This or That: Purpose or Tangible Benefits?

This or That: Purpose or Tangible Benefits?

This or That:  The Motivators Edition

In this series, we’re exploring why one motivator may work better than another to spark action in a specific behavior change scenario.

Missed the first two? Catch up here and here.

Scenario 3: Reducing Food Waste

The behavior change goal: We want household members to produce the least amount of food waste possible through meal planning, efficient grocery shopping, and effective food storage.

Conservation benefit: Food is one of the largest streams of materials households throw away on a regular basis. Once wasted food reaches landfills, it produces methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Since food is discarded in plastic trash bags, it cannot provide nutrients back to the soil once it’s in a landfill.

Learn more about the implications of global food waste here.

Target audience: Households that buy perishable foods (produce, meat, take-out, etc.) on a consistent basis. This includes single-person households and families.

Audience members are aware of climate concerns but sustainability is not top-of-mind for them; therefore, they do not take proactive steps to reduce the environmental impacts of their household. However, they do feel frustrated at the amount of food they have to throw away and buy again.

Deterrents: What can make the action of reducing food waste difficult for this audience to do?

» It’s a hassle. Grocery shopping and putting the groceries away is a chore; one that most people try to do as quickly as possible so they can move on to more interesting things. Meal planning and effective food storage require spending more effort and time on this chore, which is a hassle!

» They’re busy (but ambitious). Meatless Monday! Taco Tuesday! Frittata Friday! We often grocery shop with grand plans in mind, but then… life gets in the way. Produce starts to wilt, leftovers get left behind, and impulse purchases increase. By the end of the week, our audience’s dinner plans end up in the trash bin.

» Lack of skills. Making food last as long as possible requires learning a new set of skills, and even unlearning things our parents taught us. Many audience members don’t take these steps now because they don’t know how to and will need to be taught new techniques. Unfortunately, they’re also busy and may not be interested in learning new skills!

There are other possible deterrents for this scenario, but let’s stick to these three for the exercise.

Let’s meet our motivators:


How it works: People are more likely to act when they feel they’re part of something bigger than themselves and are a contributing factor towards achieving a goal.

How we could use it here: We can connect the individual actions of reducing food waste to the larger movement of reducing climate change, highlighting how shopping and storing smarter is an important piece of the mission. This could increase the time, attention, and effort they’re willing to allocate to meal planning.


How it works: Receiving a measurable, tangible reward for doing the desired behavior provides an incentive to try something new and encouragement to do it again.

How we could use it here:
It will be hard for us to know when/if the audience does meal planning and proper food storage, which makes offering a direct reward challenging. Instead, we could highlight a benefit they receive from doing the desired behavior, such as saving money by not throwing away food they paid for.

In this scenario, using the purpose motivator would look something like this:

Screenshot of home page

The positioning of the Save The Food communication effort focuses on the need for consumers to take action, make a change, and save food from being wasted. You can see, and feel, how they tap into our sense of purpose with the line, “we can do something about it” and empowers us with “everything we need is right here.”

It gives the audience a feeling of LET’S DO THIS!

In comparison, the tangible benefits motivator would look like this:

Homepage of Wasted Food Stops With Us

The Wasted Food Stops With Us approach emphasizes a primary tangible benefit for stopping food waste: they save money!

Additional tangible benefits are provided here as well, such as getting maximum taste and freshness from the food you buy. This message also highlights that the audience will need to learn new skills and make “simple changes” to stop food waste.

Which would you choose to get this target audience to reduce food waste at home: this or that???

Take note, I made that question specific in a different way than last time. I’m trying to keep you on your toes!!!

I’m going with…tangible benefits

I suspect some of you may be disappointed in this choice since the purpose motivator felt so good.

I get it. The rallying cry of “save the food!” feels exciting, inspiring, motivating, and very “on brand” for the work we do.

But this motivator won’t work for everyone.

In this scenario, the target audience is concerned about climate change (per Global Warming’s Six Americas segmentation) but is not actively making lifestyle changes to reduce their household footprints.

They have other things on their minds. This means they will likely ignore messages that aim to amp them up about taking action towards reducing climate change.

Instead, we need to focus on other benefits of taking action. Ones that are more personally meaningful for the audience, like saving money and using all the food they paid for. 

Remember, our why isn’t their why.

While this approach may seem a little less exciting for us, it gets the job done.

It piques the interest of the audience, helps them identify easy (yet impactful) changes they can adopt right away, and starts them on a journey of reducing food waste.

Some assembly required

A tough part about this behavior change scenario is the fact that our audience needs to build a new set of skills.

While our tangible benefits motivator can get them started on the journey, they won’t be successful without learning and applying new techniques for meal planning, shopping, storing, and cooking.

Therefore, it’s important for this outreach effort to include easy-to-use tools, templates, and tutorials that support the audience in making this change.

Thankfully, both campaigns above fill this gap with interesting resources. Check them out by clicking the images below.

From ask Alexa to help you store and save food.
YouTube screenshot of storing food properly in the fridge
From video with tips on storing food in your fridge to last longer.
Meal Planner and Shopping List resource
Use this template to plan your meals and shop more efficiently to reduce food waste.
IG tip on food lasting longer than we think
Get tips like these on how to store, preserve, and use the food we have.

I hope you enjoyed the third installment of This or That: The Motivators Edition.

→ next up: should we use self-efficacy or fun to do?


Fun Fact: The Hamilton County R3source team originally ran the Save the Food campaign locally, but found that it was not leading to changes in household behaviors even though it had raised knowledge levels.

After joining the Making Moves course, the team developed a new behavior change strategy and recently launched the Wasted Food Stops with Us campaign to close the awareness-action gap.

Making Moves alumni received a sneak peek into the campaign development process last year during our members-only webinar series.

Join the course to join all the fun!