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    on December 03, 2021 Consumer Psychology

    The impact of consumer rewards on the human brain

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    A golden star on a homework assignment, a cold ice cream after a basketball game — humans are no strangers to rewards and incentives.

    The fact is, we wouldn’t want to be. Humans love rewards. So much so, that we even have a section of our brain known as the mesolimbic dopamine pathway that is dedicated to powering off feelings of satisfaction when we encounter rewards! We call it the brain reward system for short. 

    As a marketer, you shouldn’t want to be strangers to rewards either. After all, they can help shape a consumer’s journey in your favor. Here’s what you need to know: 

    The science behind brand incentives that work 

    Earning a prize stimulates certain areas of our brain that releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter or brain chemical that produces positive emotions. (Side note: This is also critical in creating joyful experiences for consumers if you want to influence their decision-making).

    Dopamine can come about in two instances: at the point of earning a reward and in anticipation of the reward. A common psychological principle, anticipation is a powerful motivator for action that can be used in marketing efforts to influence forward movement in consumers. 

    Rewards are a great catalyst for promoting anticipation and motivation within customers. Psychologists credit the Incentive Theory as the cause. The Incentive Theory is the belief that people are motivated to perform certain actions in hopes that they’ll receive an incentive or reward in the future. 

    The types of brand incentives that don’t work

    You should be aware that there is a catch to brand rewards — they only work if they are of value to your consumers. As with any other brand-related manner, your rewards must cater to your customers if your goal is to gain their attention. 

    Similar to how you wouldn’t send your customers messages about upcoming promotions in your menswear line if they’ve expressed interest in women’s apparel, you shouldn’t try and incentivize them with rewards that aren’t in line with their interests. 

    You want your customers to have confidence that you understand their needs and can provide them with resources that will help them on their journey. Offering lackluster incentives will only turn them away from your brand, especially when there are so many other brands promoting their own products and incentives. 

    Not only will you lead customers into the metaphorical arms of another brand if your incentives are poor, but you could even run the risk of losing their interest completely if you don’t have any incentives for them to look forward to! As we mentioned before, consumers have to see some sort of value in your proposal for them to be motivated to move forward. 

    In the case that your incentives work, and inspire a rush of exhilaration or dopamine, humans can’t help but want to experience them again. What does this mean for your brand? If you agree with the Incentive Theory, it means that consumers will regularly find themselves engaging in your activations in pursuit of a reward. 

    Incentives are a psychological force, and they can have significant benefits on your business practices if you use them wisely. 


    Lindsay Keener

    Lindsay Keener is a brand journalist for Quikly. She covers stories that help to inform and educate consumer-facing marketers.