Motivating Customers 101: Is Your Marketing Message Consistent from Promotion to Transaction?

Humans require motivation to act. It is a simple and true fact. If you want people to do something, you have to create an environment that compels them to do it.

Marketing has the challenge of inspiring to people to buy. Operations have the challenge of encouraging them to do it economically. It is confusing and annoying when the two have conflicting messages.

My recent visit to the bank and a big box store provides two examples of message don’ts. There was a hand written sign on the bank’s window drawer that read, “Use the paper weight in the drawer. Lost transactions and deposits are NOT our responsibility.” When the drawer opened, a paperweight was visible. It had a sign reading “Use Me.”

I wonder what has happened that made someone write and post that sign. Did a gust of wind catch a deposit and send it sailing through the parking lot? Or, did the mechanism of the drawer destroy the paperwork as it moved from the customer to the clerk? I am not a lawyer, but I suspect that the blame would fall on different parties for the two scenarios.

Whatever caused the problem, the objective was to get customers to place the weight on their papers. The wording of the sign is threatening. A better choice is, “Please use the paperweight so your deposit or transaction isn’t lost.” It motivates customers to follow the instructions without threatening them. And, it stays on the “we care about you” message.

The second example directly affects profitability. Customers going green help retail stores reduce costs by buying and using recyclable bags. Self-service checkouts reduce labor costs. The two combined have the potential for exponential cost reductions. Unfortunately, they don’t work together.

The self-service checkouts weigh the items to reduce shrinkage. Placing recyclable bags on the scale generates an error message. A customer cannot continue checking out until they are removed.

My visit to the self-serve checkout presented a dilemma: Do I skip the recycling, place the items in the plastic bags until I pay then move them, or move to another lane? The associate monitoring the checkout lanes suggested that I place my bags in the shopping cart and fill them as I went. I did it, but it required that I touch the “Skip Bagging” button for every item. Every third item required permission from the associate for me to continue. Fortunately, I had less than a dozen items. In the future, I will skip the self-serve checkout. Or, maybe, I will skip that store.

The message to the customer undermines marketing and operational objectives. Marketing wants customers to enjoy the shopping experience so they will revisit and bring their friends. Reducing costs is one of the top operational objectives. Reprogramming the checkout system’s software resolves the issue. Instead of a warning when I placed my bags on the scale, it would ask if I was using recyclable bags. When I touched the yes button, it would automatically zero the scale. It is a simple solution that saves money and customer goodwill.

Take a moment to think about how your company motivates customers. Are you sending a consistent message from promotion through transaction? Do you use the carrot or the stick? (Hint: the carrot works better.) Correct any issues that move customers away from your message and objectives. Life will be better.

For information on how you can improve your customers’ motivation, email Debra at

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