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How classic marketing practice links directly to classic behaviour theory

We have recently been exploring classic marketing principles, as embedded in the Values Ladder, and their relationship to the behavioural science discipline of Self-determination Theory (SDT). The result has surprised us: innovation does, indeed, happen at the intersection of established fields. Parallels link the two disciplines.

There exists a critical bridge between marketing and behaviour; between hierarchies of messaging and hierarchies of needs; between customer-centricity and intrinsic customer motivations – by which we mean those motivations that would even bring customers to you on their own, so long as you insightfully prime and encourage their engagement.  

Opening a window into your customers’ souls, intrinsic motivations have just made B2B marketing way more secure, focused, exciting, sharper, even cooler. Welcome to B2B marketing 2.0. 

First, a little background: What is SDT?

SDT is a discipline of behavioural science concerned with the intrinsic motivations behind the choices that people make, without external influence or interference. SDT is grounded in an optimistic view of human nature, that we have a natural, inherent drive to seek out challenges and new possibilities. This drive is universal, innate and psychological, and so global and pan-cultural; the result is that we feel good – fulfilled, rewarded, alive — when we achieve goals. (Further parallels with Aristotle’s concept of areté, as put forth in the Nichomachean Ethics, are worthy of a separate paper.)

According to SDT, intrinsic motivation is the natural, inherent drive that compels us to seek out challenges and new possibilities; it refers to initiating an activity for its own sake, because it is interesting or satisfying in and of itself. This is opposed to doing an activity to obtain an external goal or pursuing an extrinsic motivation. SDT defines three main intrinsic needs which, if satisfied, allow optimal human functioning and growth: 

  • Competence: we seek to control outcomes and experience mastery.
  • Relatedness: we desire to interact with, be connected to, and experience caring for others, sharing with others. 
  • Autonomy: we desire to be the causal agent in our own life and act in harmony with our own, individual sense of purpose and fulfillment.

It is a powerful moment when we see how clearly this discipline of behavioural science, whose principles may be as time-honored as Aristotle, now aligns with classic marketing in the Values Ladder. While different terms are used, nonetheless it is clear:

  • Control and performance link perfectly to competency and mastery;
  • Personal and professional satisfaction highly correlate with relatedness and human interactions;
  • Pride, excellence and fulfillment are nothing if not the thrill of autonomy and volition achieved.

Going forward, to signal the correlations of both disciplines and the common source of motivations, we will identify the three categories as competence, satisfaction and achievement.


Myriad B2B marketing advances result:

The marriage of the Values Ladder with SDT now makes it possible for every marketer to identify and define customer motivations in their categories. AND, begin to manage these, with surety and confidence, leaving guess-work behind.

At once capturing messaging, intrinsic human needs and key insights (End Value), the Values Ladder puts customer motivations and customer-centricity, fully identified and defined by category and brand, in the marketer’s hand.

The Ladder also points to how and where to act on these motivations – and even how to anticipate them. 

  • All developments and programmes—from product (re-)designs to social media messages to events and online communities— every single brand touchpoint should be sourced from and aligned with the Values Ladder

    in terms of competence, satisfaction and achievement.

  • These should drive what you keep, shed or evolve about your brand, your marketing, your communications.
  • These should help you better focus your teams, internal and external, and empower them with purposeful direction and true customer insight.
  • These can and should always be

    sui generis,

    bespoke and differentiating to your brand and your marketing, deriving as they do

    from your customers’ intrinsic needs vis à vis your brand:

    and this is the beauty. There are no pat answers, no standard, off-the-shelf fixes.
  • These can and should surprise and delight your customers as you respond to their motivations, and provide them an empathetic brand with offerings that exactly suit their needs, and even anticipate their needs, for professional and personal competence, satisfaction and achievement.    

In short, the marriage of the Values Ladder with SDT is marketing’s next gen: innovation born at the intersections of these disciplines means sharper, more dynamic, more empowered choices, decisions and programmes. What a great time to be the CMO!

Broad and deep impacts ahead for products and services.

Armed with knowledge, understanding and, indeed, intimacy with your customers’ intrinsic motivations, you are set to draw implications and recommendations for what all this means for your brand, for your business. Implications reach to all aspects and touch points of your brand, your marketing, your communications and your business, e.g.,

1. Managing motivation, anticipating needs

Consider that discussions of performance and


  will have direct implications on the design and content, current and future, of your products and services.

The empathy you demonstrate towards their professional


, whether individually or in groups or teams, speaks to everything from your brand personality, advertising, events and communications to community groups, online or in the field.

Facilitating their


and self-fulfilment, admittedly a trickier dimension, speaks to how you inspire them, fire them up and keep them focused and excited. This covers everything from push-emails to providing forums for their sharing successes among peers.

2. Simplicity: building out from insights

The top of the Values Ladder, the End Value, the


, captures higher purpose, impact beyond an individual or a company. This typically defines the source and inspiration for a brand’s positioning: your difference, your real purpose, why anyone should care. It should also single-mindedly help you define the images and the creative ideas for activations and campaigns that fully reinforce why customers are drawn to you and like you in the first place.

3. Balancing efficiency in 60/40

With your customers’ intrinsic motivations at the center of all you do, defining the 60/40 balance of brand and activation campaigns just got a lot more straightforward. They will help you bridge and blend automation, data and human insight; they will guide you towards holistic, multi-channel and multi-tactic programmes that are at once deeply personalised, real-time, and relatable. Herein is also an opportunity to get out in front with campaigns that even demonstrate how you anticipate their needs.  So well do you know them!

4. Balancing CRM and tech stack

This is not easy, we know, none of this is. But with your customers’ motivations defining the focus of your CRM, build the stack out from there. Keep, shed or evolve depending on what is at the core of your (perhaps newly-defined) CRM. While still a challenge, has moving forward on this ever been clearer?

5. Marketing yourself, CMO

Tracking with findings from the recent B2B CMO survey, we are confident in saying that this new, empowering insight into the Values Ladder is



  • to help you get the C-Suite’s attention
  • to promote cross-functionality and integration vs. silos
  • to provide a solid CRM platform and the martech stack that builds on it 
  • to provide ever more personalised connections
  • to help marketing make these big, seismic shifts:

From                          To

  • tools & tactics             strategy 
  • customer service        customer experience
  • cost center                 growth/business responsible
  • product promotion    customer intimacy & insights
  • ‘chop & change’         ‘I actively choose you’
  • ‘make it pretty’           Board Member

B2B Marketing ABM Report 2020

This year’s ABM report reveals where most B2B marketers are at in their journey to ABM excellence, the challenges they’re facing, and what their ultimate goals are. Download to find out more!

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