Motivating Uncertainty Effect

Imagine this…

It’s Monday morning. You yawn open your laptop to check your email.

You groggily scan your inbox for priority messages while taking a big swig of coffee.

An email from your boss catches your eye.

The odd subject line, Fun idea…” makes you put down your mug.

You open the email. Your boss wants to run a friendly competition to see who can create the best ad for an upcoming launch.

Forget the caffeine. Now, you’re awake.

Your boss explains that the goal of this competition is to collect lots of different ideas.. The most out-of-the-box ad idea will win a reward.

You’re competitive by nature, so you’re already excited, but the last line of the email sends your motivation into overdrive.

It reads: “The winner will get a mystery prize.”

How do you feel at that moment?

In today’s edition of Why We Buy, we’re exploring the Motivating Uncertainty Effect – why unknown rewards pique our curiosity and drive motivation.

Let’s get into it…

“Top Marketing Newsletters You Need to Subscribe To”

The Psychology of Motivating Uncertainty Effect 🧠

A little mystery can be a powerful motivator.

In one study, researchers challenged college students to drink 1.4 liters of water through a straw in a limited amount of time. Students who were told they’d get a mystery reward were 62% more likely to complete the challenge than students who were told what the reward was in advance.

It may seem illogical, but new research finds that uncertainty is more powerful than certainty in boosting motivation towards a goal. Surprise rewards can make us work harder, spend more money, and enjoy the process more.

Mystery rewards make a pursuit feel more like a game and (most) people love games… 

But only at the right stage of the buying journey.

Inside Your Buyer’s Mind🧐

Your buyers are actually pretty keen on the unknown and will find themselves more motivated to get results of their purchase if there’s strategic uncertainty involved.

Think about it…

  • You can’t wait for your sweatshirt to get delivered because it’s coming with a mystery gift.
  • You’re rushing to finish setting up your SaaS account because you’ll get access to 5 secret templates if you complete the setup in the next 24 hours.
  • You’re stalking your inbox for the email from the community you just joined that’s hosting an AMA session with a surprise high-profile business expert.


Because people’s minds are wired for gamification. (Including the employees having fun ad competitions with mystery prizes.)

Offering uncertain reward can make the buying experience feel like a game.

Your buyers experience the childlike thrill of the unknown and excitedly pursue a goal entirely driven by the curiosity of finding out what the reward is.

How To Apply This 🤑

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

Run contests with a mystery prize

What’s your main business goal right now, and how can you turn it into a fun game with a mystery reward? From creating mystery prizes for employees to win to asking your customers to refer their friends and get a surprise gift—contests are an internal and external way of boosting your biz closer to those hard-to-reach goals.

Add free mystery gifts to carts

Use mystery gifts to decrease abandoned cart rates. Seek Discomfort used mystery gifts to help drive sales during their annual Seeker’s Day promotion. The mystery gift automatically appeared in the buyer’s cart as soon as they added a product making it tough for the buyers to walk away from the purchase.

Bonus tip: you can boost their curiosity by telling them what the gift is worth (ex. Refer your friends to subscribe to Why We Buy to win a Mystery Gift worth $1199! <– we actually did this with our own referral program)

Look for ways to gamify your promotions

If you shop online then you’ve likely come across a Spin to Win coupon wheel. Spinning wheels offering mystery prizes—from discounts to free products—can increase your website opt-in rate.

Spin to win wheels offer a gamified take on the usual “Give us your email in exchange for a 10% discount” strategy.

And Jungle Jim’s restaurant uses their Envelope of Fortune to encourage diners to come back again. Each group receives a sealed envelop at the end of their meal. If they return to the restaurant within a certain timeframe, they can open the envelop to see what prize they’ve won. Prizes range from a free appetizer to getting your whole meal free.

The Short of It 💥

Buyers want certainty that the product they’re buying is exactly as described. Once that’s confirmed, they want to have fun.

Creating uncertainty stimulates buyers by gamifying the experience. It gives them something extra to look forward to or work towards.

And, it keeps your brand top of mind as they continue to wonder, “What is the mystery gift?!”

Until next time, happy selling.




Wanna really get inside your buyer’s head?

There are a few ways I can help:

  1. Get explosive clarity about what works with buyers by learning how to conduct 1:1 Clarity Calls (2000+ happy students)
  2. *NEW* Learn how to mine online reviews from real buyers to generate ideas and copy that converts (250+ happy students)
  3. Book a 1:1 strategy call with Katelyn and get the answers you need to get unstuck and move forward with confidence

Thank you to our featured sponsors

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.

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