Audience Motivation: Key to a Better Site Design

When you know your audience’s motivations, you can create a site that speaks to what the audience wants to achieve. If you don’t know their motivations, you may be able to build a perfectly fine site, but it will lack persuasive power.

Motivations are hard to pin down, though, because they are fickle and vary from person to person. And while the goals and challenges of users are often discussed, motivations are sometimes overlooked.


A goal is what the user wants to accomplish. A challenge is what might stop them from accomplishing their goal. And a motivation is why they want to accomplish the goal.

All straight forward. Except the motivations. Those can be very complicated.


Motivations are layered. There are motivations users are happy to talk about. These line up well with the concept of benefits. On a deeper level, though, there are motivations users may be less comfortable discussing and that they may not even be fully aware of. However, these are an important part of making the buying decision.

Suppose Tom buys a designer laptop bag. If you asked Tom why he bought the bag, he might say something like ‘I need a bag to carry my laptop around in and these bags look great’.

Tom’s goal is to buy a bag. The challenges he faces are to decide which bag, determine whether his laptop will fit in it, and how to make the purchase. His motivation seems to be practical (carrying around his laptop) and aesthetic (the bags look great). This goal, challenge and motivation are all easy to design for: Create a simple site with nice pictures, specifications and a clear purchase flow.

But Tom has another unstated motivation. The smartest, hippest people Tom works with all have this designer laptop bag, and he is using the bag as an indicator that he fits in with that social circle.

So the initial assessment of motivation doesn’t run deep enough. Tom will happily tell you he is buying the bag for practical and aesthetic reasons. Tom is comfortable discussing this level of motivation. He has another, deeper motivation, though, tied to social status and connection. He may not even be fully aware of the deeper motivation, and would be less likely to discuss his personal situation.

But this deeper motivation of Tom’s is important. If it holds true across a large enough audience segment, then it should influence the design and branding of the site. For instance, it might move the site from being practical to being more status aware. The exact look and feel would need to be adjusted for the audience.

It is worth noting that some of Tom’s motivations are not based on actual qualities of the bag, but upon his environment. The company that sells the bag may have contributed to the environment through marketing, but it has particular impact on Tom because of his social situation.


Motivations are hard, especially the ones that people are less likely to talk about and the company didn’t intentionally create. You can sometimes get at them indirectly, e.g. through clever survey questions or by looking at how people behave rather than what they say. Digging down into motivations, though, typically requires a leap of intuition and then checking to see if the data backs you up.

Identifying motivations, especially ones below the surface, is important for building a successful site. If you know audience motivations, you can be much smarter about how you present information and build a more persuasive site.