Great products turn motivation into capability

Examining a user’s motivations at the entry point of every major feature in a product and matching the product to this motivation is key to building a great product users love.

BJ Fogg’s Behavior Model Theory is a succinct summary of this idea in a formula:

Motivation + Trigger + Ability = Behavior

This model says that a user will perform a behavior when given the means, the motive, and the opportunity. The user brings motivation, but it’s the responsibility of the product to trigger a behavior and offer an intuitive experience to complete it.

Users' motivation varies. In ecommerce, sometimes users are very motivated: I need to buy a last minute gift for my wedding anniversary. Sometimes users are lackadaisical: I’m just browsing.

But, the most effective products match a user’s changing motivation to the friction of the task. For example, Amazon asks customers to fill out credit card information only after after adding items to a shopping cart.

It’s one thing to do this in a single user flow like purchasing. But the very best products chain these behaviors together. They intake user motivation, trigger and entice a user to perform behaviors over and over again deepening the user’s ability to use the product and driving engagement.

Facebook is a great example. First, Facebook asks you to create a profile of yourself online, using vanity as a motivator. Then they ask you to visit the profile of your friends, using curiosity as a motivator. Next they ask you to connect to your friends to increase your perceived popularity, again using vanity. And so on with photos, groups, and applications.

Integrating this philosophy into product development is a challenge, but the results will speak for themselves.

Published 2012-10-23 in Product 


I'm a partner at Redpoint. I invest in Series A and B SaaS companies. I write daily, data-driven blog posts about key questions facing startups. I co-authored the book, Winning with Data. Join more than 18,000 others receiving these blog posts by email.

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