The World According to Maslow: A Hierarchy of Needs

Before continuing with the different ways in which emotional responses can be used in making sales, we should go into what really motivates people in greater depth.  For this, we need to revisit Psych 101 and a gentleman by the name of Abraham Maslow.

Dr. Maslow published a paper in 1943, entitled A Theory of Human Motivation, which was later expounded upon in his 1954 book Motivation and Personality. According to this theory, human beings are motivated by the need to fulfill certain needs in a certain order. Lower-order needs, focused on basic survival, must come first. At the top is transcendence (later added by Victor Frankl), which in simplest terms is a mystical need to connect with “God” and the “Divine” (whatever or whomever one considers that to be).

Basic survival needs are the obvious ones: air, food and water. Someone who lacks those basics is not going to live long enough to worry about anything else. Once those basic needs are secured, the individual focuses on safety and security: a home, a job, health and access to resources.

Sadly, in today’s world, too many individuals have difficulty in getting beyond that second level. Those who do however next seek relationships; to be part of a community, to have friends and family and to experience sexual intimacy with a partner. Interestingly, although Maslow placed relationship needs above safety and security in his hierarchy, because humans are essentially primates and primates are clan/tribal creatures, the need to belong to a group is so powerful that it sometimes overrides the need for safety and security. Case in point: people who remain in physically and emotionally abusive relationships. (It is worth noting that in many tribal-hunting/gathering societies, the penalty for law breaking or wrongdoing is usually exile or isolation from the communnity.)

Once a person has become part of a family and/or community, s/he seeks recognition and respect of the community as well as him or herself through achievement and contributions. Those who fail to get this recognition from others or feel as if they are not valued by the community frequently suffer from serious self-esteem issues.

When it comes to sales, most often it is these first four levels of need that marketers appeal to. Obviously, someone who has reached the level of self-transcendence is not going to be in the market for much of anything; these people are usually mystics and ascetics who are likely to live a monastic lifestyle and are no longer concerned about the material world. (It doesn’t mean that one cannot sell to such individuals; the market for New Age products is still a healthy one, and certain people have made a great deal of money appealing to the human need to connect with a “Higher Power” or the cosmos.)  It is worth looking at the fifth level however, which Maslow defines as self-actualization.

To quote a common ad used in recruitment for one branch of the Armed Services, self-actualization means to “become all that you can be;” in other words, to fulfill one’s greatest potential. Those who are self-actualized are the “movers and shakers;” successful artists, entertainers, lawyers, doctors, pro athletes, entrepreneurs and others who (ideally) are dedicated to making the world a better place for everyone. At this level, chances are people are more often on the “selling” side rather than the “buying.” However, these enviable folks also have needs as well: primarily, promotion and publicity.

In fact,when they hang out their shingle on the World Wide Web, those who are self-actualized often benefit from serach engine optimization services…


Brad Anderson

Brad Anderson is the founder and CEO of Fruition. Brad combined his passion for marketing, technology, innovation and data-based decision making into a successful national digital marketing agency when he created the Denver-based Fruition. Brad brings the unique perspective of an expert marketer, board member, agency owner and entrepreneur to his career and his thought-leadership writing.

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