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Motivational marketing: Same-old-same-old or B2B marketing 2.0?

Note: different format ahead

As the topic is new, nuanced, chunky, weighty and controversial, we will be exploring what we are calling Motivational Marketing in three successive blogs. This is Blog 1 of 3 in the series, in which we will present:

  • 1/3: Marrying classic marketing to classic behavioral science: game-changer or more of the same?
  • 2/3: Case study: Motivational Marketing in action and how to achieve it
  • 3/3: Applications of Motivational Marketing to marketing’s thorniest problems; Responses to the devil and his advocates

As always, we genuinely look forward to your comments and questions as they will only improve everything about this new concept. (Alert readers will know I published an earlier blog on this in December, 2020 but this series is an advance. I acknowledge contributions of my colleague, Alessandra Khosa, throughout this paper.) To get started, we’ll need to step back and begin at the beginning, with marketing’s

sine qua non

: customer intimacy.

Customer intimacy—the holy grail of marketing

Customer intimacy — knowing not only


your customers want but


they want it and

what else

they’re expecting – is the holy grail of marketing. Three broadly defined routes help determine customer intimacy: data-mining, customer and market research, and a subset of both, neuroscience. All come with proponents and detractors, plusses and minuses – too robotic, too subjective, too speculative — and honestly rare is the marketer who correlates findings across these disciplines. If you are content with your approach and determination of customer intimacy for your business, splendid for you, you’re dismissed. If you have doubts or concerns, perhaps you’ll want to read on.

Self-determination theory—a key to unlocking customer intimacy?

Recently attempting to find richer, more predictive, customer behavioral models, we were reading broadly when serendipity brought us to

Self-determination Theory (SDT).

Struck by its potential for game-change in the pursuit of customer intimacy –and in the practice of b2b and b2c marketing, in general — we provide a little background.

SDT is a discipline of behavioral science concerned with

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.

Natural, inherent drives that compel us to seek out challenges and new possibilities, our intrinsic motivations, according to SDT, lead us to initiating activities for their own sake, because they are interesting or satisfying in and of themselves. 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.

Parallels in pillars of western thought

SDT instantly brings to mind other pillars of western thought – notably Maslow’s classic pyramid of needs and even more fundamentally, Aristotle’s four causes and the concept of areté as put forth in the

Nichomachean Ethics;

correspondences with which are worthy of a separate paper.

.   All describe hierarchies of logic, aligning reason and emotion, desire and aspiration. It is a powerful moment, however, when we also realize how SDT, a behavioral science discipline with rare commercial applications, fully aligns with the classic marketing and messaging framework called the Values Ladder.

. While different terms are used, nonetheless, it is clear:

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

Going forward, to signal the correlations of both disciplines and their common sources of motivations, we will identify the three categories of needs as

Competence, Satisfaction and Achievement.


Why the marriage of the Values Ladder to SDT matters:

While marketing and behavioral science have long-established, hand-in-glove relationships, specifically pairing the Values Ladder with Self-Determination Theory is

unique, a first.

Yes: Both share strong provenances in Western thought. Yes:  correspondences of both are grounded in systematic connections of behavior, marketing, philosophy, psychology, and culture. Yet, to date, the Values Ladder is most commonly employed for message development, while SDT is most commonly applied to effecting social and behavioral change, e.g., identifying and eliminating barriers to exercising.

Now, however, the marriage of SDT with the Values Ladder reveals there is a

natural bridge 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. 

Armed with this knowledge, the marketer is empowered as never before. What is possible? What is new on the horizon for marketers and marketing? As we see it, these potentials are there for the taking:

Fusing the Values Ladder with SDT and connecting customer intimacy with what’s fundamental to being human, the marketer now sees how the new marriage literally

places the customer, the individual —indeed, their humanity — at the center of everything they do

. With customer intimacy, marketing’s most fundamental, even primal

sine qua non,

the heart of the profession, now fully in the marketer’s grasp, marketers can finally, assuredly drive customers to their brand and develop their natural inclinations towards it. Innovation does, indeed, happen at the intersection of established fields.

Additionally, with intrinsic motivations—the

Competence, Satisfaction and Achievement

that drive us to succeed, feel pride, conquer challenges – front and center, the marriage of the Values Ladder to SDT ensures marketers

understand their customers as real people first.

They know exactly what brings customers pride, joy, success, personally and/or professionally. They know what drives customers to them, what is the source of their loyalty, why they prefer you, why they refer you.

Not least, the marriage of the Values Ladder and SDT allows you to

know what they want before they know it

. You can empower them to access, command, react and reply to your brand — when, how, and how much they want. This affords the marketer unprecedented control, power and surety of performance. What a great time to be a CMO!

We are calling the marriage

Motivational Marketing

: B2B Marketing 2.0

We are calling the marriage of the Values Ladder with SDT Motivational Marketing (MM for short). We believe MM is marketing’s next gen: B2B Marketing 2.0. Making it possible for every marketer to identify and define customer motivations in their categories; and to begin to manage these, with surety and confidence singly and/or by cross-referencing with other methods, e.g., data mining, MM will leave guess-work behind. It will change the landscape of marketing as we know it because innovation born at the specific intersections of the two disciplines means sharper, more dynamic, more empowered choices, decisions and programs. E.g.,

  • Literally unmasking your customers’ and consumers’ motivations, MM will uniquely offer customer intimacy upfront as the single, unifying principle for your teams, campaigns, product development, customer loyalty, surprise and delight; everything.
  • All developments and programs—from product (re-)designs to social media messages to events and online communities— every single brand touchpoint can and should be sourced from MM and aligned in terms of

    Competence, Satisfaction and Achievement.

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

    sui generis,

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


    customers’ intrinsic needs vis à vis


    brand. There are no pat answers, no standard, off-the-shelf fixes. Your marketing 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.


Opening a window into your customers’ souls, MM will make B2B marketing way more secure, focused, exciting, sharper, even cooler. Welcome to B2B Marketing 2.0.

More work to do:

This is a lot to take in, we realize. This is a new concept, a new discipline, that needs more exploring, explaining, articulating and refining. You may very well be unconvinced. You could ask, How is this really different? Isn’t this an over-promise? I know just as much about my customers, if not more, from my own mar-tech. C’mon, isn’t this all for consumer marketing, not B2B marketing? Isn’t this really same-old, same-old market research that is, as it always has been, fraught with subjectivity?

In the next two blogs, we hope to deliver proof and arguments for our claims. In the next blog, 2/3 (September), we will detail a case study of a high-end purveyor of cycling clothes and the international, qualitative, customer research we performed, entirely in the public domain, independent of the company’s influence on our work.

We will show how there is a specific method to probing for intrinsic motivations and how the application to “bring results to life” can be striking, even spectacularly winning. Does this purveyor know they’re the first, documented example of Motivational Marketing in action? No, of course, not. But this just shows what is possible when a brand is in intimate contact with their customers’ intrinsic motivations and what it looks like when they bring these motivations to life.

We mean it: we would love your comments and questions.

This blog is the first in a series of three. Read Sue’s second blog


and her final one




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