Consumer motivation is an internal state that drives people to identify and buy products or services that fulfill conscious and unconscious needs or desires. The fulfillment of those needs can then motivate them to make a repeat purchase or to find different goods and services to better fulfill those needs.

Hierarchy of Needs

Consumer motivation is linked to Maslow's "hierarchy of needs.” According to this model, motivational drivers have different levels of importance. The most common needs are physiological and concern basic survival--the need for food, shelter and safety. Higher-level needs include social ones (for relationships and love), esteem needs (recognition and status) and self-actualization needs (fulfillment of self). According to Maslow, an individual must meet lower-level needs before being motivated to fulfill higher-level needs.

Motivational Levels

Depending on how important a purchase is to an individual, his motivational levels may vary from low to high. Influences include familiarity with the purchase, status factors and overall expense and value. Where fulfillment rewards are low, as with groceries, motivation levels are also relatively low and involve little decision-making behavior. Conversely, with a complex, risky and emotionally-charged process such as buying a new house, the drive to achieve the “right” result is high.

Motivational Behavior

The behavioral aspect of consumer motivation concerns the actions someone takes before purchasing and consuming goods or services. A person might do a lot of research--evaluating alternatives, testing and sampling--before making a selection. She might decide to buy something based on which goods or services most closely meet and satisfy motivational wants and needs. Marketers aim to gain the most impact and eventual sales by linking their products and services to clearly defined consumer needs and by understanding what motivates people to buy.

Motivational Influences

Motivational levels differ greatly between individuals and are influenced by many external variables. These include the social value of making the “right” decision, beliefs about brands and alignment of brand values and personal values. If other people are involved in the decision, their motivation also affects the behavior of the primary consumer.

Accessing Motivation

Companies and marketers use a number of different tools to help them understand consumer motivation in relation to their products and services. This may help them orient their markets according to different buyer motivation. Marketers use pre-purchase and post-purchase focus groups, one-to-one interviews and online or postal surveys to develop their understanding of consumers’ motivational drivers.