Empathy + attendance

5-7 min read

Illustration by Niallycat

Fact: Live Experiences require high levels of motivation.  

Normally you have to spend a lot of time and energy travelling, interacting and engaging on physical and social levels.  All of which takes a fair bit of cognitive work, social pain and calories burnt – clear enemies of our evolutionary wiring.  

In the theoretical rule book, where we find high levels of effort, we also find high levels of motivation. This is the working theory within behavioural science and its models of behavioural change. Multiple models are available, but Bri Williams & BJ Fogg lead the way. They suggest that to get someone to act, it is a question of motivation vs ability or reward vs effort. Picture it working like a see-saw, or if you like science use Fogg’s BMAP model (Behaviour = Motivation x Ability x Prompts)below.

For me, instigating high levels of motivation is about closing the empathy gap. Or in other words, knowing your target audience extremely well. I don’t mean learning their preferences likes their choice between Nike or Adidas (these may help a smidge), I mean knowing the high-level goals, the stuff you talk about on your death bed, the “I’ll always treasure” or “I wish I did more of…”that’s what you want to tap in to.  

To do this, you can ask people but they often don’t know themselves; they might try to offer a rational explanation, but it’s often too basic and can direct you down the wrong path. You’ll need to empathise and dig deeper, as Rory Sutherland puts it, you need to understand the irrational psychologic or the real why?

This requires the mentalising system, the part of the brain we use to understand the emotions of others as well as their implicit and explicit goals. Phil Barden’s book ‘Decoded’, links goal-based valuation as the deeper reasons behind our consumer actions.

"Goal-based valuation is the most sophisticated level of value in the human brain"
phil Barden, Decoded

The concept: the higher the relevance to whatever your active goal is, the higher the expected reward is; therefore, you will endure more or likewise, pay more to reach it.  

We have multiple goals daily, the one we prioritise in the immediate is based on context. These goals, therefore, influence our attention, suggesting we actively seek out the most relevant markers of what will fulfil that goal.   

Barden explains it like this: We want to purchase a car because we want to drive from A to B (explicit) and we choose a Porsche because we want excitement and to showoff (implicit).  

These goals will change depending on the nuances of your specific target markets, hence the need for empathy to realise a primary motivator. To help define their implicit goals, he has grouped them into six motivational territories:

  • Security: Care, trust, closeness, security, warmth
  • Enjoyment: Relaxation, pleasure, openness
  • Excitement: Vitality, fun, curiosity, creativity, change
  • Adventure: Freedom, courage, rebellion, discovery, risk
  • Autonomy: Pride, success, power, superiority, recognition
  • Discipline: Precision, order, logic, reason

Putting this into context….

Within Experiential, this makes a lot of sense as the strategy 9 times out of 10, is to determine what goals the specific the product and brand relate to, and then deliver an experience that embodies these values.  All fine and dandy… as long as you’ve got the (over-claimed) mythic & rare ‘Guaranteed footfall’.  

For most of us, getting people in is half the job. So, in the context of attendance being the desired behaviour, it’s worth considering these following factors working for you or against you, as these will influence your prompts:

Experience proposition(linking to implicit & explicit goal-value)
Brand +product perception
Social Norms i.e. Common practice in the social group
Social Proof i.e. Ques
Reciprocation i.e. because you were invited
Context i.e. bored in a shopping centre  

Location/Ease of access Price/Cost(time or money)
Physical output
Social interactions

For example, in the context of brand hospitality at a prestigious sporting event, the attendance of your key decision maker will likely link to a larger goal of Autonomy (Superiority).By being invited they might feel the need to reciprocate and attend. A result of you demonstrating a willingness to invest in them, however, the more seasoned customer will need further prompts that nudge them to accept. These might include teasers promising excitement, reduced social fear because they can now bring several friends or increasing simplicity by having all transfers included.   

In summary, make it simple, remove as many barriers as possible so it’s easy for the right target market to attend. Develop an experience that appeals to the high-level goals of the target market. Then you increase the likelihood of attendance by offering prompts likes nudges and markers that communicate the proposition/s, increase desirability and offer a 'Call to Adventure'.


  • Events require high levels of motivation to attend
  • Tap in to individuals' goals to influence action
  • Try to focus on their implicit goals to create resonance
  • Engage your mentalising system and empathise with the individual to understand these goals
  • Consider making it easy to attend if motivation won't be high enough
  • Use prompts to cause immediate action