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Marketing 360® Blog

How to Use Status Roles in Your Marketing (This is a Powerful Motivational Tactic)

There are a number of basic emotional triggers marketers use to get people’s attention and motivate action.

One of the best known is fear.

Fear is a powerful motivator that when triggered, motivates people to act.  It’s generally understood that people are more motivated to avoid loss than they are to position themselves to gain.

Dr. Robert Cialdini, in his classic book Influence, outlined six universals that guide human behavior.  He discusses how these can be used to influence and persuade people to act in a certain way.  These include:

However, it may be that there is an even more important – and fundamental – motivator and guide for human behavior:  Status roles.

In this post, we’ll focus in on how marketers can tap into status roles to motivate their audiences, and discuss how in many ways, status is the most influential motivator of them all.


The Underlying Power of Status Roles

What’s remarkable about status roles is how they underlie so many other emotional and behavioral triggers marketers focus on.

Often when we think of consumer status we think of luxury.  The Rolex wearing Porsche driver.  Glass of Chateau Patrice ’93 then strolling Rodeo Drive with a Birkin bag.  There is only one reason to own this:

status toilet


But the need for status drives competitiveness, ambition, envy, sanctimony.  It engenders fear (of having lower status), and is a source of pride (when you have higher status).

In other words, status motivates a lot of human behavior.  Much of what we define as success has to do with status.  It’s natural to feel better about yourself when you think your life is exceptional – that you’re a cut above.

Status roles fundamentally guide the way we compare ourselves to other people.  Those comparisons are the basis of why people want many products and services.

Luxury items are just the start.

  • Why do people really hire lawn care services?  Because they want the best looking lawn on the block.  Status.
  • Why get the newest mobile phone every time it comes out?  So you have the best phone available at that moment (better than all your friends).  Status.
  • Why pay more to go to a private school or prestigious university?  Because your future will look brighter than those who don’t.  Status.
  • Why post images on Instagram of the fine-dining meal you’re eating?  Status.
  • Why buck convention and choose an alternative lifestyle?  Pay for an expensive hairstyle?  Compete to win games where there is no prize other than winning?
  • Status, status, status.

I have friends who drink Keystone Light, one of the cheapest beers you can get.  They hold beer “snobs” who only drink craft micro-brews in disdain.  They don’t know what Chateau Patrice is, and they don’t want to know.

They could afford more expensive beer, but choose to drink something distinctly low-brow.  Why?

Becuase they take pride in being down-to-earth, unpretentious, and immune to trends.



Status Roles Are Natural

Status roles are so predominate because they are part of our nature.

Status exists in nature.  It organizes the tribe.  It’s fundamental to leadership and hierarchy.  You must have a certain status to lead.

Across the animal kingdom, we see status at work as the strongest position themselves advantageously to reproduce.  In the survival of the fittest, the fittest maintain status.

This brings up another of the huge motivators marketers tap into.  Sex sells, and the way we position ourselves to win sexual partners has a great deal to do with status roles.

Consider this truck commercial:

This commercial is all about status.  The wimp in the sedan has none.  Defeated and followed by insipid ballads, he’s virtually emasculated.

The guy leaving work is brimming with confidence.  Women notice him, hard-rock anthems follow him around.

The ad couples high status and sexuality with owning a Chevy truck.  Like the lion leading the pride, this guy has got it.



Give Your Marketing Some Status

There is a clear stategy element to this:

If you want to get people to spend money on your offer, inject status elements into your marketing and advertising.

Status roles in the animal kingdom relate to survival and evolution.  But in people, the perception of status connects to powerful emotions.

In fact, when you scrutinize the marketing material of most major brands, you realize that status elements are almost ubiquitous.

He went to Jared?


Mac vs PC?

status ad


Your happy family that actually eats dinner together?


Status is a particularly effective element to put into advertisements for two reasons.

The first is that it tends to be subtle.  The Jared and Chevy commercial are more overt, but the Mac and Coke commercials are only suggestive of how you gain status by using the product.  It’s possible to craft this into your message in subtle but effective ways.

The other reason is that to at least a certain degree, everyone is influenced by status.  It is, as we discussed, part of our nature.  Some people may be meek, self-effacing and non-competitive, but nobody wants to be at the bottom of the totem pole.  That’s a dangerous position where you don’t eat or mate.

We compare ourselves to others.  We enjoy recognition when we do something well.  We get an adrenaline rush when we feel we’re superior to someone else.

And though we may fight it, we all experience schadenfreude, which a feeling of pleasure and self-satisfaction we get when witnessing the failures or troubles of others.  We feel this because their status is being lowered, which means ours is rising.  We’re glad not to be the person whose status role is diminished.

Looking for a way to make your value proposition more enticing?  Need to craft more compelling copy?  Need a theme for video promotion?

We got one word for you…


Seth Godin discusses this in-depth in his podcast.  If you have about 20 minutes (later part is Q&A), it’s worth listening to.