Ever heard of the term, “Sex Sells”? The reason that this term is so redundant in culture today is simply, it works. The question is why it works? Sex is a very basic instinct that drives every person at their most primal levels. Maslow’s Hierarchy proves this in marketing and business. His theory is very profound and yet simple at the same time. Maslow’s Pyramid has many levels, but at the base is physiological needs. Once these needs are met there is an ascending order until a person reaches the pinnacle which is the need for personal growth or self actualization. Each of these levels appeal to different people. A good marketing / business strategy will utilize these insights to reach for the desired affect for its intended target audience.
The easiest to market is the basic needs because everyone needs food, clothing, and a safe place to sleep. However, in marketing it’s not enough just to show a nice house. For example, the marketing for housing often shows a family playing in the yard and then entering the house to sit around the kitchen. Why not just show the house by itself? In this scenario, the marketing strategy is hitting as many different levels of Maslow’s theory as possible. The family playing together in the yard shows that they feel secure with the house. The fact that there is a family there shows their basic needs were already met. Intimacy is implied because of the husband, wife and children, the nuclear family. The presence of the children also lends to the fact that there has been reproduction of the species. All of this is being said without words and hits the four base levels of Maslow’s Pyramid.
Reaching the upper levels of the pyramid is not a difficult task either. Using the same housing example with the family there is an easy step to moving it to the top of the pyramid. If the same family that is playing in the front yard goes inside and we see a study or den full of books and the next image shows the kids sitting down doing homework while the parents are researching something for work, what does the picture tell you now? All of the basic levels are there from food to personal growth and the understanding is presented in a commercial that is only thirty-five seconds long. This is just one aspect of the use of the theory but all good marketing strategies hit as many of these needs as possible based upon the product being marketed.
Maslow’s theory on the surface seems very crude in some ways, but, on further reflection the eloquence of his observations have made huge strides for marketing techniques. In today’s visual media and instant access to information a human being’s basic needs still need to be addressed or none of the levels above mean anything. When a strategy is developed for a product the question must be asked, what basic need does it fulfill and then take it up from there. If the product is athletic wear, the marketing strategy is going to use attractive athletic models sweating hard on the court or in the gym. If the product is software for a computer, the pitch is to make work easier so you can get back to what counts, family. All of these marketing strategies present the same things, how it benefits the audience and how that relates to the basic instincts of the human psyche. Understanding these basic principles of behavior is the key to reaching your audience.
A consumer’s shopping habits are based off all of Maslow’s hierarchy levels. Going back to the example of marketing a house, the first need is shelter, without it we are vulnerable to the elements and inclement weather. The next level would be safety, the consumer needs to feel safe, a home with a security system will make one feel safe from intruders and home invasion. Going back to the family scene in their home, if you were to show an intruder attempting to break-in, but is stopped due to the loud alarm, unless the target audience already has an alarm system, the consumer will no longer feel safe without one and will most likely purchase a system to feel safe once again.
Once the consumer’s basic needs are met food, shelter, clothing, then security and safety, they will look for the next level, comfort, family and friends. In the example of home, the basic would be shelter followed by safety. That would make comfort and relationships the next step, filling one’s home with comfortable furnishings like a nice soft bed, sofas and chairs for example, or making one’s home visitor friendly. How are consumer choices or behaviors influenced by relationships? Using once again the marketing of housing, you can set the scene of social gatherings. Is your home large enough to accommodate your growing family? Do you need a larger back yard for all those BBQs you will be having with friends and family? You may need to purchase more furniture for all those intimate gatherings.
After the need of social fulfillment is met and relationships are created, according to Maslow’s hierarchy, a person starts to desire personal achievement and a feeling of material success. All their basic needs are met, they have shelter, clothing, safety, a social life and comfort. The need or desire for something more begins to arise. A bigger home in an up-scale neighborhood is a way consumers fulfill this level of need. Does “Keeping up with the Jones” ring any bells? By wearing better clothes, driving a newer car, and living in an expensive house a consumer not only feels a boost in their self-esteem, they are sending a message to the rest of the world, they have made it.
The final tier in Maslow’s hierarchy is morality, creativity and reaching one’s full potential. Once a person has reached this level, they no longer feel a satisfaction from the material things, they have good relationships, and food on the table with a roof over their head, but the desire for something more will begin to tug at their conscious. They may start to seek out self-improvement courses, or travel for the experience and not the social status.
As a consumer, one may look to hobbies to fulfill their creative need, gardening, painting or arts and crafts for example. Morality will rear its head in ways like, what one can can do to help his fellow man, it may start by giving away or donating furniture, extra clothing or time to those that are less fortunate. Many grocery stores will have food donation receptacles reminding those to help meet the basic needs of the poor. Around the holidays, toy drives and wish lists are prominently displayed in departments stores prompting charitable emotions for consumers with more disposable income than the average shopper, a person who has reached the apex of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.