Why People Buy:
The Motivations Behind Buying

People buy things so they can feel better about survival. That's what it all boils down to.

Now you can get all complicated about it, and many people try to complicate it, but people buy things to feel better about survival.

Some folks like to say that you have to stimulate emotions to make people buy. That's partially true. Really, you have to stimulate motivations to get the reader to buy your product or service.

So, without any further babble, here's a good list of 54 of those motivations:

  1. Ability
  2. Acceptance or fitting in
  3. Altruism
  4. Anger
  5. Annoyance
  6. Antagonism
  7. Beauty
  8. Benevolence or helping
  9. Boredom
  10. Complacence
  11. Confidence
  12. Confusion
  13. Conservatism
  14. Curiosity
  15. Desperation
  16. Disgust
  17. Envy or jealousy
  18. Embarrassment
  19. Exhaustion
  20. Exhilaration
  21. Fear
  22. Greed
  23. Guilt
  24. Happiness
  25. Indifference
  26. Insecurity
  27. Laziness
  28. Loneliness
  29. Love
  30. Lust
  31. Optimism
  32. Patriotism
  33. Passion
  34. Pessimism
  35. Pleasure (sexual or otherwise)
  36. Pride
  37. Reluctance or hesitation
  38. Revenge
  39. Propitiation
  40. Sadness
  41. Security
  42. Shyness
  43. Stupidity
  44. Surprise
  45. Sympathy
  46. Vanity
  47. Virility
  48. Whimsy
  49. Winning
  50. Wit
  51. Playing a bigger game, spirit of play
  52. Creating a better, more satisfying life
  53. Satisfaction of a Job Well Done

The Top 10 Buying Emotions or Motivations are fear, curiosity, vanity, benevolence, insecurity, greed, lust, pride, envy and laziness.

Okay, so now you know most of the buying emotions or motivations, what do you do with them?

Good question. Well, you know all about your audience, or you should. You know their wants, desires, problems, fears, what they typically think is good, bad, great, awful and so on.

Your next step would be to go through the list and determine the top 3 or 4 of those motivations for your particular audience. Which 3 or 4 of all those would make your audience buy?

Think on the level of survival. Which of those motivations, when properly stimulated, would practically force your audience to buy your product or service? If you have multiple products and audiences, just pick one audience for that particular product. Each audience is different.

Go ahead and answer that for your business before continuing...


Why Pick the Buying Motivations?

Well, out of the top three or four, pick the best one or two. What you'll do is use the primary one or two throughout your sales letter. Then you'll figure out how to weave the other one or two or three into parts of your sales letter.

Hold on. I got ahead of myself again. Pardon me.

The reason you pick out the top motivations behind buying your particular product or service is because you'll be searching for examples of that one or those two. You'll either know of examples that you can use to evoke that particular emotion or motivation, or you'll find examples that stimulate that motivation.

Yep, you'll be using that emotion, those motivations, to get the person to want your product or service. Remember the second rule of selling anything: People buy for emotional reasons.

So, How do I Evoke Those Motivations?

This is really where it gets difficult to explain. And it will take some example...

Let's say that one of the primary emotions that you wrote down is greed. Your product, for this example might be an investment advice newsletter.

You could use a situational story, something that you've actually experienced. Here's two examples. The first is too common and doesn't work. The second is OK and does:

[Too typical and not good]
"Remember the NASDAQ Dot Com Meltdown early in 2000? We just coasted through that with 42% GAINS! These are typical of our predictions."

[Much better and evokes the Greed motivation]
"Remember the NASDAQ Dot Com Meltdown in April, 2000? It was 7:30 am and I had just arrived at the office. I knew the Dot Coms were a bad investment, but I bought into the hype a little bit - to the tune of only $41,000 of my own money!

"But I knew that the 3 stocks that I picked should have been safe. So here it is 7:30 that morning. Fresh cup of coffee in my hand. I sighed in the brutal anticipation of my own predictions. The sell off would be soon. I knew it.

"I sat preparing as usual when I noticed that a report was placed in my inbox. It was on the latest predictions about Yahoo!, one of my pets.

The report was about Increased Profits for the Quarter!

"Oh no. The predictions from 2 months ago were right! I was frantic. I knew I had to find the latest predictions for the NEXT quarter, or I would be riding a maybe. They weren't out yet. No report. There would be a sell off on Yahoo! if there was no report.

"The bell rang. I didn't know what to do. I had $23,000 of my own personal money in Yahoo! that was now worth $37,000 and I didn't want to lose those gains. My readers were depending on me for the very latest information, and here I was stuck.

"I searched and searched. No sell off yet, not on Yahoo! anyway. Get the report. That was my only thought. I made call after call. No one would admit to having a report.

"I got one. I read it. 2 minutes flat. Increased profits projections! BAM I was on my email program. I had to let everyone know that their shares of Yahoo! were safe. There would be no sell off for Yahoo! today! DON'T SELL IT!

"It was 24 minutes into to trading day. I knew Yahoo! would be safe today. My readers knew it, too. In fact, I got 149 emails within 20 minutes thanking me for letting them know. Most of them just didn't know what to expect with NASDAQ already being down over 100 point just 25 minutes into the day.

"Now, it cost me 9,500 of my own money to get that report for me and my readers. I could have gotten it in just 6 hours for free. But I knew that a lot of my readers follow my advice. I knew they owned Yahoo!, just like me, and didn't want to take a beating.

"It was worth it, but what about my other two Dot Com picks? Well, I was, and my readers were short anyway, and by then the shares of the other two were down. eBay by 6 point, and a recent start up was down by 33 1/4 points!

"Certainly no Sunday drive, but I sent out another email at noon advising my clients to buy back their shares of the other two, and to keep strong with Yahoo!

"We made 19% on eBay - in one week, by the way - and 223.5% on the other. In just two days. Now we still own Yahoo! That original $23,000 that I originally put in of my own money is now worth over $75,000 with no sell signs...not just yet, anyway.

"And since then, we're dealing with only 12 other stocks, 11 of which are profitable. 7 or those are already over 40% profits.

"See, not only do I back up my predictions with my own money, I go through hell and high water and ice storms to get you the information NOW that won't matter in just a few hours...."


Do you see the difference? The crappy one is all too common and loses money for their companies. The good one (which really isn't great anyway) SHOWS the reader. (Yep, I spent a lot of years in Missouri, The Show Me State.)

Stories evoke a lot more than just buying emotions, and between John Carlton, Frank Kern and Robert McKee, you have more than enough to work with on story.

SO, how do you evoke motivations in your audience? Well, a good story can do it. But basically, what you do is have or find stories or situations or examples or facts from real life that evoke that emotion in you. Start collecting them. Write down those that you already know.

Above all else, market information, trends in the marketplace that will affect your clients, scare the pants off them and practically force them into action, is your primary weapon. In the above semi-decent letter (not the crappy one), it could have been made better by incorporating facts, trends that are occurring or have been occurring over the last 10, 20, 50 years and are continuing today.

Problem after problem after problem after problem. Problems are what help create action. Problems that scare the dickens out of the reader. Problems that they didn't even know they had. Problems that NOW make it seem like they MUST buy what you're selling.

Then you demonstrate how you can solve the problem that creates or helps create that emotion. Demonstrate it. Don't just say, "Hey, you know that problem? We can solve it for you."

You say, "Hey, you know that problem or situation or myth or trend or whatever? Well, Sally from San Rapheal (or me from here) had this happen in a bad, bad way (or good, good way). (And start showing the reader what can happen.) And, by the way, that's the purpose of this letter: To show you how we can help you (solve, achieve whatever)."

Start collecting letters that do a good job of pulling out every ounce of emotion that you can stand. They're rare, by the way, but Michael Masterson and several others are VERY good at creating that motivation to make you buy. This is just one of the many tools that they use. Building on that emotion.

And you can do it, too, with a little practice. It's an important skill in copywriting. Building that motivation, that emotion, makes a big difference in results.

So when you picked the top motivations for your clients or customers or prospects to buy your product or service, know that you have to use them in your copy.

Now, some of you cynics out there might be thinking, "Oh, you're just using those motivations to get their money!"

You're absolutely right. BUT if you have a great product or service, if you really can solve a problem or situation that would cost more to solve the usual way, if your product really can benefit the reader, you are doing the reader a FAVOR by using those motivations.

"Here, I've got a problem that needs solving. If you can really solve it, here's some money." You have to prove to them that you really can. If you really can, you'll still have to prove it. Over and Over. And still build up confidence in your product and business. And still make it worth 5 times what the reader will pay to get it.

OH, and if your product or service can't deliver on the promises, doing a great job promoting it and selling will cave your business in. So you had better have a great product. That's a huge part of the whole picture.

Build up the motivation to act. Do it any way you can. But be honest.

You know the motivations. And now you know how to bring them out. You have an example. The rest is up to you.


Links for This Section:
|Index for the Copywriting Tutorials
| What is Copywriting? | The Basics | The Emotions |
| The Headline | Lead or Hook | The Body |
| Building Benefits | Subheads | Why You? |
| Building Credibility | The Withdraw | The Close |
| Creating Urgency | The Guarantee | The P.S. |
| The Order Form |

© 2002 by Russell Burnham. All Rights Reserved.
All pages, graphics and talks are protected under Copyright Law.
Any unauthorized translation or duplication in any means electronic
or physical will begin the process of recovering damages.

Revisions made April 20, 2010. What motivates people to buy online? Over 50 emotions to evoke in copywriting.