Motivating Copywriting And The Awesome Power Of “WHY?”

magical copywriting motivators

Motivating copy stokes the fire in the belly of your readers. Sometimes we copywriters flatter ourselves into thinking that our writing is the source of motivation, but it’s not. Not at all. The motivation is already smoldering or raging, depending on the intensity — in our readers. Copy that gets results simply speaks to that motivation. 

Real motivation comes from within your reader. The best you can do as a copywriter is fan the flames.


Good copy drives people to assess benefits in a way that moves them to act. The copywriter should be aware of two kinds of motivators that inspire action in readers. This is the motivation that already exists inside them. It takes thought and skill to pull it out, but I have some ideas for you on that…

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivators

Intrinsic motivators are those that are linked to inner happiness. They are connected to the process itself, and the journey involved. They are tied up in the pleasure of why you’re doing whatever it is you’re doing. For example, you might enjoy working in your garden for the experience of being in nature, working in the sun, touching the plants and smelling the herbs and flowers. You enjoy gardening for the sake of gardening, the activity itself.  

Extrinsic motivators are linked to outer results, those results you can see, touch and hear. These could be recognition, reward, accolades, approval, a raise, a promotion, leaner abs, a clean carpet, fresh dog breath, or good grades, for example. Again, take gardening. You may spend evenings working in your yard because you want tangible results: to avoid the dismissive glances from your neighbor who keeps a perfect lawn, or to make your garden look presentable for the guests you invited for the weekend. Maybe you want to win “best yard of the neighborhood” by your HOA. Those are all extrinsic motivators.

Copywriting is using words to motivate someone to act, to ultimately invest an expenditure of time, money, energy or clout. When you understand the two different ways motivation works, then you can describe benefits in a way that intimately touches your ideal customer. Both are magical and equally powerful, like fairy dust to the psyche. But they’re different.

In describing benefits, the copywriter must motivate the reader by appealing to their inner or outer impulses. You could say that intrinsic motivators are more deeply rooted and related to experience. Love, peace, well-being, knowledge, and even entertainment all come to mind.  Extrinsic motivators tend to be related to vanity, ambition, status, comfort; something worldly, tangible and measurable. 

Sometimes, your copy can motivate both intrinsically AND extrinsically, as long as you don’t unnecessarily muddy the waters of motivation and you understand the different types of people within your market.  For example, if your copy is written to sell fast, red sports cars, you could emphasize the sheer pleasure of driving a finely crafted machine. Somewhere along the way you’d probably also point out the increased status of owning a high-priced luxury car. Of course some of your potential customers also want a nice, safe car to commute in. All three are bonafide motivators for purchasing a sports car. None are better than any other, and all factor into a decision by varying degrees.

One way to ferret out multiple motivating factors is to play this little game.

Ask WHY. Then keep asking…

If you’ve ever played “The Why Game” with a determined kid, you know how this works. The kid starts by asking “why?” to a request or statement. And they continue asking why with every response you give. Well, eventually the Q&A ends in a philosophical tangle finally leading to “Just because,” “Because God made it that way,” or ‘Because I said so.” (Try it. you’ll see.) But the cool thing about this experiment is that along the way, you cover a lot of ground. Try this illuminating game with whatever it is you offer. 

When you dig down deep, motivating forces tend to get a little simpler and more generalized. “It makes me happy” is often what’s left at the bottom of the pot after everything else boils away. If you keep asking “why?” you finally get down to some very deep rooted motivators, which could add some interesting flavor to your copy.  

Say you’re writing for a local produce delivery service: Your customers decide they want fresh, local vegetables delivered to their door each week. Why?

  • Because the food is fresh, tastes good and is healthy. Why?
  • Because it’s grown close to home and picked within a couple of days of delivery. Why?
  • Because some local farmer understands the value of good wholesome food and has the desire to provide it to the community. Why?
  • Because it’s a healthy food choice and he’ll make money. Why?
  • Because customers value good food that makes them strong and happy. Why?
  • Because it’s full of nutrition that makes you look and feel great. Why?
  • Because our bodies perform best when we fuel them with good food and people enjoy their bodies more when they do what they were made to do. Why?
  • Because that’s just the way it is. It’s the natural order of things. Conclusion.


I rest my case about the Why Game always ending the same way. But do you see all the extra motivational background stuff you may have missed as you wrote your web content, article, email or ad? 

Although simple fresh ingredients are a tangible desire, the benefits may ultimately be intrinsically motivating on some deeper level. Perfectly valid. Just beware of tilting your copy toward schmaltzy and simplistic, unless you’re going for that tongue in cheek tone. 

As you write copy, try to get inside your customer’s mind. Pay attention to the motivation behind the decisions they make. Ask: “What benefits of your product or service motivate people…and how do they do that exactly?” 

While your product may satisfy a basic and concrete need, it may fulfill a desire closer to your customer’s heart than even they realize. When you use words that edge closer to the transformational aspects of your product — whether it’s a water bottle, a quilt, a new sound system for a car, or financial advice — then you’ll truly motivate your customer to act. 

Photo: Flick CC, Richard Step

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