The following is adapted from Marketing to Mindstates by Will Leach.


As a marketer, your first job is to understand the goals of your consumer.


Why? Because goals direct all actions and behaviors. A goal reveals the discrepancy between where the consumer is now and where they want to be.

In trigger point moments where a decision must be made, goals direct our desires, which dictate our behaviors. The famous Austrian psychologist Alfred Adler once wrote, “We cannot think, feel, or act without the perception of some goal.”


If you’re hungry, your goal might be lunch. If you’re driving, the goal might be a good parking spot. If you’re exhausted after a long workday, the goal is probably a nap.


Let’s look at what marketers need to understand about consumer goals to connect with them, then discuss strategies for marketing to conscious and nonconscious goals.

Seeking Out Higher-Order, Aspirational Goals

The first thing marketers need to understand is that there are two different types of goals. As a general rule, goals occur on a spectrum between functional and higher-order.


Functional goals are typically more conscious goals such as the ones on our shopping list or to-do list. We don’t tend to assign much emotion to them.


Higher-order, aspirational goals are much more emotional and tap more directly into the key needs and desires of our hearts. These provide an elevated purpose or emotional end state and create stronger reasons to act in our lives.

As a marketer, you should strive to target and serve people’s higher-order goals. This will create stronger emotional connections between your brand and the consumer.


Goals are constantly competing against each other for focus and attention, and certain goals rise to the top. In life, emotional goals almost always take precedence over functional goals. We find passion when we find higher-order goals.

Smiling african business man look away dreaming working on laptop

How Do Consumers Choose a Goal to Act On?

Consumers act on goals based on the perceived suitability of that goal in their current situation. Any situation will make some goals more important than others, and the goal perceived to be most suitable in the moment of decision making will be the winner.


As a marketer, ask yourself, “What are the common, higher-order goals associated with my brand or category? How can we make these goals top of mind in consumers?”


To act on a goal, consumers don’t have to be conscious of it. In fact, consumers aren’t consciously aware of their goals most of the time they’re taking action. They just push toward their goal through nonconscious decisions and purchase behaviors.


As a marketer, your marketing creative should focus on marketing to aspirational goals.


How do you do that? Goal activation.


Goal activation means bringing the consumer’s key goals to mind. This can be done by reminding people of their higher-order, aspirational goals and why they’re important.

Every purchase decision is an action toward a goal, so goals matter in marketing.

Longest light ladder glowing and aiming high to goal target among other short ladders on green background with shadows

Marketing to Different Types of Goals

As a marketer, you want to show how your brand can help people reach their goals, especially the higher-order, aspirational goals. But how do you actually do that?


When marketing to functional, conscious goals, you should look at your customers’ lives to determine if and when they’re making decisions consciously.


Although many decisions are made unconsciously, some are not. When people are close to a deadline, they’re often consciously trying to reach their goal.


There’s no doubt that people do go after goals consciously, and marketers can meet them there. In that type of moment, a functional marketing message could work well: “Our product will help you meet your work deadlines.”


You can also use your content strategy to activate the deeper, nonconscious goal.


Perhaps you’re a shoe brand, and you know your consumers typically go to a sporting goods store to buy things other than shoes. But as one man passes the running shoe aisle, he sees your brand’s messaging: a photo of a marathoner in your shoes.


He isn’t consciously pursuing a goal of buying shoes. But nonconsciously, he’s reminded of another goal he has to get in better shape and run a marathon. He wants to earn the badge of respect that comes with completing a marathon.


Young people encouraging runners at finish line

The nonconscious activation then shifts the goal and makes buying running shoes more important to him in that moment. Suddenly, he’s buying marathon essentials, but more importantly, he’s buying the feeling of accomplishment without knowing why.


This is a great example of how your marketing creative can activate any goal of interest. When a goal is activated, it becomes a primary interest for the consumer. Why does that matter? Because now, any creative relating to that goal will be more salient and effective.


In the massive amount of messaging clutter in a retail store, consumers will now pick up on their goal more easily. Your display and content strategy will be more meaningful, even nonconsciously. It will literally break through the clutter.

Learn How to Identify & Target Your Customers’ Goals in the Mindstate Marketing Workshop

Addressing your customers’ higher-order goals makes your creative more powerful. But if you don’t target the correct goals, you won’t see an increase in sales. To save time, money, and headaches on marketing creative that doesn’t work, you need to ensure you’re targeting the right goals every time.


Business people smiling during a meeting in office


So how do you identify your customers’ true higher-order goals?


Sign up for an upcoming Mindstate Marketing Workshop. This live workshop will teach you the science behind Marketing to Mindstates, the best way to determine your customers’ higher-order goals, and how to apply behavioral science and psychology to your content strategy so you get the results you’ve worked hard for.


We may not be able to control the amount of marketing messages our customers are subjected to every day, but with the right content strategy, we can ensure our creative stands out. Join my team in our next workshop, and let’s work together to fine-tune your marketing creative so you can stop wasting time and money on strategies that don’t make an impact.


Attend a Mindstate Marketing Workshop

Topics: Sales, Marketing, Motivation, Marketing Creative, Advertising Creative