market what’s


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February 26, 2019
4 Core Human Drivers That Boost Engagement
Mary Olivieri

In the world of marketing, we are regularly tasked with achieving a specific business goal which usually comes in the form of a request…

How can we grow awareness of our brand?

How can we sell more of our product or service?

How can we get our desired target talking about us?

They all seem simple, but getting to that perfect answer — the one that exceeds desired results — can be elusive. As marketing professionals, we are all-in…defining buyer journeys, calculating informed media strategies and more. However, the one area where many marketers come up short is in understanding the deepest emotional drivers that are truly meaningful on a personal level. I’m not just talking about your standard target audience insights. I’m talking about how we are wired as human beings and how, as marketers, we can actually deliver what people want and need.

Consumers are savvy. They’re tired. They’re overwhelmed. They want you to read their minds. They don’t want to feel like they’re being sold to. (That’s for “suckers.”) But our job is getting past that and, ultimately, creating authentic engagement. And the only way you’re going to do that is to understand what drives them at the core.

Thank goodness for the founding fathers of psychology. They have identified the 4 core drivers to human behavior:


It’s the survival instinct that got us this far in the evolutionary chain. The lengths we will go to ensure that our homes, our finances, our families and ourselves are safe and secure are born from this innate behavior. A great example of a brand tapping into this age-old driver is Allstate’s “Mayhem” campaign:

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The campaign brings to bear experiences that many of us have had, like dropping and then fishing for our cell phone while driving. It’s emotionally resonant, shows empathy/understanding of human behavior, plays on a fear of what could happen if you use "cut-rate" (translation: UNSAFE) insurance, and then positions Allstate as the solution that “PROTECTS you from mayhem." Engaged? Definitely.


As marketers, we’re always selling something. Lucky for us, another basic human desire is the need to acquire…not only objects, but position and power. (And many times, those two things go hand-in-hand. Think Lexus. Or Starbucks. Or an excellent pair of BED|STU boots.)

The basis of the fear of missing out (FOMO) strategy is born from this human driver as well. How many times have you seen an ad that uses “Don’t miss out!” in the copy? There’s a reason for it. No one wants to feel like they could have had something and didn’t get it — even if they didn’t necessarily want it in the first place. Smart marketers know how to tap into this acquisition driver and nurture it through the funnel until the target can’t say no.

For example, I recently went looking to buy a pair of boots because I have a footwear addiction that I probably shouldn’t admit publicly. I didn’t find precisely what I was looking for, but did see an expensive pair that, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t rationalize buying. A few hours later, a banner ad pops up, showing me those exact boots and incenting me further with a 12-hour sale offering 20% off. Am I engaged now? Uh…YEAH. In fact, my FOMO goes into overdrive. Like Carrie Bradshaw and a new pair of Manolo’s, I throw caution to the wind, drop some large dollars and end up with fantastic boots that not only make me ridiculously happy, but also impact how I feel when I wear them…powerful. (Yes, I know I had fallen prey to the marketing gods, but these boots are so awesome that I’m okay with that.)

Designer footwear, like the boots shown here, is often advertised leveraging the human desire to acquire.


Well, duh. Social media was born from this human driver. As were dating sites, fitness centers, phones, restaurants, cosmetics and more. But, according to some scientists, the depth of this need goes as far back as Ardipithecus ramidus — a 4.4 million-year-old of the human family* who was the first to show signs of sharing food with others.

This driver is often the inspiration for great storytelling as well. And we all know the importance of that. One company, Globo TV, bridged the gap between the television screen experience and pure human connection in their “The Real Blind Date” ad:

It’s storytelling at its finest. It positions the brand as a creator of human connections and uses that to tap into the hearts and minds of their customers. So how can you get your desired target audience talking about your brand? Do this.


Have you ever had to miss a really important meeting and then find yourself feeling very much behind the 8-ball? Me too. Co-workers are speaking intelligently about the topic and you’re playing catch-up. That disempowering feeling is the outcome of an unsatisfied 4th driver of human behavior — the desire to know.

If you’re a brand who markets books, higher education, training, etc., then your marketing reflects this inherently. You are selling knowledge, and in turn, the betterment of the self. But what if you sell cameras, for example? You could talk about the features and benefits of the product. You could show some beautiful outcomes of using it. Or you can make it supremely personal and engaging by marketing to the depths of human curiosity, as this ad for Canon does:

You are no longer being invited to buy a camera. In fact, there’s no purchase language in this video at all. You’re being invited to take a very personal “journey” that only YOU can go on because you are curious. In fact, without this camera, you’ll be missing out on a life experience, on making new connections and on learning about the world. Canon isn’t selling cameras. They’re tapping into 3 out of the 4 basic human drivers!

Next time you’re looking to make a lasting and significant impact on your target audience, remember the CBD mantra “market what’s meaningful.” Because what moves people is what moves business. Strategy will follow suit.


* L.A. Times article, May 2012