Marketers, Time To Dust Off Maslow's Hierarchy Of Needs

There’s always that co-worker who brought “it” up. We all listened politely, tacitly agreed and got the meeting back on track.

But now, for the first time in a long while, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs should be reutilized as a valuable tool for marketers and business. Time to start bringing “it” back up in meetings. Here’s why.

The psychological model is shown in the shape of a pyramid and consists of five tiers of human needs that must be met from the bottom up before ascending to the next level.

At the bottom, the lowest level starts at physiological needs, like food and water. Next comes safety needs, like health and employment. In the middle, we find love and belonging, and the higher levels include esteem and self-actualization.

A month ago, brands were pushing the limits on those higher needs, with start-ups and legacy brands racing to see who could apply “wokeness” to each category first.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken most consumers’ mindsets essentially right back down to the most basic of human realities.

Within just the past few weeks, the floor fell out from the top three tiers and marketers are suddenly finding themselves in unfamiliar territory, thinking about how their products, brands and messaging meet the needs of the pyramid’s basement: food, water, and safety.

As an industry programmed to be optimistic and aspirational, this dramatic shift in consumer needs in the midst of the pandemic is an interesting one to navigate. Brands need to know this is a time to speak and act towards the bottom two tiers. Using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs during this shift can help businesses set realistic expectations and brands to engage with empathy.

The question for many non-essential businesses is, should they pivot their business, product or messaging? Short answer: Yes. Caveat: Only if they have the ability to transition into something needed.

For example, deciding to use manufacturing facilities and resources to make face masks instead of sneakers is absolutely worth doing right now. The more brands provide an appropriate response for the current needs of their consumers, the more their consumer will feel cared for, heard, respected and stable. It’s an opportunity if your metric is meaningful actions. Fingers crossed, this helps us all move up the pyramid’s tiers.

If Maslow was right, there’s good news on the horizon. As our healthcare professionals, government and the private sector work to lift us out of the bottom two tiers, it’s the need for friendship, love and community that comes next.

Even though the world has become more physically isolated, there certainly is an undercurrent of tech-enabled intimacy among our family, friends and co-workers. Maybe that’s where marketers should be focused next. once we begin to feel that our physiological and safety needs are being met, we may see a bloom of new communities, a search for deeper belonging and maybe, just maybe, we will be ready to love again.

2 comments about "Marketers, Time To Dust Off Maslow's Hierarchy Of Needs".
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  1. Bill Harvey from Bill Harvey Consulting, April 8, 2020 at 2:31 p.m.

    Right on, Greg, Maslow's theory never loses relevance. RMT has recently released experimental big data empirically validating Maslow but showing that there are actually 15 levels. Some of the best of the ads coming out during the pandemic - such as Budweiser's One Team - reflect some of these newly-revealed Maslovian levels such as Altruism and Heroism.

  2. Kevin McCrudden from Motivate America, April 8, 2020 at 4:46 p.m.

    Greg.  Valid points, but as we evolve, why not utilize an evolved version of "Maslow's Hierarchy" with the "21st Century Multidimensional Hierarchy of Needs," which has evolved to become truly 3 dimensional?  The original "hierarchy" has been referred to as a "pyramid" for years and yet it wasn't. This model also incorporates the Progression and Regression Model, BUT, does not incorporate later finding by Maslow on "Transcendence."

    Combining this Hierarchy with EQ / EI or empathy enables and empowers many industries and leaders to connect with their audience.  And while I was sad to read that so many of your colleagues seem to be so "above" Maslow's genius, I am glad you have written this article and hope that maybe people are willing to be open to learn what they don't actually know.

    [trying to include an image, but not able to.] 



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