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3 Ways to Employ Approach Motivation in Your Small-Business Marketing

What to do when marketing your business feels like eating a soul-crushing bowl of boiled okra.

Photo by Heather Barnes on Unsplash

It is no real secret that many/most small business owners do not enjoy marketing. Many/most consider themselves to suck at it, frankly. As business owners, we have so many other things to do that we would prefer to do other than executing a marketing strategy — like sorting drawers of spare bolts by thread-pitch and gauge (something I actually had to do on a temp-gig, so I know the thrill personally).

All the myriad tasks involved in marketing our businesses that don’t seem urgent can be overwhelming; and if they DO seem urgent, then they stress us out and we procrastinate.

If we can overcome procrastinating and get down to working on our advertising/social media campaigns, writing our blog articles and understanding our website analytics, we end up doing it in a high-stress mode where we expect to fail. We tell ourselves that we have to do it to survive and grow our business, so we try to do it as best we can.

Sort of like eating your okra.

I can’t stand okra, but I am told it’s good for me.

It will reduce the chance of: (1) diabetes, (2) liver disease, (3) being too popular with the ladies for my own good.

So, down the hatch!

If that sounds like the kind of logic that you, Joe/Joanne the Plumber, reason through trying to write a weekly blog post for your SEO campaign on why one should not use Drain-O to unclog your PVC pipes, then you get what I am saying here. (I could be wrong about Drain-O and PVC pipes — I am not a plumber myself, so please don’t hire me to unclog your pipes.)

This kind of motivation is called Avoidance Motivation. We do the thing because we expect a negative result if we don’t. We may hate what we need to do, but we will (eventually) do it anyway because bad consequences might happen if we don’t. And, because it is now become an urgent task due to procrastination, we enjoy doing the thing less and suck at it more.

It would really help to have a different way to do those things we don’t really want to do and can’t get super excited about; or maybe even find a way to even get excited about it?

No promises though — I still can’t get excited about okra, no matter what.

As my therapist likes to say, we need to “reframe” the problem. We need to find a way to approach the marketing tasks with positive expectations driving us, not the anxiety-producing negative expectations that actually make it harder for us to do the thing in the first place.

Enter “Approach Motivation.”

Elliot et al. 1996 define approach motivation as the energization of behavior or the direction of behavior toward positive stimuli, while Avoidance motivation is the energization of behavior or movement of behavior away from adverse outcomes.

To simplify: Instead of trying to do something because we want to avoid a negative consequence, we do it with the expectation of a positive benefit.

The idea of working towards positive goals isn’t a new idea, of course. However, more than just being motivated by pie-in-the-sky long-term goals, like being able to vacation in Bora Bora because business is booming, to hack into approach motivation we we want to think about more short-term positive benefits or ways to get some immediate reward for doing the thing we didn’t want to do. The benefit need not be something “good” for us either — it can simply be a positive stimuli that makes us feel good.

If you have seen or heard of the marshmallow game, then you know why the benefits or rewards need to be more immediate for approach motivation to overcome the negative bias we already have. We tend to be more motivated by short-term results than long-term, and when stress gets high, addressing the short-term need will always win out.

So, what are some strategies for taking advantage of approach motivation?

Link the benefit directly with the task.

Okra pairs well with bacon, just sayin’.

If eating my okra is a condition for getting some bacon too, then eating the okra might not be so bad, and could be perceived a good thing. Maybe even enjoyable(?). My cardiologist might disagree with me on what I consider “good” here, but it’s my dumb metaphor and I am sticking with it.

Similarly, if I can pair my business marketing task with some kind of thing that gives me some immediate satisfaction, or do it in a way that interests me personally and is, dare we say it?, “fun,” then that seems like a win-win. In expectation of that reward, I can even begin to look forward to the marketing task I didn’t really want to do.

Can that article on why Drain-O is bad become a good reason to find some great alternatives and even go review some cool tools you always wanted to use? Do you like to geek-out on the kinds of pipes and differences between them? Can you invent some kind of contest/special or game where your readers share their crazy-things-clogging-my-drain horror stories?

I am guessing that plumbers may have similar tool-fetishes that I and other tradespersons have, and will invent projects for the opportunity to buy and use a tool we had our eye on. And, every trade seems to have it’s own geek-level topics we love to opine about.

Plus, anything you can gamify will just make the effort all that more effective too!

Change the Scenery and Use Your Nose.

Do you get tired of sitting at your computer in your cluttered office writing an article or analyzing web stats (while it’s cold and rainy outside and there are so many clogged drains out there — you just know it in your bones)?

Employ the power of your olfactory senses. Your nose is designed to be an early-warning system — it is hard-wired to the fight/flight and emotional motivational centers in our amygdalae (brains). Therefore, it is designed to alert you to things you need to take action on, such as running away from bad smells and toward the good ones.

I write this at the start of Pumpkin Spice Season™. Perhaps, your tasks would be much more enjoyable while sitting in your favorite local coffee-shop sipping that Golden Latte of Autumn™? Bake some bacon on the morning when you have to do your blog-writing, or get a cinnamon-bun candle. Even the warmth and smell of something enjoyable, and/or the hubbub of activity at your favorite café might give you the motivation to do your marketing and a reason to get out of the office into a novel, welcoming environment.

Link marketing success with rewards that make you feel like a successful human

When you get 10 new “claps” on your blog post, put a dollar in a jar. When the jar is full, go splurge on something that makes you feel a little more successful than when you started.

Make the reward personal — a new hat, jacket, mug, whatever… If it’s personal, the success will be about you, not the task or even the business. And, because it is personal, we are more likely to become emotionally attached to the outcome.

Make the jar big enough to get a decent reward out of it, but not too large that you can’t fill the jar inside of 2–3 months. Longer than that, and the reward will seem too distant and you will wind up emptying the jar to buy a six-pack of Pabst after work.

What you splurge on might even be something that can add to your success — like a new tool, or some kind of book or course on a topic that you wanted to learn but couldn’t find the time and money to do. Because, tasks.

Whatever it is, it should be personal and unique to you.

More ideas?

I am sure you have some more great ideas here with how to employ approach motivation to marketing and/or business tasks you really don’t like doing. Feel free to share them! I am a marketer who works with small to medium businesses with these very things, so doing marketing tasks isn’t as much as problem for me.

But don’t get me started about bookkeeping!

I’d rather eat boiled okra!

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