Hierarchy of Needs in Marketing

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An outdoor food market.
An outdoor food market. (Image: Medioimages/Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs is a psychological theory that ranks human needs from the very basic to the most complex. According to Maslow, people seek to meet their essential life needs first, and then they move up to the next level of the hierarchy to fulfill desires at a more abstract level. Marketing shows customers how products and services can meet their needs, so Maslow's hierarchy offers a useful framework for developing your strategy.

About the Hierarchy

Maslow's hierarchy of needs is comprised of five levels: physiological needs, safety needs, love, affection and belongingness, esteem needs and self-actualization needs. Physiological needs are the very basic requirements for sustaining life, such as food, oxygen and shelter. Safety needs involve peoples' longing for stability and predictability in life. After fulfilling requirements at these two basic levels, people strive to overcome loneliness through love, communication and friendship. Next come self-esteem needs -- the need to feel like a person of worth, a valued individual. Self-actualization describes a person's inner drive to find his true calling or purpose. Fulfilling one set of needs doesn't mean that requirements at that level are completely forgotten. They just become less powerful motivators.

Assess Your Product

In marketing, products and services aim to fulfill needs at one or more points in the hierarchy. While food products meet basic physiological needs, dating services meet love and self-esteem needs. Look at your company's products and decide which level of the hierarchy your offerings target the most. Your conclusion can help you decide how to promote your products. For example, if you're a salon owner, the services you offer improve self-esteem by making clients look good. Advertise that a visit to your establishment can help a person put her best face forward.

Assess Your Customer

Just because a product meets one kind of need directly doesn't mean that it can't be marketed as a solution to needs higher on the hierarchy. Timr web services provides the example of bottled water. Water is a basic physiological need, but marketers appeal to safety concerns by talking about the purity of the water. They also act on self-esteem by pushing water in fancy bottles as a luxury product. What kind of appeal works depends on your target market. For example, jacking up the price of water and putting it in green, glass bottles won't work if your market is concerned about making ends meet financially. Use socioeconomic information about your target market to brainstorm strategies that appeal to your specific audience.

Aim High

When in doubt about what route to take in your communications efforts, aim as high on the hierarchy as you can without alienating your customer base. Timr suggests that targeting the higher needs in Maslow's theory results in greater profit potential. For example, if you're opening a coffee shop in the core of downtown, don't market it as a place to grab a quick bite and a cup of joe. This approach appeals to physiological needs, the lowest level on the hierarchy. Instead, emphasize that your shop is a place with luxury coffee offerings that can't be found anywhere else -- a self-esteem appeal.

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