maslow’s hierarchy of needs

The marketer’s toolkit isn’t complete without Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a theory of what motivates people. The gist is that as our more basic needs are satisfied, we look for fulfillment progressively higher up the hierarchy. Brands that tap these higher-order needs can deepen their meaning with consumers.

The classic Maslow marketing case is Michelin Tires. Rather than focusing on durability and performance, Michelin filmed a baby sitting in a tire with the tagline, “Because So Much Is Riding On Your Tires”. Michelin focuses on our need for safety and family belonging.

Many brands claim to fulfill higher-order needs in Maslow’s hierarchy. Some overreach and come across as silly or out-of-touch. The proof I think is whether they can compete without deep discounting.

Doug Hall once said, “If you’re not meaningfully unique, then you’d better be cheap”. Many brands compete largely on price. Brands that truly fulfill higher-order needs around Belonging, Esteem, or Self-Actualization don’t need as many price promotions.

The level of trade promotion is a litmus test for meaningful brands.

(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away one signed print of this week’s cartoon. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. I’ll pick one comment. Thanks!)

  1. nick danar says

    Great! Now price promotion programs got one more role to fulfill. They no longer just boost sale but as a telltale sign of how important your product really is! *yay*

  2. Susie says

    Apple products are the perfect litmus for this awesome marketoon, so rarely discounted and fulfilling every human need. When I last switched to a Mac my creativity was unleashed in an almost stereotypical way, as they promise, totally worth the investment.

  3. Dirk te Winkel says

    Very good! This cartoon pretty much sums up what Blue Ocean Strategy is all about: How to create uncontested market space and make competition irrelevant, by focussing on consumer needs and value drivers.

  4. Hilton Barbour says

    In broad strokes, the Luxury goods category takes this concept to the extreme. There’s no need to deep discount when you employ scarcity/exclusivity as your principle strategy. The number of sheikhs and oligarchs that have become self-actualized behind a $5,000 Prada briefcase and $20,000 Patek Philippe is astounding. As always, a fantastic cartoon.

  5. Jeannie Chan says

    So, I’m a big fan of Maslow and it’s role in marketing. And I agree 100% that trade promotion is the telltale sign for strength of a brand.

    But one would be missing a key piece of the story if we just talk about price, or advertising / promotion.

    The reason some brand promises seems overarching / silly because the products the brand is built upon cannot deliver. You need a reason to believe. Brands are built holistically. If you have a crappy product, nothing will help you build a strong brand. And yes, to move such product, you have no leverage except price.

    (Flipping the story though, you should know what you’re trying to deliver before making the product. Often, products are made and then marketers try to come up with the story, and that is how overarching / silly brand promises are borned.)

  6. Dan W. says

    This brings to mind my recent experience in buying Legos for holiday gifts. Rarely are they discounted (unless they are just clearing the shelves of the last few items of that SKU), and you find yourself paying $100 or more for a box of plastic bits…..and getting excited about it! There are a lot of toys that you can buy a kid (or yourself) for Christmas, but I haven’t seen more excitement than from a box of Legos. I’m thinking that this product really pegs the Self Actualization/Creativity meter (at least it always did for me).

  7. Jeff says

    The Maslow Pyramid applied to some regional sales reps that are incentivised to Sell…SEll…SELL!!! Would also address the “discount til they buy it” phenomenon. PHYSIOLOGICALLY resolves heartburn, Provides temporary SAFETY at the next “update” call, a veiled sense of BELONGING to the favored sales rep group for a week, an wisp of inflated ESTEEM that lasts only until the next update call, and the SELF REALIZATION that you have developed a sales strategy that will cause future heartburn….but don’t worry…just discount some more and the addiction can continue.

  8. Carla says

    My former manager shared a great quote about how marketing success depends on delivering something meaningful to the customer.

    “It does not matter how awesome your product is or your presentation or your post. Your awesome thing matters only to the extent that it serves the user’s ability to be a little more awesome.” Kathy Sierra

  9. R says

    Nice cartoon. It is fun to see how the serving the growth needs more than the physiological needs has become important.

  10. Woody Collins says

    We all know categories with brands whose only differentiation is not on features or benefits but on image. Hello, beer, I’m talking to you! And for years the status quo is maintained very happily and profitably until one brand starts down the slippery slope of premiums and incentives. A keychain here, a T-shirt there, and before you know it differentiation is no longer on image but on SWAG or $ discount. And it kind of kills the fun in that category – certainly for the marketers but also for the consumers, who lose a badge with which they identify themselves. Shame, really, but it’s the price we pay when this quarter’s results mean more than long-term brand health.

  11. Self Actualization says

    The pyramid really strikes a cord. As a Marketing graduate with a focus on web development and branding, I am always curious about how much products actually enhance our quality of life. If companies should be providing ideas that change lives, why don’t they? What if they appealed to the highest needs and actually helped us fulfill them with ideas instead of products? If we woke up, if we shifted our perspectives, would we keep buying?

    For the first time in two years I am coming to terms with what it means to feel peace, to follow my intuition, to be happy. As a result, I feel my mind sharpening and noticing things, like I just made it, no one had, and I am really curious to hear the opinion of seasoned branders on the idea. A department of Target called Targive that gives to people in need when you buy something from it. Talk soon, dig deep, challenge your vices! :)

  12. says

    Hi all,

    Great perspective, everyone, thanks! This week’s print goes to Jeannie Chan. Wonderful insight on the reason to believe and the frequent disconnect between products and the brand. Thanks!


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