The hot topic in e-marketing these days is "conversion" - namely how to convert visitors into customers. If you want to convert customers, the first step is to understand that when people make a decision to purchase something, it's a complicated process. A simple-minded view is that buying decisions are based on impulse and low price. Sometimes they are. But if you want to convert most visitors into buyers you need a far more sophisticated view of customers.

That turns out to be more complicated than anyone can talk about in a short article. But one thing that will get you to be a smarter marketing person is to understand your customer's motivation, ability and opportunity. If you want customers to act, you typically need to make sure your customers have all three working together.

Simply put, motivation, ability and opportunity are the key factors that determine whether or not people will pay attention to your ads, how they form attitudes and what they remember. In short, it determines whether and when they will buy.


Motivation is that inner force that makes us want to act. It's typically driven by some goal, like a need to lose weight, collect trading cards, or go to college.

But just because someone is motivated to lose weight doesn't mean they'll go to a gym. That's why motivation is only part of the story.

But you have to get customers motivated to pay attention or buy something, so what do you need to do?

Make Your Offering as Personally Relevant as possible.
Tailor you ads to customer's special concerns. Speak to them personally. Use words like "you" and "your" to make ads and pitches seem more self-relevant, and don't forget to include their name in your ad, site or pitch wherever possible. Not only do people like hearing their own name, they believe that you really have their interests at heart when you use their name.

Why are things personally relevant? Because they tap into customers values (our self concepts), goals (what we want to accomplish) or needs. For this reason you need to spend time trying to identify your customer's needs. Focus groups and other qualitative methodologies are often great ways of tapping into customer needs.

Show how your Offering Can Lower Risks
Customers are typically looking to avoid all sorts of risks-- not only the risk of losing money, but also the risk of losing their social stature, being more anxious, getting hurt, being socially embarrassed, and other things. High risk is uncomfortable and people will do things to avoid it.

Consumers will often find your product more relevant to them if you can show them how it reduces risk. Remember Wisk's Ring Around the Collar ad? Hokey to be sure, but his ad did wonders for making consumers believe that they could avoid a socially embarrassing situation by using Wisk.

Sometimes consumers need to be educated about the existence of risks and then reminded of how your product can reduce the chance of this risky thing happening to them. Health ads focusing on the likelihood of getting AIDs from unprotected sex gave the condom industry a boost because consumers became more aware of the risks of unprotected sex and the importance of the condom in reducing these risks.

Don't reduce consumers' motivation by making the transaction appear risky. No matter how much they love your product, consumers may be averse to buying if they think you are creating risks for them-invading their privacy, being one of the most critical.


Even when consumers are motivated to buy your product, they won't if there is limited opportunity to do so. Make your communications clear and present them in an uncluttered environment free from as much distraction as possible. Flashing banner ads may be great for your sponsoring advertiser, and beautiful models may attract attention to ads, but you need to evaluate whether these attention-getting tools distract consumers from decisions about what to buy.

Too much information turns people off and distracts them from what is really the most important and critical information they need to know. Consumers' opportunities to buy products are also greatly affected by the time they have. While you can't control how much time consumers have, you can control the amount of time it takes them to make a transaction. Most consumers give up on making purchases in stores and on-line because the check out procedures appear too cumbersome, images take too long to download, or long lines of customers ahead of them make the entire transaction process look like a huge time sink.


Say what? Consumers can't possible begin to make a purchase if they don't understand what you are talking about. Understand your target market's language, the lingo they use and avoid the use of complicated technical jargon when your consumers are novices.

Illustrate wherever possible. What exactly does "periwinkle-sky" colored blouse look like? If you HAVE to present jargon, make sure you tell consumers what it means and why it is important. Try to understand how consumers think about and organize their world and make sure your communications model the way they think about the world. Have a customers looking for a cute toy for her nephew who is turning 5? How then does she negotiate your massive toy store site that lists products according to activities (e.g., imagination builders, manipulatives) as opposed to ages?

A recent issue of American Demographics magazine indicated that 65% of online shopping carts are abandoned. The reasons-motivation (didn't have what I wanted, wasn't' relevant to me), ability (site was so confusing I couldn't find the product) and opportunity (pages took so long to load I gave up). Each of these factors hurts your bottom line-together, they can be disastrous.

So, what's behind your lackluster cash register sales? Chances are, a hard look at the extent to which you are working with visitors' motivation, ability, and opportunity to make a purchase will give you some clues as to how you can ring up more sales with your prospects.

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image of Debbie MacInnis

Dr. Deborah J. MacInnis is the Charles L. and Ramona I. Hilliard Professor of Business Administration at the Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California, and a co-author of Brand Admiration: Build a Business People Love. She has consulted with companies and the government in the areas of consumer behavior and branding. She is theory development editor at the Journal of Marketing, and former co-editor of the Journal of Consumer Research. Professor MacInnis has served as president of the Association for Consumer Research and vice-president of conferences and research for the American Marketing Association's Academic Council. She has received the Journal of Marketing's Alpha Kappa Psi and Maynard awards for the papers that make the greatest contribution to marketing thought. She is the co-author of a leading textbook on consumer behavior and is co-editor of several edited volumes on branding.