Marketing according to Maslow

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

I’m reading a book right now called Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath (great little book by the way) and came across an interesting part about psychology and what motivates people.

Remember back to high school or college when you studied Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?

And perhaps you thought “I’ll NEVER need this in REAL life!”

Well, not so.

It’s time to dust off those memories because as a business owner and marketer, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs has a direct connection to your ability to design marketing that works.

Read on for a refresher.

In 1954, a psychologist named Abraham Maslow surveyed research in psychology about what motivates people. Here’s what he found:

  • Transcendence: helping others realize their potential
  • Self-actualization: realizing our own potential
  • Aesthetic: symmetry, order, beauty, balance
  • Learning: knowing, understanding, mentally connecting
  • Esteem: Achievement, being competent, gaining approval, independence, status
  • Belonging: love, family, friends, affection
  • Security: protection, safety, stability
  • Physical: hunger, thirst, bodily comfort

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Maslow presented this list as a hierarchy of needs, or a “ladder,” stating that as humans it is our nature to satisfy our needs starting at the bottom and then moving up as our needs are fulfilled (i.e. we fulfill our physical needs first, and once those are taken care of we move up to security, and so on).

Well, according to the authors of Made to Stick subsequent research suggests this is not the case.

People actually pursue all of these needs simultaneously.  Maybe at the extreme top and bottom, the hierarchy still exists: as they state, a man will seek food before transcendence, but in the middle of the ladder, it’s all gets a little mushy.

So what does this mean for us as marketers?  MY take…

It means it’s more important than ever to understand what’s important to OUR ideal clients. We must know our audience. We must design a business and services that deliver what they are seeking. We must craft marketing messages that tap into their true desires.

It’s not always just about promising more money or more success.

Isn’t that message getting a little tired anyway?

We need to think beyond these basic promises and consider that even if our potential clients haven’t fully satisfied their needs in those areas, they’re still interested and motivated by things like belonging, status, learning, and realizing their full potential (needs higher up on the ladder).

Effective marketing is not a black and white game.

The marketing message that works for one person or one business doesn’t necessarily work for others. It’s a game of nuance. It’s a game of authenticity and making sure your message fits you and your audience. It’s a game that requires testing to see what resonates with your ideal clients.

And, hopefully it goes without saying, but it’s also crucial that your products and services actually deliver on whatever promise you make in your marketing.

Because while the marketing message may bring them in, your ability to deliver on your promise is what will keep them around, and have them singing your praises and spreading the word. And the latter is crucial if you want a business that will be successful for the long run.


About Debbie

Debbie worked in marketing for 32 years and ran a successful coaching and consulting business for 19. Now she helps people find greater happiness and success by learning how to Follow Inspiration.

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