test some of our assumptions about communications and marketing. Consider this example:

Imagine that a company offers its employees a $1,000 bonus if they meet certain performance targets. There are three different ways of presenting the bonus to the employees:
  1. Think of what the $1,000 means: a down payment on a new car or that new home improvement you've been wanting to make.
  2. Think of the increased security of having that $1,000 in your bank account for a rainy day.
  3. Think of what the $1,000 means: the company recognizes how important you are to its overall performance. It doesn't spend money for nothing.
When people are asked which positioning would appeal to them personally, most of them say No. 3. It's good for the self-esteem -- and, as for No. 1 and No. 2, isn't it kind of obvious that $1,000 can be spent or saved? most of us have no trouble at all visualizing ourselves spending $1,000. (It's a bit less common to find people who like to visualize themselves saving.)

Here's the twist, though: When people are asked which is the best positioning for other people (not them), they rank No. 1 most fulfilling, followed by No. 2. That is, we are motivated by self-esteem, but others are motivated by down payments. This single insight explains why almost everything about the way incentives are structured in most large organizations.
Let's read between the lines on this one because it may provide some real clues about our marketing effectiveness. If we are offering tangible material benefits, we may think we are motivating others, but are they really motivated by this stuff -- or do they simply want the soft, meaningful, and human recognition you seek, as well? Maybe we could save the $1,000 and do some good with the money.

2 comments:

Ford Harding said...

Mark:
Thanks for this one. It really gives me something to think about.
Ford Harding

Mark Buckshon said...

Yes, and this book has some other stuff that challenges -- it isn't one that you can read quicly, once, though.