B.F. Skinner wrote that motivation has three requirements: A preceding thing or event that will provoke a reaction; the reaction itself; and a reinforcing or punishing consequence. People’s likelihood to respond is tied to a formula that includes the magnitude of the stimulus — say, someone waves chocolate in front of your nose — the context of the stimulus — say, are you really hungry? — and the rate of prior reinforcement — say, you’ve eaten chocolate before and you LOVE it. Because people, like dogs, associate the stimulus with the prior pleasure they received from a similar, earlier interaction, we salivate when we smell food.
This is important for marketers, because consumers have stimuli other than your own message. You can’t just build a concept by looking internally; you have to consider the exterior factors hitting your prospects as well. For example, a gasoline station with great customer service could focus ads on friendly staff, but consumers facing $4.00-a-gallon gas today just may not care. You provide service; they’re worried about price. Understanding all stimuli can help you refine the message.
In advertising, messages that reinforce prior rewards and mitigate past pain are most likely to stimulate response.
Photo via New Shelton.