Motivation“Along the way, we’ve come to believe that external motivation is the key to our success. That we need to be part of a degree program or a sales contest or have a boss looking over our shoulder to do our best work, to push us.

Of course, we were taught this by the marketers, industrialists and institutions that make a living by providing us external motivation…” – Seth Godin

Maybe because it’s 6am on a Monday morning, and I have been awake since 4, but these sentences from today’s Seth Godin post really irked me.

Or maybe it’s getting to the end of the Thanksgiving shopping frenzy and I’m a marketer disgusted by the “buy more” mentality who’s sensitive to marketers being blamed for society’s woes (let’s make products to enhance lives, not create clutter).

Seth Godin is a marketer, and a proud one, so I assume he’s taking some responsibility for his accusation. However, I feel the claim is a rather simplistic generalization. Seth does state that we, as a society, accept this and with the decentralization of marketing we have to start motivating ourselves – “reliance on the external fails us.”

The reliance of the external has always fallen on us. Generally speaking, we’ve chosen to let peer pressure, advertising, and other external forces motivate us. Marketers in the past (and lazy ones now) have just exploited that. I say, “generally speaking” because there is a locus of control.

What is the Locus of Control?

The locus of control is a personality psychology concept that measures the extent someone believes they can control external events. The concept was developed by Julian B Rotter in 1954 and is one of the four dimensions of core self-evaluations – one’s fundamental appraisal of oneself – along with neuroticism, self-efficacy, and self-esteem. Someone who believes they can control future events (i.e., career success, test results) scores high on the test. People who attribute others as the reason for success or failure would score low on the test. It was the teacher; I got lucky, etc. They don’t feel they can control events because the outcome is dependent on another person or thing. This often leads to a “why bother” attitude and lower levels of motivation – “why should I bother working hard, my teacher/manager/insert authority figure hates me” . It is a continuum, and my 6am research didn’t discover numbers of people at each point on the scale. Again, it’s a continuum, so how you score as a child needn’t control the rest of your life.

Why is the Locus of Control Important for Marketers?

It’s very important as a motivation consideration. Seth said, “we’ve come to believe that external motivation is the key to our success”. This is not true and for some has never been true. Locus of control studies in academia have shown that people who score higher do achieve higher academic scores, When all the people in the studies had already decided (or had been told) they needed a degree for success, being part of a degree program was not a motivator, despite Seth’s claim that society has been conditioned for this.

Marketers need to understand motivation and the locus of control in their audience personae. We aren’t the sole motivator. We don’t own the locus of control score in our customers. So a general sales contest or any external force we use is likely to fail. Seth warns what the external, i.e. the motivation, is falling on us. People have already taken and own that motivation and to believe otherwise is naive. As marketers, we need to stop being lazy in thinking we can control customers to fit our needs (buy more to boost our results) and fit our products, services, and advertising to them. Let’s stop making large cars and advertising telling people their lives will be better with them. Let’s make the products or services that will improve their lives. It’s not easy, and may result in lower sales in the short term, but is more accurate, ethical and representative of society.

Do you know your locus of control score? Accurate? Times for some changes? What do you think?