Relevant, insightful and powerful – time to dust off Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Remember Fox’s Glacier mints, lime cordial and the overuse of PowerPoint animations? There was a time when every marketing course, business conference and training day incorporated all three.

And alongside these, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs would resurface – an aesthetically pleasing pyramid model accompanied by the standard discussion of its merits, with a scheduled finish of 11 am for Marmitey coffee and Danish pastries.

But nearly 80 years on, Maslow’s explanation of human behavioural psychology is more than just a model – it’s a meaningful, relevant business tool that resonates more with creatives, brand managers and marketers than ever before.

Appreciate its value, and your business will become more responsive, more adaptable and more in tune with your customers and buyer personas.

The essence of Maslow’s ideas

Maslow, an American psychologist and human behaviour specialist, created his Hierarchy of Needs in 1943 to illustrate the connection between basic human needs and human desires.

In other words, what do humans need to be happy?

According to Maslow, only once we meet our most basic needs can we move up the hierarchy and focus on satisfying our next most pressing need.  It’s a systematic progression through 5 levels, from physiological needs to self-actualisation:

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs Examples

  • Self-actualisation: Our desire to become the best we can be.  It’s what Maslow believed humans ultimately strive for.
  • Esteem: Primarily self-respect, respect for others, confidence and a sense of achievement, or value.
  • Social: These included our need for love, friendship, community and relationships.
  • Safety: This is our need for personal safety, health and financial security – emotive drivers in any decision-making process.
  • Physiological: These include oxygen, food, water, and sleep.  Without these, we would struggle to function.

Sometimes, it all feels a bit dated – and rigid.  For example, an academic can be a recognised expert in her field (therefore reaching self-actualisation) but might live alone, on a low income, therefore struggling to satisfy her more basic needs.

But for businesses, Maslow’s Hierarchy is a valuable tool that explores what it means to be in tune with the ‘consumer’.

Maslow reminds you to identify and connect with your target market

Maslow’s Model explores the motives behind human behaviour.  It’s about insight, understanding and connecting – putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and seeing things from their perspective.  It’s the perfect tool to explore buyer personas.

Which physical or emotional needs are your target markets aiming to fulfil?  Why?  How do they feel?  Understand which needs your target group aspires to satisfy and your marketing becomes more personalised – more emotionally compelling.

Maslow keeps your business on its toes

Critics question Maslow for failing to recognise that people can sometimes move up and down the Hierarchy. Equally, consumers rarely satisfy needs permanently and often try to fulfil multiple needs at once.

Measuring Customer Needs

Vision One has developed a unique measurement system to evaluate market and Customer Needs.

This approach measures a total of 26 needs and is a powerful metric used as part of our highly popular brand equity measurement BrandVision.


So, let’s change the way we view Maslow’s pyramid model.  Think of his hierarchy as more of a ladder.  It’s likely that consumers are moving up and down its steps, responding to economic change, personal circumstances and other environmental factors.  Explore those triggers. What’s making them move?  How are their emotions and needs changing their behaviour and priorities?

Now Maslow’s model becomes a fluid tool that explores the changing needs of your target market – capable of revealing meaningful insight in real time.

Before Covid-19, you may have felt you knew your buyer personas, your existing customers and even your emerging target market.  Seven months on and many consumers have shifted up or down the ladder.  The pandemic has even taken some back down to their basic human needs – many consumers are looking to satisfy safety and social needs, with esteem and self actualisation taking a back seat.

Have your customers shifted?  How well do your branding and products meet their needs now?  Are you still relevant?  How can you show empathy, solutions or innovation?

I think we’re ready to move on from the mints, lime cordial and PowerPoint animations.  But Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs still has legs – it helps remind us that all brands are here to satisfy a need and have a purpose.  Developing your brand needs and purpose are the first steps to building successful brands. Check out our Brand Research methods and services for more details.

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