Expectancy Theory

🤔 Did you know…

Duolingo has over 500 million users worldwide.

They started out with a clear use case: help people learn a new language so they can get a better job.

In 2014 they took it a step further and launched a test centre so users could receive an official English certification. Duolingo’s growth skyrocketed.

Why are we telling you this? Because knowing how to motivate customers leads to record-breaking sales.

Let’s explore motivation…

This post is sponsored by Black Crow AI and UNIGNORABLE ❤️

Imagine this…

You get an unusual request from one of your best customers.

They want you to build a bespoke solution *just for them* and deliver it in 30 days.

It’s a BIG ask.

Technically what they’re asking for could be done. But it will take extra work on your end to pull it off.

You’re already contemplating how to politely refuse their request…

Then you read the last few lines in their email:

“If you can get this done for us, we’ll TRIPLE our monthly spend. And I’ll recommend you to my business partners. They need this solution too and they’ll spend an additional $1M on top of what we’re spending.”

Holy sh*t—THIS could be the big break you’ve been waiting for.

You’ve felt pretty burned out lately. Locking in a few more big customers would allow you to grow the team.

And with a few extra hands on deck, you could finally step back from the day-to-day grind and take a long overdue vacation.

Before you know it you’re daydreaming about sitting on a sunny beach with a mojito in hand.

How motivated do you feel to get the project done now?

In today’s edition of Why We Buy 🧠 we’ll explore Expectancy Theory—why our motivation is driven by desired rewards and our likelihood of getting them.

Let’s get into it.

The Psychology of Expectancy Theory 🧠

Every time you make a decision you’re making a tiny prediction in your brain about the future.

You’re asking yourself: if I put in the effort today, how likely am I to get a valuable reward?

If you believe the reward is valuable and you’re likely to get it, you’ll feel more motivated to take action.

Victor H. Vroom, an organizational psychologist and motivation expert, pioneered expectancy theory.

He found that motivation is influenced by 3 factors:

  1. The expectation that the goal can be achieved
  2. The belief that achieving the goal will lead to a reward
  3. The value of the reward to the individual

As Vroom says:

“Motivation depends on how much we want something and how likely we think we are to get it.”

What does that mean for marketers like us?

If you sell a product or service that requires buyers to put in effort to get a result—think education products, setting up software, personal services (ie. gym membership), etc.—and you want more people to hit that big ol’ buy button…

You need to MOTIVATE people.

That’s why smart marketers don’t sell the product itself—they sell the desired rewards the product enables and use real success stories to show what’s possible.

How To Apply This 🤑

Alright, so how can we apply this right now to sell more?


Speak to your buyer’s *deeper* desires

On paper, Airbnb is a terrible idea.

Let total strangers stay in your home for a fee? That sounds crazy, right?

But it works. It reaaaalllyy works (we’re talking $9.6 billion in revenue in 2023 alone).

To get people to overcome their very normal fears and risk renting out their home, Airbnb taps into their deeper desires.

They don’t just promise to help the host make more money. They show hosts what they can do with their extra income with billboard ads like this one:

This ad shows prospective hosts the life they really want—one of ‘non-stop adventures’. So good 👏


Make the rewards interactive

Here’s a stat that will knock your socks off. Research shows that 48% of customers who visit Starbucks regularly use their loyalty app, Starbucks Rewards.

Why is that *sooooo* important?

Because Starbucks uses the expectancy theory to their advantage.

A buyer earns stars with every purchase–which can be redeemed later for a reward.

It creates the expectation that continued purchasing will lead to continued rewards, meaning people keep buying. Smart, huh?


Use relatable success stories to inspire action

Remember: to feel motivated to take action, people need to believe that if they put in the effort they’re likely to get a desirable reward.

This is why sharing success stories from relatable people is so darn persuasive.

You could share your own story of how you overcame the same obstacles your ideal customers face to achieve an outcome they care about (like Neal O’Grady did in his LinkedIn post last time we ran a cohort of UNIGNORABLE).

Or you could share customer success stories showing what’s possible, like this testimonial from Sarah Hart, an UNIGNORABLE alum.

Peppering your promotional materials with relatable stories helps prospects believe success is possible for them too, which is highly motivating.

(If you’re an entrepreneur who wants to build an audience of future buyers, check out more stories from UNIGNORABLE alumni here)

The Short of It 💥

We all want to sell more stuff. But it’s easy to forget that people must feel motivated before they’re ready to buy.

If you want to sell more stuff, assess the effort and reward equation in your business

Ask yourself: What do my potential customers need to know in order to believe they’ll get a meaningful payoff?

Optimize there.

Until next time, happy selling.

🐦 Your Brainy Tweetable

Great marketers understand *what* motivates potential consumers to buy…

And then persuades them by showing *them* what life would look like on the other side of their purchase.

Remember: *your* product is the ticket to a better version of themselves.

Tweet this now >



Wanna really get inside your buyer’s head?

When you’re ready, there are a few ways we can help:

Written By Katelyn

Katelyn Bourgoin is the CEO of Customer Camp, a 4X founder, and a cheese lover. She lives by a simple mantra: whoever gets closer to the customer wins.

Related Posts



Let’s explore Tinder—the $42 billion giant that revolutionized dating for a generation.

Messenger Effect

Messenger Effect

Let’s explore the Messenger Effect—why we’re more likely to pay attention to a message when someone we trust delivers it.



Let’s explore LEGO— the Denmark toy company that became the largest toy seller in the world.

Dunning-Kruger Effect

Dunning-Kruger Effect

Let’s explore the Dunning-Kruger Effect—why we tend to overestimate our competence when taking on new tasks.


Let’s explore Framing—why we’re influenced by the way information is presented.



Let’s explore Scarcity—why we want something more when there’s less of it.

Fresh Start Effect

Fresh Start Effect

Let’s explore the Fresh Start Effect—why we have more motivation to start a new habit at the beginning of a new time period.



Let’s explore Reciprocity—why we feel compelled to return favors.

Blemishing Effect

Blemishing Effect

Let’s explore the Blemishing Effect—why we are more likely to believe positive information when a little negative information is added into the mix.





Wanna get inside your buyer’s head? Join our newsletter and get one customer psychology tip delivered straight to your inbox each week. It’s like a 2-min workout for your brain.

You're in. Giddy up! 🤠

Become the go-to customer EXPERT

If you can figure out what makes people tick, click and buy, you can make bank

We’re often asked if we offer a certification program teaching our in-depth research methods. The answer is… not yet. But we’re working on it.

Want first dibs when we launch our new certification program? Jump on the waitlist.

You're in. Giddy up 🤠


Wanna get inside your buyer’s head? Join our newsletter and get one buyer psychology tip delivered to your inbox each week. It’s like a 2-min workout for your brain.

You're in!


If you can figure out what makes people tick, click and buy, you can make big $$$. We're working on a new research certification program. Want first dibs when we launch it? Hop on the waitlist.

You're in!


Wanna get the buyer insights you need from key stakeholders (and look like a boss)? Our new Stakeholder Mining Kick-off Session training is coming soon. Join the waitlist to get first dibs.

You're on the waitlist! We'll reach out soon!


Wanna get the buyer insights you need from key stakeholders (and look like a boss)? Our new Stakeholder Mining Kick-off Session training is coming soon. Join the waitlist to get first dibs.

You're in!