What moves consumers? A lesson in self-concept.


Motivation comes from within. It is driven by our inner ‘self,’ but fueled by different perceptions. Our actions, emotions, and behaviors are a direct result of how we identify with our self, and marketers need to have a deep understanding in order to motivate consumers to do whatever it is they want them to do.

If you have taken an intro to psychology or anthropology course in college, you’ve probably heard various theories regarding the self as well as theories on social behavior – Freud and Maslow come to mind for me. Well, as marketers, we are in a sense anthropologists and psychologists analyzing and evaluating what drives motivation in order for our customers to purchase from, engage with, and connect to our brand.

At the core of it all is the self, as I mentioned. Without getting too metaphysical or heavy into theory, what you need to know is that we do not have control over consumer actions, but we can play to unique self-concepts in order to drive distinct motives.

Have I lost you yet?

Let’s break this down…

Four versions of self-concept exist:

  • Actual self-concept: You have a true persona, right? The actual self is the version you know to be and unfortunate for your partner or parents knows and tolerates as well.
  • Ideal self-concept: Ideal would be the person you want to be.
  • Social self-concept: As you may have already guessed, the social self-concept is how people perceive you – the version your group of friends knows.
  • Ideal social self-concept: On the other end, the ideal social self is how you feel others perceive you.

Part duex to getting down to motive is self-congruity. Depending on which self-concept is being threatened or affected, will determine how your consumer will connect with your brand.

Self-congruity is just a fancy term for the type of match the person’s self  has with brand image. Think of it as Tinder for branding. If the self doesn’t line up, they may swipe left. Now if there is congruity, they’ll definitely take a look at your profile.

You probably know where I’m going with this. There are four types of self-congruity.

  • Actual self-congruity: The perfect match when actual self-concept is in trouble.
  • Ideal self-congruity: The ideal partnership when ideal self-concept may be threatened.
  • Social self-congruity: A paring with social self-concept when it’s heading south.
  • Ideal social self-concept: The peanut butter to ideal social-self concept’s jelly if there is distance from ideal social self.

Now we’re getting down to motive! And, yup, you guessed it…each self-concept, matched with self-congruity grants a distinct motive. Brain power.

Self-consistency motive: Connected to the actual self, the brand has to address that individual’s values and frustrations to increase motivation to act. Non-profits do this well.

Self-esteem motive: If your brand can help amplify the ideal self and play on the person’s self-esteem you will get increase motivation. Think of the Matthew McConaughey Infiniti commercial.

Social-consistency motive: Tied directly to social-self concept, social-consistency fuels the consumer to click that “buy now” button.

Social-approval motive: Feeding the desire for social approval, your brand better be like that Dior ad where Charlize Theron lights up a room.

So what does all this theory have to do with brands? Well, everything. Understand these concepts and it will shape your brand image including how your brand presents itself physically through elements such as logos, color, imagery. As well as how you shape your stories through voice, tone, and messaging.

 Now go out there and start motivating to the right people the right way!

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