Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
As Philip Kotler noted all those years ago, one of the key principles of marketing revolves around understanding, and, to some extent, generating and stimulating customer wants and needs. Understanding the psychology of a target market and individual consumers specifically is therefore an invaluable component of crafting a compelling marketing message or proposition. Abraham Maslow (1943) first developed his now famous Hierarchy of Needs in the late 1930’s and early 1940s, but the principles of his model are still found to be relevant today (Armstrong and Taylor, 2020). Maslow’s hierarchy or Pyramid of Needs as it is occasionally referred to, contains five layers, and, if marketers understand consumer perspectives at each of these levels, it means that it is much more likely that it will be possible to craft a marketing message which stimulates consumer purchase activity.
What are the 5 Levels of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs?
1. Physiological Needs
The first and most fundamental layer of the permit is that of physiological needs. These are considered to be basic needs and comprise aspects such as food and water, shelter and rest. Maslow’s theory holds, and has been supported by many other scholars (Lussier, 2019), that unless these basic physical needs are satisfied, then it will be virtually impossible to gain the attention or interest of a consumer. The industry sector in which an organisation operates has some bearing on whether or not physiological needs will feature as part of a marketing strategy. It is more likely that these basic needs will form a feature or component of marketing communications for budget or discount retail offerings, likely to be characterised by heavy price promotions. Evidence of this principle in action can be seen in the energy market, where a proportion of consumers are highly price sensitive, and so will switch regularly in order to ensure that they can secure the best possible price to meet their basic physiological needs (Deller et al., 2017).
2. Safety Needs
The second layer of the pyramid refers to safety needs, and whilst this can be considered basic, for example a secure home, it is also possible to leverage consumer concerns around safety in other areas. Safety might relate to concerns about health and well-being, and so communicating the features and benefits of a product which can directly address safety needs such as disinfectant or vitamins can be a powerful way of targeting the consumer psyche (Duygun and Şen, 2020). A deep understanding of consumer preferences and life-cycle might also be relevant, for example if it is known that consumers have very young children then safety needs and security needs are likely to be higher priority for them than consumers who do not have children. This is why a clear understanding of consumer preferences is very important. Another way of considering safety needs relates to personal safety, and so an entirely different category where this consumer need would be relevant would be in home and personal security. Evidence of this can be seen in the rise of products and services which help consumers monitor their homes with remote cameras, and also online safety which is becoming increasingly important (Bauman, 2018). The key message from this principle is that safety is a very deep-rooted need for people, and can therefore be an important component of a marketing message.
3. Personal Belonging
The third layer of the pyramid relates to a need for personal belonging and is considered to be a psychological need. It is generally considered that the majority of people are social creatures, and need human interaction (Chu et al., 2019). Crafting a marketing message around a sense of social belonging can therefore be a powerful stimulus. This type of marketing messages most likely to be found in affordable consumables, and also any type of marketing which is selling experiences. Practical physical evidence of this can be seen in simple consumer items such as ‘sharing bags’ of snacks or treats. The message works on two levels, in that sharing implies integration in a group to which there is social belonging, and affordable treats are relatively easy to sell in societies which value indulgence and hedonism. In more straightforward terms, this can be understood as a social culture which believes it is acceptable to have small treats, and by building a marketing message around social connections this can be a powerful stimulus. Another example is the huge power of social media, which stimulates a sense of belonging through inclusions in like-minded social groups (Chu et al., 2019).
An extension of the notion of personal belonging is self-esteem, and self-esteem is often a very powerful way of selling high value desirable consumer items, and ironically, low self-esteem in consumers is proven to make this an even more powerful tool (Stuppy et al., 2020). Self-esteem is considered to be a psychological stimulus, and ownership of prestige items demonstrates that an individual has both high net worth or high disposable income and also in principle good taste if they can afford costly consumer items. Such costly consumer items are often treated as status symbols which is why they underpin the idea of self-esteem - if an individual has worked hard that they can reward themselves with such items or make themselves feel better.
High value brands and so-called designer items rely heavily on this layer of Maslow's pyramid to create a sense of want and need in consumers, even though on a practical level, there is no actual need for consumers to have expensive consumer electronics, high fashion clothes or expensive cars, but clear market demand for all of these items demonstrates how effective marketing to a sense of self-esteem can be. It is also possible to repeat stimulate self-esteem, by updating or improving goods and services thus encouraging repeat purchase, even if the item in question is neither broken or damaged.
It is also recognised in marketing literature, that there can be some overlap between self-esteem and personal belonging (Sirgy, 2018). If a dominant personality in a social group owns a particular item, this can encourage others in the social group to follow the trend. Being able to identify high powerful influencers within a social group (which is precisely how the trend for using social influencers has gained traction), illustrates the premise of self-esteem in action.
5. Self Actualisation
Finally, Maslow suggests that a state of self-actualisation is reached through self-fulfilment needs. Where personal goals and objectives have been achieved, an individual can turn their attention towards creative pursuits. Maslow’s theory suggests that self-actualisation cannot be achieved until the preceding four layers of the pyramid have been satisfied. Maslow’s theory also implies that individuals who can turn their attention towards self-actualisation are comfortably wealthy, either in terms of finances or in terms of time. Thus, it is usually the case that self-actualisation marketing communications are targeted towards older or wealthier individuals who are more likely to have reached the state of mental contentment (Lee and Ahn, 2016). Perhaps because they have achieved their career goals and objectives, or because they have become more pragmatic about what they value in life and it is not necessarily material goods.
This situation has two implications for marketers, in that first marketers can choose to promote experiences rather than tangible goods and encourage consumers to think about building memories. Alternatively, self-actualisation is possibly an opportunity to promote extremely costly items as an individual feels that they have discharged their obligations in the sense of having brought up a family, and perhaps paid off their mortgage, and they can focus on themselves. This is a subtly differentiated from of self-esteem, because the individuals in question must feel comfortable with their wealth in order to be willing to purchase such items.
Self-actualisation can also be used in an entirely different context in order to promote social marketing causes or public goods (Fine, 2017). Marketing for charities might therefore be another opportunity where self-actualisation is a central feature of the marketing message, and particularly towards consumers in wealthy economies where they are encouraged to think about the way in which individuals in much poorer economies or lesser circumstances would benefit from even a small donation. The key message to take away from Maslow’s hierarchy, is that by understanding the physical and psychological needs of the consumer, it is possible to craft a powerful emotive message which will stimulate consumer action in some way.
- Armstrong, M. and Taylor, S., 2020. Armstrong's handbook of human resource management practice. Kogan Page Publishers.
- Bauman, A.A., 2018. Online consumer trust research and Maslow's hierarchy of needs. International Journal of Electronic Customer Relationship Management, 11(4), pp.315-331.
- Chu, S.C., Lien, C.H. and Cao, Y., 2019. Electronic word-of-mouth (eWOM) on WeChat: examining the influence of sense of belonging, need for self-enhancement, and consumer engagement on Chinese travellers’ eWOM. International Journal of Advertising, 38(1), pp.26-49.
- Deller, D., Giulietti, M., Loomes, G., Price, C.W., Moniche, A. and Jeon, J.Y., 2017. Switching energy suppliers: It’s not all about the money. The Energy Journal, 42(3).
- Duygun, A. and Şen, E., 2020. Evaluation of Consumer Purchasing Behaviors in the COVID-19 Pandemic Period in the Context of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. PazarlamaTeorisi ve Uygulamaları Dergisi, 6(1), pp.45-68.
- Fine, S.H., 2017. Product Management in Social Marketing. In Marketing the Public Sector (pp. 81-95). Routledge.
- Lee, M.S. and Ahn, C.S.Y., 2016. Anti‐consumption, materialism, and consumer well‐being. Journal of Consumer Affairs, 50(1), pp.18-47.
- Lussier, K., 2019. Of Maslow, motives, and managers: The hierarchy of needs in American business, 1960–1985. Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 55(4), pp.319-341.
- Maslow, A., 1943. A Theory of Human Motivation, Psychological Review, 50(4), pp. 370–396.
- Sirgy, M.J., 2018. Self-congruity theory in consumer behavior: A little history. Journal of Global Scholars of Marketing Science, 28(2), pp.197-207.
- Stuppy, A., Mead, N.L. and Van Osselaer, S.M., 2020. I am, therefore I buy: Low self-esteem and the pursuit of self-verifying consumption. Journal of Consumer Research, 46(5), pp.956-973.
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