The Latest Neuromarketing Insights

How Small Rewards Make Your Customers Buy over and over Again

Relevant topics Archive, Conversion

  • Neuromarketing Principle:
    Instant pleasure increases the pursuit of a long-term goal
  • Application:
    Increase long-term commitment from customers by using immediate rewards
  • We all know that wonderful feeling we get after eating some delicious food, receiving a massage, or getting a present. But what we tend to forget, is that these pleasurable moments of instant gratification actually help us reach our long-term goals! Now, there’s some interesting news for you marketeers.

    Even though we are taught to always keep our goal in mind and to not get too distracted by things along the way, recent findings suggest that we should actually give more attention to the rewards we get in the spur of the moment. It turns out that immediate rewards make people persist harder in attaining their long-term goals. Researchers claim that we are so focused on achieving our goals (in the future) that we almost forget the importance of immediate positive feelings. Makes sense right? Of course, it is easier to keep up hard work if you get a pleasant reward every now and then.

    Why Long Term Goals are Overrated

    Let’s take a look at Robert – just a regular guy from your gym – who lately has been working out like crazy. He wants to lose some extra pounds to get beach ready this summer. But sometimes, Robert finds it hard to motivate himself, especially after a stressy day at work.

    So how do you motivate Robert? Most people would place their bet on this classic motivation talk: “just think about all the weight you will lose and how good you will look in summer” (delayed reward). But actually, you don’t need to tell Robert that he will lose weight. He knows damn well he’s losing weight. What he needs to persist is an immediate reward: “When you go to the gym now, you can clear your mind from all that stress you had in the office.”

    Immediate Rewards in Marketing

    So how can we translate the power of immediate reward to effective neuromarketing? For starters, one could device advertising messages and even entire products around the allure of short-term rewards.

    Let’s stick with Robert and his pursuit for the perfect-summer-six-pack-body. We could motivate him with small rewards that pop up every now and then in his daily live. For example, a jogging app or podcast on his smartphone that generates immediate compliments and tips (e.g. Belgium Evy podcast). Or advertisements of healthy food that focus on the delicious taste as well, or receiving a small bonus every time you enter the gym.

    In short: don’t just focus on the long term. But bring in – and bring attention to – immediate rewards.


    It is important to note that marketers should not lose the delayed reward out of sight when communicating with an audience. Rewards matter – both on the short and long term. Direct gratification is not superior over delayed rewards (i.e. achieving the goal), but they do keep people on track while pursuing their global goals.

    Instant rewards in ecommerce and online marketing

    The application of instant rewards may be a powerful conversion booster in online ecommerce. As online shopping provides ample opportunities for a subtle pat on the back of your customers, it’s interesting to explore how these science based techniques can be implemented in your online store.

    Usually, online marketeers focus on delayed rewards, like a voucher spendable at a later purchase. While a great gesture, it leaves a major portion of reward power unused! Your customers want to feel a pinch of gratification right now – even before they choose to buy your product.

    Let’s say you own an online store. How might small rewards improve your customers’ engagement and make them feel connected to the shop and your products? There are many ways the stimulate the small steps on road to purchase with positive reinforcement:

    • Congratulate your customer directly after adding an item to basket: “Great choice”
    • Confirm the product with a checkmark after adding it to the shopping basket
    • On product category pages: list top products with a thumbs up (visually reinforcing the browsing of the category)
    • On the product page: highlight something positive of the user visiting the product page right now (“Great news! If you order now, you’ll receive your item tomorrow”)
    • During and after checkout: keep your customer updated about the process with cool animations showing how the item is being gift-wrapped, send to their address etc
    • Highlight the fun and rewarding in every step!

    So in short, remember that immediate rewards and delayed rewards are both important to capture the hearts of your target market. But it’s easy to overlook the often-simple rewards you can provide right now that make your customers lifelong loyal customers in the future.

    Want to grow steady into the future? Dare to think short-term.

  • How Small Rewards Make Your Customers Buy over and over Again
  • Reference:

    Woolley, K., & Fishbach, A. (2016). For the Fun of It: Harnessing Immediate Rewards to Increase Persistence in Long-Term Goals. Journal of Consumer Research, 42(6), 952-966.


    Further Reading

    • Product or Price first? How Order Increases Sales

      Product or Price first? How Order Increases Sales

      Imagine walking into a clothing store and the first thing you see is a rack of jeans clearly labeled “€49.99”. With this price in mind, you start looking at the different jeans. As you scavenge those denims, you might find something you like.

      Now let's look at a different scenario: imagine walking past a display where you see a pair of jeans. When you walk over to take a closer look, you see that it says “€49.99” on the tag. Will you go in and look for the pair of jeans?

      In both cases, the denims and importantly, the price are the same (e.g., you have the same kind of information). However, depending on which one you see first, will you make the same kind of decision? 

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