What is Autonomy?
Autonomy is a human need identified by psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan in their Intrinsic Motivation and Self-Determination in Human Behaviour (1985). Also described as “Self-determination,” autonomy describes an individual’s ability to shape their own circumstances. Most people feel a strong desire to be in control of their lives and will make choices that preserve this control.
A high level of perceived autonomy comes with feelings of certainty, reduced stress and a high level of ‘intrinsic motivation.’ Restrictions on an individual’s autonomy can lead to dissatisfaction and an unwillingness to comply.
One of the most obvious applications of our need for autonomy is removing design features or marketing strategies that attempt to restrict customer choices unfairly. For example, offering fair opt-out mechanisms is an essential part of a subscription service. Not only will customers appreciate the option, but it will improve their overall perception of the service itself.
Autonomy is also a major theme in the messaging used in adverts. Brands often present their products as ways for us to take or regain control over our lives. The gold-standard for using Autonomy in advertising is the slogan adopted by Nike to selling sports clothing: “Just Do It.”
Digital marketers should be aware of the general preference for self-determination. Marketing campaigns, product design and messaging should preserve (and highlight) a customer’s control over their circumstances.