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February 26, 2019
4 Core Human Drivers That Boost Engagement
Mary Olivieri

We get a lot of requests like these:

How can we grow awareness of our brand?
How can we sell more of our product or service?
How can we get our desired target talking about us?

They seem simple, but figuring out what it will actually take to achieve these business goals can be challenging, to say the least. As marketing professionals, we are all-in — defining buyer journeys, calculating informed media strategies and more. But the one area where many marketers come up short is in understanding the deepest emotional drivers that are truly meaningful on a personal level.

I’m not just talking about your standard target audience insights. I’m talking about how human beings are wired, and how we can deliver what people want and need.

Consumers today are savvy. They’re also tired, and not just of advertising. They want you to read their minds, but they don’t want to feel like they’re being “sold to.” Our job is getting past that and, ultimately, engaging with them authentically. And the only way you’re going to do that is to understand what drives them at their core.

Thank goodness for psychology researchers! They’ve identified the four core drivers to human behavior:


It’s our survival instincts that’ve gotten us this far in the evolutionary chain. Humans will go to extraordinary lengths to ensure that our homes, our finances, our families, and ourselves are safe and secure. A great example of a brand tapping into this is Allstate’s award-winning “Mayhem” campaign.

The campaign shows experiences almost anyone can imagine happening to them, like dropping and then fishing for our cell phone while driving. It’s emotionally resonant (and funny!), it shows an understanding of human behavior, and it plays on the natural fear of what could happen if you leave yourself vulnerable (by buying cut-rate insurance). It then smartly positions Allstate as the natural solution that “protects you from mayhem." Engaged? Definitely.


Marketers are always selling something. Lucky for us, another basic human desire is the need to acquire… not only objects, but position and power. In fact, many times, those two things go hand-in-hand. Think Lexus. Or Starbucks. Or an excellent pair of BED|STU boots. (More on them later.)

The fear of missing out (FOMO) strategy is born from this human driver. How many times have you seen an ad that uses, “Don’t miss out!” in the copy? There’s a reason for it. No one wants to feel like they could have had something and didn’t get it — even if they didn’t necessarily want it in the first place. Smart marketers know how to tap into this need and nurture it through the funnel until the target can’t say no.

Designer footwear, like the boots shown here, is often advertised leveraging the human desire to acquire.

For example, I recently went looking to buy a pair of boots, because I have a footwear addiction that I probably shouldn’t admit publicly. (Whoops.) I didn’t find precisely what I was looking for, but did see an expensive pair that, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t rationalize buying. A few hours later, a banner ad popped up, showing me those exact boots… and offering me 20% off for the next 12 hours. Was I engaged? Uh… YEAH. In fact, my FOMO went into overdrive. Like Carrie Bradshaw and a new pair of Manolos, I threw caution to the wind, dropped some large dollars… and ended up with fantastic boots that not only make me ridiculously happy, but also impact how I feel when I wear them (powerful). (Yes, I know I fell prey to the marketing gods, but these boots are so awesome that I’m okay with that.)

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The COVID-19 pandemic really made this one a “well, duh.” Social media was born from this human driver. As were dating sites, fitness centers, phones, restaurants, cosmetics, and much more. But according to some scientists, the depth of this need goes as far back as Ardipithecus ramidus, a 4.4-million-year-old member of the human family tree who was the first to show signs of sharing food with others.

This driver is often the inspiration for great storytelling, as well — and we all know the importance of that. One company, Globo TV, bridged the gap between the television screen experience and pure human connection in their “The Real Blind Date” ad:

It’s storytelling at its finest. It positions the brand as a creator of human connections and uses that to tap into the hearts and minds of their customers. If you want to get your desired target audience talking about your brand, promise them authentic connection.


Have you ever had to miss a really important meeting and then found yourself feeling very much behind the 8-ball? Me, too. There you are, co-workers are speaking intelligently about the topic at hand, and you’re playing catch-up. That disempowered feeling is the outcome of an unsatisfied fourth driver of human behavior: the desire to know.

If you’re a brand who markets books, higher education, training, etc., then your marketing reflects this inherently. You are selling knowledge, and in turn, the betterment of the self. But what if you sell cameras, for example? You could talk about the features and benefits of the product. You could show some beautiful outcomes of using it. Or, you could make it supremely personal and engaging by marketing to the depths of human curiosity, as this ad for Canon does:

You are no longer being invited to buy a camera. In fact, there’s no purchase language in this video at all. You’re being invited to take a very personal “journey” that only YOU can go on because you are curious. In fact, without this camera, you’ll be missing out on a life experience, on making new connections and on learning about the world. Canon isn’t selling cameras. They’re tapping into 3 out of the 4 basic human drivers!

The next time you’re looking to make a lasting impact on your target audience, remember our mantra: “market what’s meaningful.®” Because what moves people is what moves business. Strategy will follow suit.