Business’s live and die by their ability to successfully motivate others, be it getting customers to purchase goods and conduct research, team members to become superstars, or social networks to engage with and champion your brand. You don’t need Tony Robbins’ stage powers to be a successful motivator, you simple need to understand the needs of your people, and then properly incentivise them by satisfying those needs.

Increasing motivation across each of your networks will, over time result in huge dividends for any brand, and this is the strategy behind major successes such as Zappos, Google & Unilever. The key to success is to gain far greater output than the inputs (incentives) you commit to this process.

Some of the most important areas where businesses concentrate their incentives include:

  • Recruitment: Encouraging sensational people to join your team
  • Culture: Motivating your team to build an outstanding business
  • Research: Extracting valuable insights from your customers / market.
  • Sales & Marketing: Generating content, conversation & growing user bases

Activation thresholds & activating triggers

When incentivising others to perform tasks, your success with hinge upon whether the incentive you provide, and therefore their willingness to participate, exceeds the complexity of the task performed.

These diagrams are based upon BJ Fogs model of activation.

  1. Reaching activation threshold: Successful motivation occurs when ability (ease to complete a task) matches or exceeds the motivation (willingness to complete the task) of the individual.
  2. Hitting the sweet spot: Anything that exceeds the activation threshold will result in successful participation, however the further beyond this threshold your task lies, the less efficient your returns will be. Often tasks offer excessive incentives, when they would be successful with less investment.
  3. Activating a trigger: Once above the activation threshold, you need a trigger, or a call to action, to kick off the task. For example, with Verbate, the trigger would be the invite to respond to a video survey.

Matching tasks to incentives

In order to successfully match your tasks & incentives it helps to run early tests where possible. Other ways to increase success are; i) to consider other marketplace examples, and ii) when in doubt offer excessive incentives, which you can always reduce as you come to better understand the needs of your people.

Always consider the complexity of the tasks you are requesting (and yes - thats Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs there). Generally speaking the higher the order of needs you satisfy, the more motivated people will be, where possible fulfil multiple needs. For instance in the diagram above we see a creative and complex task, yet the incentive is too low, resulting in an incentive deficit.

Motivational threshold: Beware that everyone has a minimum motivation / reward that must be fulfilled to consider completing any task.

But don’t worry, motivating people is not that complex, there are many ways to do this, some of which will align well with your brand. We’ve outlined 10 of the best to help you get started with the benefits, challenges, and a few examples for each.

10 of the best ways to motivate users

I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.

Albert Einstein

Passion drives ordinary people to do extraordinary things. It is the driving force behind creativity, innovation, awe and love, and it has the power to move mountains. Generally speaking there are two ways to motivate via passion:

  1. Create new passion: This could involve bringing an unknown, but serious cause to public light and gathering momentum behind it. It could also include creating an inspirational video about your company that drives outstanding job applications.
  2. Leverage existing passion: Leverage existing passion: This could involve building campaigns around current sports, political or social causes.

Benefits: The most effective form of motivation out of all the methods available, done correctly a little input can generate huge, and lasting value. Whichever motivational method you use, try to spark a degree of passion as a foundation.

Challenges: Understanding the passions of those you wish to motivate needs to be done carefully - passion is a very polarising emotion so beware the causes with which you associate your brand.


  1. The Kony 2012 “invisible children” campaign yielded the fastest growing viral video of all time, reaching 100million views in 6 days, and motivated 3.7million people to pledge their support to arrest Joseph Kony.
  2. In 2009 following four years of X Factor christmas No 1’s a Facebook campaign drove the British public to purchase & download Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in the Name of” 500,000 times, bumping the latest X Factor winner to No 2 that year.
  3. Sports sponsorship & association is not new, and successfully attributes the passion of sports to a brand. After Nike's signing of Michael Jordan, the most successful sports endorsement believe it or not is the George Foreman grill, with over 100 million sold.

When I was young I thought that money was the most important thing in life; now that I am old I know that it is.

Oscar Wilde

Motivating people to complete less exciting tasks, such as carrying out surveys, focus groups, or referring candidates for jobs can work well with a direct payment for time. Price will depend on the level of commitment, and who you are asking to commit. A survey which may cost you $5 per student response will cost $50 per high paid doctors response.

Benefits: Direct payment is the simplest way of incentivising people: its quantifiable, instant and is relatively easy to model & hit the sweet spot.

Challenges: As direct payment is so quantifiable, the value derived is roughly equal to the input - in other words, it does not have potential for high ROI. In addition, payment is a very unengaging way to incentivise; respondents focus is the reward not the task and therefore can give sub par results and experience high dropout.

Examples: Research uses direct payment as the primary incentive for respondents as tasks are generally unrelated to the individuals life & needs. Numerous pricing models exist:

  1. Panels such as Cint and Answercrowd offer low priced respondents for simple tasks. These are usually paid $0.5 - $5 per response.
  2. Personalised recruitment firms exist for more specialist or complex tasks such as Farron Research. Here individuals can cost $50 - $250 or more depending on the task & attributes of the individual.

Most people belong to a multitude of social groups - be they family, co-workers, organisations and of course, social media networks. The need exploited is Maslow’s need to "belong" to a group, which is actually hardwired through our genetics (see the social ape). We will complete tasks to be accepted, and championed within these social groups, and the higher the visibility of those tasks, the greater the chance we will complete them.

Benefits: This motivational mechanism has the potential to give outrageous return on investment, and many viral content campaigns include exploitation of this psychology as their core strategy. Any campaign that has huge growth not only fulfils your task requirements, but gives huge brand exposure, social proof, and benefits the whole business.

Challenges: To leverage social pressures, tasks / campaigns need to have passion associated with them. In addition you need a community through which to launch this, a number of highly motivated & influential individuals to seed this, a strong trigger, and a growth / sharing mechanism (assuming you are after growth).


  • The ALS Ice Bucket challenge in 2014 generated $85million and involved 5+million participants from a very modest upfront investment. This success boils down to the fact that each respondent publically named 3 more friends to respond on social media; this social pressure drove those individuals to take part and further spread the campaign.
  • Fashion is almost exclusively driven by social pressure. A great example is the resurgence of the “terminally-uncool” Hush Puppies shoes in the 90’s. A handful of notary hipsters in Manhattan (see the tipping point) started wearing these as a fashion statement, eventually influencing millions of other wannabe hipsters, saving and then building Hush Puppies as a major global brand again. Though Hush Puppies did not strategically plan this, many brands do by sponsoring influencers and communities.

Recognition, self-esteem & respect sit high on Maslow’s Hierarchy, and is also one of the more powerful motivation strategies. We all strive for recognition in some way, be it from our peers, industry, the public, family or friends. Some of us may want 5 minutes of fame, bragging rights, success in work, or as a business, PR.

Benefits: Recognition can provide a great ROI, especially for employees & teams where even a little effort can hugely increase productivity, loyalty and employee happiness. Research shows that 83% of employees appreciate recognition over reward, and 88% found recognition from managers highly motivating.

Challenges: When motivating employees or customers, be careful that the recognition offered matches their desires, and doesn’t go so far as to cause resentment amongst others. There are many instances where excessive recognition of one employee, can actually turn other employees against them and you, resulting in an overall reduction in goodwill throughout your team.


  1. Recognition is used a lot in fundraising, be it raising money for schools, charities, or even new products through Kickstarter.
  2. Customer recognition is used by some brands such as Zappos, to successfully build huge engagement, increase sales & generate powerful word of mouth marketing.
  3. Each year Apple runs a global internal running competition. Employees compete for bragging rights, clocking up 1000’s of kms & bonding teams much closer together.

Competitions leverage a single, or small number of significant prizes, to drive engagement. The best competitions make the very process valuable & shareable, gaining much greater entry as winning becomes secondary or at least equal to actually taking part - driving a much higher ROI.

Benefits: More creative competitions can be a form of PR in themselves, as well as being used to generate content, engagement and grow sales. Depending on the prize and process, competitions can attract a much more diverse audience that your business currently reaches.

Challenges: Competitions can exceed beyond your wildest dreams, they can also crash and burn. Many competitions fail due to mismatched rewards, a lack of reach, poor implementation and tasks that are too complex. Most competitions require additional resources to market, judge and create content.


  1. Tourism Queensland’s “best job in the world” campaign generated $368million dollars in media coverage alone and 35,000 “complex” applications, all from an investment of $1.2million.
  2. Shoes Of Prey ran “The Best Shoe Ever” competition recently with the Iconic. Designing shoes is fun, and they generated engagement, gathered lots of data about shoe designs, and leveraged a major partner to gain huge exposure.

Similar to direct payment, but often with a better ROI and engagement is the exchange of goods for tasks. By goods, we mean anything non monetary - this could be services, premium content, products, vouchers etc. These could be your own goods, goods from partners, or unaffiliated brands.

Benefits: By offering your own goods as exchange, the value to the receiver is much higher than the direct cost to you, due to sales margins. By offering goods you actually engage the receiver in your, or a partners brand directly, increasing the value of the exchange & the very best strategies make the actual goods being exchanged a mechanism to grow business.

Challenges: In order for the exchange to work, respondents must of course, desire what you offer. Anyone who desires your product is inherently aware, and probably already engaged with your brand - which in some cases such as unbiased research, may be undesirable.


  1. Online this is used by almost all brands who utilise content marketing. By reading this very blog, we are exchanging valuable information in exchange for your time, interaction with the Verbate brand, and the potential to work together.
  2. Fast food chains often give away free burgers & food with purchases - supermarkets give money off fuel with each shop. These mechanisms seem like a free exchange, but in order to receive your exchange, you need to return and usually spend more money.
  3. A number of clients have recruited & run highly successful research campaigns by offering vouchers on a brand’s social media pages. Pumpkin Patch (a NZ/Australian childrens clothing company) received 400 responses to do a 3 day video diary from a single Facebook post.

By offering donations in exchange for effort, you appeal to individuals honour, their need to satisfy altruistic needs. Another way to look at this is that you are providing people with easy access goodwill or Karma; giving time to charitable causes takes a lot of effort, by asking for participation in a 5 minute task and then doing this for them, you provide a simple, and highly attractive solution.

Benefits: Donation on behalf attracts more engaged and committed respondents, as psychologically their effort & success is linked to the donation value (even though this value may be fixed). In addition, this strategy provides beneficial “social fallout” for the associated brand, leveraging all that goodwill can be great for PR too. You will find that donation will be a more compelling exchange for many respondents, enabling you to reach more affluent / time poor individuals.

Challenges: Not everyone at every stage in life is driven by altruistic motivations, and some demographics such as younger men are difficult to drive with this strategy. There are millions of charitable causes in existence, and it unfeasible to offer donations to them all, so you must carefully select the best cause to entice your respondents.


  1. Survey Monkey has taken exactly this strategy with their online panel - “Audience”. Each time a survey is completed a small sum is given to charity. As Surveys Monkeys CEO Goldberg explains “We find that a charitable incentive acquires a lot of value, and we find it creates more honesty”.
  2. Workplace giving is common in corporates - this is mechanism whereby the business will donate to a charity on behalf of an employee. This provides huge motivation for many employees and 65% (see Double the Donation)of all fortune 500 companies now offer this.

Contributional motivation involves encouraging people to give time & resources usually to the “greater good” and is one of the primary motivators of research, education, not for profits & wiki’s. Contribution fulfills an individual's need for belonging, achievement, authenticity and creativity.

Benefits: The holy grail of content creation is to have your customers & team creating great content for you, without the need to continually incentivise them. Contribution is driven by individuals own needs to the extent that with, or without you, they will continue to do this. If you can facilitate this action however, you can utilise this to generate value for your brand, and engaged content creators have huge lifetime value.

Challenges: Leveraging this contribution value is not the easiest, and is going to take some inspiration & passion (again!). Finding the correct contribution medium, context and champions to drive this is key.


  1. Wikipedia is built entirely by contribution, and is arguably the most exhaustive single information source on the web.
  2. In an industry (personal cameras) shrinking by 30% per yeah, GoPro is growing at 50% per year and is now worth over $1billion. The vast majority of GoPro’s marketing is created by their customers. N.B. other motivations do play a part such as competition, recognition and social needs.

Curiosity, closely linked to creativity, drives us to try new experiences, thirst for knowledge and ultimately, engage with many brands. Curiosity is not often seen as, or used as a motivational strategy, but I implore you to consider it, as it can be incredibly powerful when used in the right context.

Benefits: If your brand and products can inspire curiosity, you can direct customers on journeys that last lifetimes, delivering huge value over the years. Curiosity will generate highly engaged users, huge word of mouth marketing, and exceptional PR around campaigns.

Challenges: Curiosity is not a strategy for every brand - some brands need to be crystal clear on what they offer. Likewise in some industries or networks, curiosity may not provide a great hook - scientists, artists, creatives are highly curious and perfect for this strategy, but others may not be.


  1. Back in 2004 Google placed a maths challenge on a billboard. The solution led to a webpage with another challenge and so on. Those gifted enough to reach the end were invited to interview for a position at Google, but aside from this the PR generated was huge, and positioned Google instantly as a brand doing things differently.
  2. The film industry often uses curiosity to gain momentum and engagement around new film releases, such as Cloverfield, which released minimal information before the film was screened in cinemas, leading to huge anticipation.
  3. Researchers and intellectuals will often contribute to research for you if the cause is compelling enough.

Loss aversion, involves removing or restricting benefits to individuals who do not complete a task. Originally first described in reference to economics by Amos Tversky & Daniel Kahneman, it referred to people’s tendency to strongly prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains.

Benefits: Most studies suggest that losses are twice as powerful psychologically that gains, and therefore can actually be more powerful than any “positive” motivational technique.

Challenges: You of course need something compelling that contributors need, or believe they need, in order to restrict this. Loss aversion strategies can be viewed as negative, and of course, can be manipulative, so beware how you use this.


  1. Most online subscription platforms such as Kissmetrics, Intercom, and of course Verbate - offer a no questions asked 14 day free trial. Over these 14days we will do our very best to demonstrate the value of our platform, and activate users to start to depend on what we offer. At the end of these 14days, we reach out and ask you to upgrade (fair enough) in order to continue extracting value. The more that platforms can encourage you to rely upon them during your trial, the more powerful this is.
  2. Free to play games use this strategy a lot, to the extent that many feel they actually manipulate players. During a free game, you may reach a new high level, but just as you are going to loose and start again, they offer you the option to save the game for a small fee. Many users don’t want to loose their place, and will pay to continue playing.

A final note

Test, test and test some more if you have to. Uncover the correct motivations for your campaigns. By the way, when you test, strongly avoid testing with your family or friends, this network is probably not your customers or team, and they will have very different motivations.