Defining Emotions, Desires, and Motivation

Welcome back to the blog! I hope you had a good and productive week.

In researching this week’s post I came across an interesting study that led me to the topic I’d like to talk to you about today. It’s the foundation of all sales and what lies at the heart of all our copywriting efforts—the offer.

Everything we do as copywriters…every strategy and technique we learned in AWAI’s Accelerated Course…is done to support “the offer.” And as we know from our studies, before we can present a clear, concise, and irresistible offer we must first appeal to our target audience’s emotions and build desire for the product or service we’re writing about.

In other words, we need to motivate them.

But let’s drill down a little deeper. What is it that motivates people to buy? Is it the desire for something, or the emotions that fuel that desire? (Sounds like a “chicken and the egg” story, doesn’t it?)

Well, in my opinion it’s both. And yes, there is a difference….

The study I referred to above is one that centers on intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, as put forth by Dr. Steven Reiss, Emeritus Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at The Ohio State University.

Basically, Dr. Reiss takes issue with some psychologists who feel that intrinsic motivation, or that which prompts people to perform better when they do something because they want to rather than for some kind of reward, is inherently pleasurable, while extrinsic motivation is not.

In Dr. Reiss’ opinion, we shouldn't even make that distinction. He feels that extrinsic motivation, or the lure of a reward, is just as valid as that of personal satisfaction.

In his book, Who Am I? The 16 Basic Desires That Motivate Our Action and Define Our Personalities, Dr. Reiss, who spent five years conducting studies involving 6,000 people, describes his theory of human motivation and cites 16 desires that motivate all human behavior. Those desires are:

Power … Independence … Curiosity … Acceptance … Order … Saving … Honor … Idealism … Social Contact … Family … Status … Vengeance … Romance … Eating … Physical Exercise … and Tranquility.

Dr. Reiss states that all of these complex human desires can be grouped into two basic human needs: the desire to gain pleasure and avoid pain.

Now here’s the kicker…

In the Accelerated Course we’re given 37 different emotions we can key upon when writing copy. In a few instances the lists overlap, such as “curiosity” and “romance/passion”. But for the most part…in my humble opinion…it’s the emotions (intrinsic motivations) listed in the Accelerated Course that fuel the basic desires (extrinsic motivations) as defined by Dr. Reiss.

I don’t know about you, but speaking for myself (and after all, who else could I speak for?...), I think this presents a fundamental principle here that I’ve been missing in my copywriting.

Yes, I write to appeal to my target audience’s emotions, but have I always thought in terms of equating that to their basic desires?

Maybe not.

Some may say that it’s merely semantics, that we’re really just comparing apples-to-apples here. But I don’t think so. I think to have a truly effective offer in your sales message you have to appeal both to your prospect’s emotions, and present it in a way that satisfies his or her basic desires.

Think of it in terms of a game of poker. The highest hand you can get—a Royal Flush—is to gain pleasure and avoid pain. The cards that you’re dealt are the emotions you use to build towards it.

Let me know what you think. Until next time, and as always…

Good health and good writing!

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Published: October 14, 2009

3 Responses to “Defining Emotions, Desires, and Motivation”

  1. Thank you, I never thought about it that way before. I will "play" with that a while.

    JeanApril 23, 2012 at 9:48 am

  2. John, Thanks for the analysis. I agree, as you concluded
    "a truly effective offer in your sales message you have to appeal both to your prospect’s emotions, and present it in a way that satisfies his or her basic desires." Whether the emotions are intrinsic or extrinsic, satisfying the prospects desires with any particular product won't make them buy unless we have appealed to the emotions that call them to action.
    AH Ha, moment! I get it! thanks

    Cheryl DavisMarch 10, 2014 at 10:26 pm

  3. Trying to identify and codify emotions and drives for a decision appear impractical and unnecessary exercise. It cannot be defined. The human being may be in different situations when the copy reaches him. But when it meets his requirements only he will act on it. Purchasing may be am emotion. But it is subordinate to the need and the need may be felt under different situations. Business sense is the dominating factor.

    Jawaharlal Jasthi 36January 20, 2015 at 7:02 pm


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