What is motivation and why is it important to businesses today?

the carrot and stickMotivation has many meanings. To the police it points to the reason why a criminal does a certain crime. To a psychologist motivation means the ‘arousal, direction and persistence of behaviour’ (Franken, 1988). To an organisation it includes techniques designed to get the best performance out of employees, to help them reach their potential at work.

To those involved in applying marketing programmes in a commercial environment, motivation is:

Structured activity designed to change the behaviour and improve the performance of individuals and teams at work.

In many cases, such schemes incorporate incentives to encourage this improved performance. But where do such schemes sit within the marketing mix? Publicity is one of the famous 5 ‘Ps’ of marketing. Within publicity there are a number of sub-sections:

  • Advertising
  • Sales Promotion
  • Public Relations
  • Sponsorship
  • Direct Marketing

Some say that motivation programmes are a type of sales promotion because they are designed to change discretional behaviour within a commercial context. However, sales promotion generally targets consumers, and motivation is rarely, if ever, directed towards consumers, nor is it always sales-related.

In fact current market estimates suggest that around 20% of all motivation programmes are not directed at the sales process at all but at processes within businesses carried out by staff. As there is no consensus at present regarding where motivation fits within the marketing context, it is fair to say that ‘motivation’ is a new type of business-to-business discipline aimed at distributors or staff to encourage higher performance, usually offering incentives to successful participants.

The amount of the marketing budget dedicated to motivation programmes is ill-defined in that there are no public records of what is spent, unlike say for media advertising. We have to rely on occasional trade magazine surveys and agency-inspired research. The most recent surveys in the UK suggest that in 2003 over £1,000m was invested in performance improvement/incentive schemes by UK-based organisations. The figure from the US is close to £4,000m. By any standards this is a significant sum and it is unlikely that commercial organisations would continue to invest resources in a marketing technique that did not work. Motivation programmes are here to stay and becoming more widespread across an increasing range of business sectors.

The Development of Motivational Theory

Academic and scientific investigation into the reasons why people do the things they do have been conducted since ancient times. But it is only relatively recently that serious attempts to classify certain types of human behaviour have been attempted. In the West, Freud was the first to study patterns of deviant behaviour in the hope that he could change the way his patients responded to the world. His technique of ‘talking it through’ was the forerunner of modern psychiatry. His casework (1901 onwards) was the first scientific attempt to offer explanations for unusual behaviour. Jung followed in 1912 with a study of extrovert and introvert behavioural patterns and then Murray in 1938 isolated ‘twenty basic human needs’ which would explain the inner drives for individual action.


1901 Freud The psychopathy of everyday life
1912 Jung Extroverts and introverts
1938 Murray Twenty basic human needs
1943 Maslow Hierarchy of needs
1959 Herzberg Satisfiers and dissatisfiers
1964 Vroom Work and motivation
1966 Atkinson The need for achievement
1975 Latham High performance goal-setting
1991 Cantor Importance of goals and emotions
1992 Ford Motivational Systems Theory


During the post-war boom years of the late 1950s and 1960s commercial organisations began to take a keen interest in any research that promised to predict accurately what consumers would buy. For example, many US manufacturers applied the principles of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs triangle to help frame their advertising offer so as to tap into the aspirational desires and dreams of consumers. Later on large organisations began to look for higher efficiencies from their workforce and used studies into workforce motivation to help them re-design their internal processes in order to obtain the maximum benefit and efficiencies. In the 1970s there was much discussion about high achieving individuals that was taken up by sales organisations to help them in their recruitment and retention policies (see Latham above).

Whilst no single approach provides us with everything we need, knowledge of some of the more influential studies can help those of us with responsibility for motivation programmes to design better solutions.



institute of promotional marketingContent for this blog has been provided courtesy of the IPM and is incorporated into the IPM Diploma in Motivation. To find out more about the diploma or to enrol click here.


John Sylvester

John is responsible for the motivation division of p&mm ltd and a Director on the board of the IPM. Specialising in developing, implementing and directing many large scale staff motivation, recognition and employee communications programmes.

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