mwotw triggers


We humans don’t do much unless we’re prompted.

It’s not exactly laziness — it’s physics. 

As in, inertia: “A body remains at rest, or in motion at a constant speed in a straight line, unless acted upon by a force.” (Newton’s First Law)

If you’re trying to sell things to humans, this is an important factor to keep in mind. 

In StoryBrand world, we emphasize The Problem your customers are facing, and how important it is to keep talking about this problem in your marketing.

But simply having a problem isn’t always enough to prompt a lazy inertia-filled human to take action.

For example, I once let the battery in my car key die, and then didn’t fix it for MONTHS.

It was annoying, totally.

But somehow less annoying than the prospect of opening the key, figuring out what kind of battery it needed, getting that battery, and figuring out how to put it all back together.

When did I finally solve this problem?

When I was getting ready to sell the car.

It took me all of 10 minutes.

And once I was done, I was befuddled and vexed by my own choice not to fix it earlier.

Here’s the thing: “A dead car key battery” was my PROBLEM.

But until “selling the car” entered the picture as a TRIGGER, I wasn’t ready to take action to solve that problem. 

According to one of my favorite marketing thought leaders, Louis Grenier, triggers “are probably the most overlooked aspect of marketing and customer research in general, and they are the key to continuously reaching customers the most effectively where the demand actually starts.”

Know what triggers people to buy your product, and you can craft your message with precision and place it in the perfect place. 

If I was selling car key batteries (and using my anecdote as valid market research 😜), I might think I should target “people with a dead car key battery,” and not realize I might do even better to target “people who are selling their cars.” (Or both. We could do both. Not everyone is as lazy inert as me.)

I could place ads on the Kelley Blue Book website so when people look up the value of the car before selling it, they get reminded to order a car key battery. Etc.

Good referral partnerships often work via the magic of triggers.

It’s why my estate attorney client gets so much of his business from financial planners: Financial planning is a trigger for realizing you need a better estate plan. 

So how do you find these magical triggers?

Back to Louis for some great advice:

Looking at reviews is a very good way to find triggers.  It doesn’t have to be your own.  It could be your competitors’. People will leave reviews like, “I was in that situation and therefore this is what I did.” They will describe the trigger that way.

You can look at communities and forums. You can send surveys. You can run customer interviews.

You can also observe human behavior to understand general triggers. For example, pregnancy is a massive trigger. My wife’s pregnancy triggered us to buy a whole lot of stuff. Moving house is another example. Changing decades in your age to your thirties, forties, fifties is a superficial but also a very potent trigger.”

So what triggers people into realizing they need your service? 

It might be more complex than just “having the problem.”

Serenely (definitely not triggered!),


PS – A little bonus 3-step plan from Louis about how to target your marketing using Triggers:

  1. Identify the biggest thing that triggers people to think about your product/service category
  2. Reach people at that moment to associate that trigger with your business in particular
  3. Repeat again and again so that when people experience the trigger, they are conditioned to think of you first

This post was originally sent as an email to the Magic Words of the Week newsletter list. Every week, I share reflections on a word, quote, or phrase I think will help you thrive in your life’s work.

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