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Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Marketing Content Strategy

Thinking about the role of an effective marketing message in the last US elections – without getting political, I got to thinking about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and what his theory has to teach us about effective marketing messages that convert.

But, first, a brief reminder/introduction: psychologist Abraham Maslow is the one behind the theory. In 1943 he published a paper entitled “A Theory of Human Motivation.” In it he posits his theory that there is a hierarchy of psychological needs in human beings. When one need is mastered, we can obtain the next level. This is not to say that we can’t pursue multiple needs simultaneously. But, if the most basic of needs are not met, our choices and actions will be primarily driven by that psychological need.

The hierarchy comprises of five levels of psychological needs:

  • Physiological: necessities that are required for human survival, such as food, water, shelter, and clothing.

  • Safety: security, protection, law, employment, health, and income.

  • Love/Belonging: family, friendship, and intimacy.

  • Esteem: the desire to be recognized and rewarded for achievements both internally and externally.

  • Self-Actualization: the desire to excel and succeed and to achieve a degree of mastery and accomplishment in life.

So, if we look at the marketing content of each candidate – it is clear to see that fear (playing on a more basic need for safety, for example) will trump (no pun intended . . . ok, well – maybe a little) the need for achievement any day of the week (especially when the ‘lower’ need is not being met). It’s why the often debated ‘fear tactics’ of marketing and advertising campaigns are so successful; reminiscent of the ‘Fear of Loss’ precept of behavioral economics.

So how can we apply these insights to our marketing content strategies? The first step would be, as always, to ask ‘who’? Who are we marketing to? What are their needs? Their motivations? This is our buyer persona.

Is your buyer persona lacking a way to address a basic need, which your product can address? Speak to that need. Or . . . do you offer a solution that will help your customer gain professional or social recognition. Then speak to that need.

Let’s highlight a couple of Maslow’s needs and see how we can play them into our marketing messages and campaigns.

  • Belonging: here is where social media can be very effective. We can leverage the principles of ‘social proof’ to endow our audience/prospects with a sense of belonging to a community of their peers, and one which is subtly championed by our brand.

  • Esteem: we all want to be well regarded by those we respect, and (maybe even better) by as many people as possible (even if we don’t know them). Fame! In any event, when it comes to marketing, rewarding our customers through gamification campaigns can be great. For example, having a best pic with my brand, hashtag, and prize with lots of glory – can go a long way.

Want to tailor your marketing content and campaigns to the specific needs of your customers? Get in touch and let’s do great marketing together >>

This post as been updated since its original publication in late 2017.

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