Could it be that the most highly revered brands succeed by placing the passions, lifestyles and deeply felt needs of their customers — their intrinsic motivations and their very humanity — at the centre of all they do?
This blog is the second in our series of three on motivational marketing. For part one, just click
! In this week’s blog, we look at a mini-case study of ‘motivational marketing in action’:
- Bespoke research we created to uncover reasons behind one brand’s success.
- Overall findings from the research RE motivational marketing 2.0’s wide-ranging potential.
- Detailed, immersion exploratories into the brand and its category.
Background and purpose
In the previous blog, we introduced the new concept of motivational marketing (MM), which is a fusion of classic marketing theory (values ladder) and classic behavioural science (self-determination theory). We argue that MM puts marketers in immediate touch with their customers’ intrinsic motivations and, therefore, provides a fail-safe source of genuine customer intimacy. As this is admittedly a
claim, we wanted to put our initial theories and hypotheses to the test.
We set out to apply the principles of MM to a consumer brand: a purveyor of high-end cycling clothes, which we shall call HighKit, which we know to enjoy strong, even passionate, international loyalty. We began with a consumer brand because we assumed (not entirely correctly) that motivations in a popular category would be easier to unpack and uncover than in B2B. New motivational research specific to B2B and professional audiences is in progress, and will be reported on in due time.
Our research pilot, which might best be described as ‘MM in action,’ was designed to explore these questions:
- Could the reasons for HighKit’s fandom be explained in terms of the MM’s marriage of the values ladder and self-determination theory?
- Could MM help us uncover the insights that drive people to the brand, as well as the intrinsic motivations the brand triggers, thus generating a profile of what true customer intimacy looks like?
- Could HighKit’s popularity effectively be due to their (independently) practising principles of MM? To the fact that the brand honours the passions, lifestyles and deeply-felt needs of their loyalists by placing their intrinsic motivations and their very humanity at the centre of the brand?
The second major purpose of the research had to do with the research itself. Effectively, it is a study of a study. We wanted to determine whether MM, as captured in the values ladder, could serve as the strategic framework to plan, conduct and analyse the research:
- Would the values ladder work as the overall model for structuring and planning the research, as well as for probing specific consumer motivations?
- Would this approach (one thoroughly driven by alignment with MM’s key principles as captured in the values ladder) represent something new to research, or is this really same-old-same-old?
- Could the values ladder distinguish MM research as a special discipline, requiring specific designs and techniques, to apply to future MM studies, including those in B2B?
Independent of the company, in order to avoid influence or bias, we recruited a small sample of self-declared, passionate cyclists and HighKit enthusiasts from the US, Europe and the UK: 10 English-speaking men and women, ages 35-55, participated in hour-plus, in-depth interviews via Zoom, in the autumn of 2020.
Method and research design
As MM is literally a fusion of classic marketing and classic behavioural science, research into MM, we reasoned, would need to maximally address both disciplines. Based on this hypothesis, we designed and conducted the pilot with three special considerations and assumptions in mind:
We would need to explore brand and context in equal parts:
More than a single brand exploration, MM research would require an equal and prior exploration of the context or environment in which the brand performs. Capturing the totality of the experience of brand in context, in a sort of dynamic yin/yang, would put the richest possible range of intrinsic motivations on display: aspiration, reason, joy, fear, denial, exhilaration, hope, etc. So, in this pilot, we explored the brand HighKit within the larger context of cycling, in balance roughly half and half. The passions the sport incites should literally provide the context for exploring how HighKit interconnects with cycling and the motivations and emotions it engenders in its enthusiasts.
We would need to exploit the values ladder as a strategic framework for the research design:
Our most important assumption. The values ladder, capturing both marketing and behaviour, insights and motivations, would provide the strategic framework for planning and conducting MM research, including structuring and developing the discussion guide for participant interviews. Beginning atop the values ladder, we believed we could start with an exploration of end values — the ultimate ‘why?’ — and proceed to probe what we’re calling the SDT’s ‘motivation stack’ in support: achievement and fulfillment; satisfaction and relatedness; and competence and control. We also believed we would need to do so for both brand and category, and this is exactly what we did for HighKit and for cycling in this pilot.
Through classic probing and continuing dialectics, repeatedly asking participants questions of ‘why?’ and ‘so what?’, we were confident we would enter the magic realm of genuine insights. The same process should uncover the intrinsic motivations at all levels that draw people to the category in the first place and that bind them so tightly to the brand, e.g. for helping them fulfill ambitions, for enabling their achieving success.
We would need to avoid jargon at all costs: To find the best conversational language to explore the ‘motivation stack’, we would need to avoid the behavioural and scientific jargon that self-determination theory constantly employs. Ingoing, we knew we could not ask people about ‘competence’ or ‘relatedness. ‘ Full disclosure: a lone, quick foray into trying jargon out with our interlocutors sent us packing. One quickly pulls a hand from the flames!
Overall research findings and implications for MM 2.0 going forwards
Although it was an admittedly small pilot study, we were able to glean from it significant findings and implications for the discipline of MM and its future marketers; for the management of individual brands; and for the design of continuing MM research. As always, further research will enhance and refine these initial learnings.
For MM and marketers
- Through the discipline of MM, customer motivations and customer-centricity can be made manifest, making it possible for every marketer to identify and define their customers’ motivations in their categories; and to begin to manage these with surety and confidence, leaving guess-work behind.
- Taking motivations and customer insights forward into the company, expanding out into brand campaigns and activations and beyond, becoming immediate next steps. Making marketing more straightforward, purposeful and exciting.
- Far from being ‘same-old-same-old,’ MM’s marriage of the values ladder and SDT arguably does define marketing’s next generation: innovation born at the intersections of these disciplines means sharper, more dynamic, more empowered choices, decisions and programmes. What a great time to be a CMO!
For brand management
- The pilot clearly unveils what’s possible when a brand is in intimate contact with their customers’ motivations and what it looks like when they bring these motivations to life. It is indeed true: the brand that honours the passions, lifestyles and deeply-felt needs of their loyalists does place their intrinsic motivations and their very humanity at the centre of everything they do.
- Brands that are truly ‘switched on’ to their customers’ motivations for category choices, and that deliver them material and emotional support, are effectively ‘enablers of happiness.’ (Recall, according to SDT, that fulfillment of one’s “motivation stack is the source of all true happiness.) Is there any wonder any more where serious brand loyalty sources from, or why? An insight about insights.
- The values ladder does indeed work as a strategic framework and critical organiser for planning, conducting and analysing qualitative, in-depth research. Special techniques and approaches bespoke to MM research, such as those we have applied, will be required of future studies.
- For example, research designed to study a brand in the context of how consumers use it, is hugely important in MM studies as the intense richness of motivations for customer intimacy and consumer loyalty can only be seen when the brand is fully ‘in action.’
Detailed findings: Cycling
The following findings track with the values ladder framework, beginning atop with the ‘why?’, the key insight, and proceed to SDT’s ‘motivation stack’: achievement and fulfillment; satisfaction and relatedness; competence and control.
The ‘why?’ of cycling, at the end of the day, is complicated and complex. It is a ‘bone-crushing addiction’. Lung-bursting rides are usually daily, and last two to three hours each. At the end of all this, you then ‘drag yourself home, legs on fire, and throw up your lunch.’ Still, enthusiasts call cycling ‘my life’ and they routinely juggle work and family and weather extremes to pursue it.
Why ever do they do this? Deeper probing points to freedom – freedom from and freedom to. Freedom from means escape from daily work, boredom, life, ageing, weight gain, and corrective surgery. As if cycling is really escape from the devil peddling in fast pursuit behind. Freedom to, more variegated and compelling, means freedom to discover yourself in self-fulfillment and self-realisation. Cyclists set goals for themselves, post results, compete with others and themselves. They find joy in saying ‘I did it’, conquering the time, the hill, or the distance. Whatever challenge they put before themselves is worth all.
The ultimate insight? Cycling opens the soul to legitimate, hard-won feelings of delight and joy, to greater-self-knowledge, even to greater self-love. Contrast the struggle, pain and agony with the final release of tensions – the thrill of supreme accomplishment, and the catharsis, the literal cleansing and purification from agony to exhilaration that follows. “When I see my daughters after a ride, I cry, I feel bathed in happiness and joy,” revealed one participant. These are moments of near-religious rapture that stand out over a lifetime: ‘whys’ that are compelling enough to drive this extreme behaviour.
Achievement and fulfillment
Cycling perfectly accommodates our human need and nature to excel. “The biggest limits are your own imagination; when I exceed my limits, they’re seared in my mind.” There is a palpable, unmistakable thrill to cycling at this level that caps achievement alone. Said another: “I’m so proud of myself for finishing races, going fast, seeing phenomenal nature, meeting new people on rides, competing. You have to push beyond the limits of yourself and this is when exhilaration comes. Pure joy.”
Satisfaction and relatedness
Cycling provides high levels of satisfaction on individual and community levels. Solitary cycling is good for “being meditative, reflecting on things, being alone in nature.” The social aspect of cycling, an inherently a communal experience, is what drew some to cycling in the first place. Many belong to cycling clubs, some of which are women-only, as cycling is reportedly a ‘macho sport.’ Covid has sent many cyclists to software linking their home bikes to individual and community experiences.
Competence and control
Cycling is customisable and grows to fit individual needs for challenge and mastery. “I love the overall challenge, reaching a century (100 miles) gets in your blood, you go fast, get better, ever greater distances.” Speed is important for cyclists, and they are often practitioners of other speed-sports, like skiing and surfing, and other extreme sports like climbing and triathlons. One participant said: “I started cycling downhill to substitute snow-boarding, but then I realised uphill was a greater challenge with greater effects.”
Detailed findings: HighKit
“I absolutely love this brand,” said one participant, who offers his riding club shirts with his company’s logo alongside the HighKit logo. Top-of-mind associations with the brand confirm participants’ high regard: ‘leader’, ‘exclusive,’ ‘inspiring,’ ‘pioneering,’ ‘edgy,’ ‘cool,’ ‘have made cycling cool.’ While loyalists all have high praise for HighKit’s quality clothing lines, most see the company as more than a purveyor of products: “HighKit is the whole world of cycling in one place,” said another.
The reason for these glowing reports? In our view, HighKit gets cyclists! HighKit deeply understands the psyches of cyclists and delivers on all levels of why they chose to cycle in the first place. Technically speaking, HighKit seamlessly aligns their branding, marketing and communications to their users’ ‘motivation stack’; their hand-in-glove co-ordination of cyclist insights with their product and service delivery is top-drawer marketing in action. User and brand are effectively mirror images, bringing to life a perfect profile of customer intimacy – and our first documented case of and for MM 2.0.*
HighKit thoroughly, profoundly understands cycling’s ‘why?’ While they surely know the gruelling, grinding nature of the rides, they choose to honour instead why cyclists cycle – the joy, the camaraderie, the release; the near religious power of cycling’s payoff in pleasure, thrill and exhilaration. In all their communications, HighKit features not the pain, but rather the lure of escape and freedom that cycling affords (“clean, professional imagery;” “cyclists looking attractive, going fast;” “a man and a woman in beautiful cycling gear, the moment captured of enjoyment, pleasure and fun.”
- “I hate work. When I cycle I’m free. HighKit provides me a very clear image, a door to escape to freedom and passion, a way out.”
- “You imagine you’re cycling with the right people, there is freedom, nature, it’s addictive, it’s about performance.”
HighKit captures this rapture in images that every participant found alluring, nearly spell-binding. They could feel the pull, the draw of these images that signal to them the “door to escape.”
- “HighKit made cycling iconic, beautiful, contemporary, alive.”
- “Cycling is cool, so are their clothes.”
- “They know why I cycle. They even make this clearer to me. I see why I cycle better through HighKit.”
Participants could imagine themselves in the images. They want to be those people. “I use one of their images for my computer home-screen,” said one loyalist. This is a successful marketer!
*As for HighKit and MM 2.0, as noted, we consciously conducted this survey independent of the company. We were looking to study a company we thought was ‘getting things right.’ Indeed, they were and now through the lens of MM, we can document why.
Achievement and fulfillment
Functionally combining design and technology in their offering; emotionally delivering empathy and understanding in their service, communities and imagery, HighKit creates a world that honours cyclists’ challenges and encourages their victories.
- “I got into HighKit’s world of beautiful images and products, it’s filled with nice people, nice dress, nice places, the dream of every cyclist. Everything is beautiful, I got hooked.”
- “Cycling is about freedom, power and strength. It’s all about yourself, your self-fulfillment and achievement, pride. HighKit helps me feel the power of sport, it gives me a sense of self.”
Cyclists feel at home and at ease with HighKit, their pride and their achievements having been acknowledged and rewarded by HighKit.
- ”HighKit has done the right marketing, the right products, the right positioning for top cyclists. They understand the nature of the cyclist, use the right words and images to reach out to us.”
- “They offer status, exclusivity in the club. Aesthetics, quality and high value for a high price. Everyone wearing HighKit clues into this.”
Satisfaction and relatedness
Cyclists feel a deeply gratifying, almost personal connection to HighKit by virtue of their customer care service (“amazing sales and service follow-up; free repair service is hugely important”) and their organising and sponsoring local riding clubs.
Customer care delivers individual satisfaction:
- “If you lose weight you get your next purchase half price if it’s a smaller size, they encourage me to lose weight.”
HighKit organises and sponsors local riding clubs via apps that offer the satisfaction and relatedness of community:
- “If you’re a member of the riding club, they do a good job of inspiring you with a newsletter with moody photos, it’s rallying. You want to come out and ride with the group.”
They believe HighKit understands them, cares about them, speaks directly to each of them, even anticipates their needs.
- “I’m a riding club member, I booked a HighKit ride when I went to LA, it was there when I needed it, like they knew I might need something like this.”
- “Once after I fell and scratched my clothes, I sent them to the repair service. Two weeks later I got my jersey back with a patch and a hand written message –from Josh – ‘this is your jersey, now go ride.’ That comment got me! I’m a HighKit customer forever. I kept that note.”
Competence and control
Everything about HighKit’s high end cycling jerseys raises cyclists’ confidence and sense of mastery. They’re practical and beautiful (“stylish, appealing colors, not ugly;” “you can stop for a coffee and feel confident, you’re not dressed like a clown”); their high design and technology (“top and beautiful”) anticipate elite cyclists’ needs for all day rides (pockets, zips for keys and cards; concentrate on ride conditions, not gear”); no Adam’s ribs, their clothes distinguish men’s and women’s shapes and sizes (“one of the first cycling brands that is flattering to women’s body shapes; not unisex.”) “The cool jerseys actually encourage me to ride more because of their design and functionality.”
Summary snapshot: Bringing it all together
This summary snapshot quickly shows how HighKit aligns to the category of cycling, and addresses each critical level of insight and motivation with a seamless, even beautiful, integration of products and services. MM2.0 not only confirms HighKit’s success, but parses and articulates exactly why and how they are successful. Having put us in touch with the intrinsic motivations of HighKit’s customers, MM2.0 has uncovered a fail-safe source of genuine customer-intimacy, which the brand continues to employ tand build out to engage, inspire and delight. Your call whether we’re on to something or not.