Want To Become More Customer Centric? Start With Maslow’s Pyramid

Mar 16, 2021

As a marketer, it’s your job to get inside the minds of consumers and convince them to buy your product or service, right? When it comes to consumer-centric selling, it makes sense to bring a bit of psychological theory into the mix. Enter: Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

This theory of human motivation was breakthrough in its day. It was one of the first times psychology shifted from focusing on problematic behaviours to learning what makes people happy and the things they’ll do to achieve that. Which just so happens to be what occupies the minds of marketers pretty much 24/7.

Humans have five basic needs, but order of priority is key

So, what’s it all about? Maslow theorized there are five basic needs every human strives to fulfill. In order of priority, they are:

1. Physiological needs – biological requirements for human survival, without which we can’t function optimally; e.g. air, food, drink, shelter, clothing, warmth, sex, sleep

2. Safety needs – the human desire for security, order, predictability and control; e.g. emotional security, financial security, law and order, freedom from fear, social stability, property, health and wellbeing

3. Love and belonging needs – the social longing for interpersonal relationships and feelings of belongingness; e.g. friendship, intimacy, trust and acceptance, receiving and giving affection and love, affiliating and being part of a group

4. Esteem needs – aspirations that fall into two categories: the first is self-esteem, e.g. dignity, achievement, mastery and independence; and the second is reputation or respect from others, e.g. status and prestige

5. Self-actualization needs – the highest-level need that speaks to the realization of our own potential, e.g. self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences

The general idea is that humans ascend through the needs, with the next level becoming a motivation once the existing level has been met. Maslow later specified the hierarchy isn’t rigid. This means one need might be only partly met before moving on, and the order can depend on individual circumstances or differences. He also believed much behavior is motivated by more one than one need.

Maslow’s hierarchy outlines ways you can serve your customers

Maslow’s pyramid accounts for all human motivation. This means that your customers buy from your brand to fulfill one or more of these needs. So, which one is it? Does your brand promise to make consumers healthier, safer, happier, feel as though they belong, or – surely the ultimate value proposition – become the person they’d like to be?

Over half of consumers say their relationship with a brand starts when they feel that brand understands them and their desires. So, plot your product or service against the need it meets to make sure you’re targeting the relevant audience with your marketing in a way that’s going to hit home. You’ll stand a far better chance of building that all-important emotional connection.

Of course, different buyer personas may have different motivations to purchase the same thing. For example, for some, a mobile phone might fulfill a safety need – the parents of a teenager, perhaps. For the teenager, it’s more likely to meet their need for love and belonging, because it connects them to friends; or even esteem, if it’s the must-have accessory.

Repeat customers may move up the Hierarchy after their initial purchase meets a particular need – or even down, depending on their circumstances. During the pandemic, for example, some people have experienced loss and uncertainty that means they’ve regressed to being motivated by safety needs, or even basic physiological needs. For others, feeling separated or isolated in lockdown, love and belonging needs may be a harder-to-reach need than esteem, effectively promoting it up the Hierarchy.

Maslow’s Hierarchy not only highlights the importance of tailoring your marketing to the needs of a specific target audience, but also of staying in touch with the fluctuating needs of different customer personas. Though it may not be a hard and fast order, the pyramid is a reminder that consumer motivation depends largely on what needs are already being met.

Fulfilling growth needs is the basis for a more sustainable marketing strategy

Maslow’s Hierarchy is divided into two categories: the first four (physiological, safety, love and belonging, and esteem) are deficiency needs, whereas self-actualization is a growth need. The difference is that deficiency needs arise when something is lacking, only remaining a motivator while they are unmet. For example, we’re usually more motivated by food when we’re hungry, or by safety when we feel insecure.

Growth needs, however, stem from a desire to develop and make progress. Unlike deficiency needs, they don’t vanish once met – in fact, they may even become stronger. That’s why self-actualization is better understood as a continual process of becoming, rather than a final destination. In Maslow’s terms, it’s the need “to become everything one is capable of becoming.”

Of the two categories, which lends itself to a more sustainable marketing strategy? You guessed it. Unless your brand can move with your customers up the Hierarchy, continually meeting the next deficiency need as it emerges, your offering runs the risk of quickly becoming obsolete. Meanwhile, growth needs represent a never-ending well of sales incentives and sales promotion ideas.

As Forbes writer Rob Danna argues, “People want to evolve with a brand whose products and services help give their business or life meaning.” How does your product or service do that? Or, perhaps more relevant, how do your creative marketing campaign ideas speak to consumers’ desire for self-actualization?

How do your creative marketing campaign ideas speak to consumers’ desire for self-actualization?

Experience rewards transform your offering into an opportunity for self-actualization

Sales promotions are a fact of marketing, but the way you approach them can be the difference between positioning your brand at the bottom or top of Maslow’s Hierarchy. To create a truly consumer-oriented sales promotion, consider how you can contribute to their continual growth and development.

Experience rewards offer endless creative campaign ideas that give your product or service context, transforming it into an opportunity for self-actualization. Selling a coffee-maker? You could stick to fulfilling a physiological need for sustenance… Or you could meet a growth need by taking your customers on the trip of a lifetime. Promoting telecoms plans? You could just appeal to customers seeking safety or belonging… Or you could also help them become the person they want to be by exploring the world.

If you choose sales incentive ideas your audience connects with, experience rewards help you break free of the discount spiral and tap into the experience economy. And since fulfilling growth needs actually strengthens consumer motivation for more, it’s the gift that keeps on giving.


Would you like to find out how we can help you bring your sales promotion to the next level? Then schedule a free consultation today and get some unique ideas that will help you stand out from your competition!

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