Motivational Research

Motivational Research

Consumers just do not buy products or services. Instead, they actually buy motive satisfaction or problem solutions. It has been noted that motives influence consumers’ purchase behavior and in many cases, some motives may not reach the consumer’s consciousness.

Motives are hypothetical constructs and no one has ever tangibly observed them. Due to this reason, any method of motive measurement cannot be considered completely reliable.

Dr. Ernest Ditcher and James Vicary were among the first to use motivation research by adopting psychoanalytic techniques such as depth interviews and projective techniques.

Marketers were fascinated by explanations offered for consumer behavior and before long, almost every advertising agency on Madison Avenue had had a psychologist to conduct motivational studies.

It seeks to discover and comprehend what consumers do not fully understand about them. It also attempts to identify forces and influences that consumers may not be aware of such as cultural factors and sociological forces that influence their behavior.

Typically, these below-awareness or unconsciousness motives are interlinked and complicated by conscious motives, cultural biases, economic variables, and fashion trends.

The methods used (three major motivation research techniques include observation, focus group, and depth interviews) involve disguised and indirect techniques to probe consumers’ feelings, attitudes, and emotions concerning a product, or service, without triggering defense mechanisms that can lead to misleading results.


Observation of consumers can help in developing hypotheses about human motives. It is easier to observe consumers in buying situations than in their homes and can be accomplished in person or by using video cameras. Video cameras are less intrusive than a person as an observer.

However, observation by the human eye or video cameras cannot answer every question. Generally, observation needs to be supplemented by focus groups or depth interviews to fully understand why consumers are behaving the way they do.

Depth Interview

The heart and soul of motivational research is the depth interview. It is a lengthy, one-on-one personal interview conducted by a professionally trained motivational researcher.

The researcher relies heavily upon non-directive interviewing techniques. The goal of the researcher is to get the respondent to talk and keep talking. The researcher begins the interview by introducing general topics, rather than asking direct questions.

She/he probes by raising eyebrows, giving a questioning look, paraphrasing what the respondent has said, or repeating the respondent’s own words in a questioning manner. These techniques are non-threatening to the respondent.

During the interview, the researcher watches for clues that might indicate that a “sensitive nerve” has been touched. Some of the clues that the researcher watches for include long pauses by the respondent, slips of the tongue, fidgeting, strong emotions, variations in voice pitch, facial expressions, eye movements, avoidance of questions, fixation on an issue, and other body language indicators.

These “sensitive” topics and issues are then the focus of additional probing and exploration later in the interview.

Each respondent interview is tape-recorded and transcribed. During the interview, the researcher makes notes about the respondent’s behavior, mannerisms, physical appearance, personality characteristics, and non-verbal communication. These notes help the researcher to understand and interpret the verbatim transcript of the interview.

Projective Techniques

Projective tests require the respondent to decide what the other person would do in a certain situation. These techniques explore the underlying motives of individuals who consciously or unconsciously get involved in rationalizations and concealment because they may be reluctant to admit certain weaknesses or desires.

Projective techniques involve a variety of disguised tests containing ambiguous stimuli such as untitled pictures, inkblots, incomplete sentences, word associations, and other-person characterizations. The respondent taking the test is required to describe, complete or explain the meaning of different ambiguous stimuli.

It is believed that respondents’ inner feelings influence their perceptions of ambiguous stimuli. By taking the tests, they project their inner thoughts revealing their underlying needs, wants, aspirations, fears, and motives, whether or not the respondents are fully aware of them.

Some examples of projective techniques are:

Thematic Apperception Techniques (TAT)

Respondents are shown pictures or cartoons concerning the product or the topic under study and asked to describe what is happening in the picture. It is believed that respondents will actually reveal their own motivations, attitudes, personalities, and feelings about the situation.

Word Association Test

This is a relatively old and simple technique. Respondents are asked to read a series of words or phrases, one at a time, and asked to answer quickly with the first word that comes into mind after hearing each one. By responding in rapid succession, it is assumed that they indicate what they associate most closely with the word or phrase spoken and reveal they’re true feelings.

Sentence Completion Test

The interviewer reads the beginning of a sentence and the respondent is required to finish it. This technique is believed to be useful in uncovering the images consumers have about products and stores. The information collected can be used to develop promotional campaigns.

The Third-Person Technique

The interviewer asks the respondent to describe a third person. For this, respondents are presented with some information about the person. It is believed that when they describe a neighbor or a third person, they usually respond without hesitation, and in doing so, they express their own attitudes or motives as they infer the attitudes or motives of someone else.

Motivational Conflicts

Sometimes the urge to do something worthy or good or pleasurable is directly opposed by the fact that it involves pain or inconvenience or hard work. Then the organism is in the conflict between two opposite motives. That is one form of motivational conflict called an approach/ avoidance conflict.

One may also feel torn between two different pleasures. Or one may be forced to choose between two pains. Each of these is a classic motivational conflict.

  • Approach/avoidance conflicts: The organism is attracted and repulsed by the same stimulus or situation.

  • Approach/approach conflicts: The organism is forced to choose between two different desirable stimuli.

  • Avoidance/avoidance conflicts: The organism is forced to choose between two different undesirable alternatives.
  • C.L. Tyagi and Arun Kumar, (2004), Consumer Behaviour, Atlantic Publishers & Dst

  • Jim Blythe, (2013), Consumer Behaviour, SAGE

  • Frank Kardes, Maria Cronley, and Thomas Cline, (2014), Consumer Behaviour, Cengage Learning

  • Leon G. Schiffman and Leslie Lazar Kanuk, (2007), Consumer Behavior, Pearson Education

  • Dr. A Sarangapani, (2009), A Textbook on Rural Consumer Behaviour in India – A Study of FMCGs, Laxmi Publications, Ltd.




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