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Marketing with Maslow

There may be features of your products and services that you take for granted, but are untapped and powerful buying incentives for your customers. Just for a second, forget about price, quality, and service. Then ask the expert on motivation – psychologist Abraham Maslow. OK – so you can’t actually ask him, but you can use his famed Pyramid of Hierarchal Needs to unearth those hidden incentives.

The idea is:

The further down the pyramid you go, the stronger the motivation. For example, if you were selling in-home oxygen tanks, the biological appeal – the ability to prolong life – would be stronger than the safety appeal – fire prevention features.

Market from the Lowest Legitimate Tier

This all goes back to our cave-dwelling ancestors. Anything that would allow them to stay alive and avoid danger – say the thundering feet of a dinosaur - grabbed their attention. Everything else was pretty much fluff. So if you want attention, make your strongest marketing appeal from the lowest believable tier.

Note that I used the word believable. No matter how much the makers of children’s toys would like to market their products as biological necessities, they realize it would be foolish to try. But this hasn’t stopped hoards of other businesses from creating trivial products and services and marketing them as necessities. The tactic is to create an atmosphere of false fear – if you don’t have a surge protector, lightening will inevitably strike while you are completing your doctoral thesis, your computer will fail, and you will have to start from scratch.

Most consumers can see through such claims, many will be insulted, and the marketing campaign may create an unintended backlash.

There’s also a lot to be said for sincerity – meaning that you and your company really do care about fulfilling certain needs that your customers have. It’s a pretty good feeling to know that you’re making money and improving lives at the same time. Think of making a profit as a way of expanding your business so that you can help more people.

Maximize the Tier you’re in

Really think about the tier your offering falls into – you might be surprised. Consider networking for a minute. On the surface, it seems like a Belongingness activity, but many networking opportunities are based on Biological getting and not Belongingness giving.

If your product or service naturally falls into one of the lower tiers – promote features and benefits that highlight those needs. For example, if you sell power tools, be very specific about the safety features and their benefits.

Move Down a Tier or Two by…

1. Tweaking your Offering into a Lower Tier

Make modifications to your existing offering. Tweak your product into a lower tier that is more motivating to buyers. Manufacturers of many consumer products, such as cars, add safety features - with the added benefit that the car makes an appeal at a stronger motivational level.

2. Creating a New Offering for a Lower Tier

Can you create a new product or service, based on your current offering that reaches consumers at a more basic level? The new examples of this are manufacturers of packaged foods with little or no nutritional value (soft drinks, cookies) that are now adding vitamins and promoting the health (Biological) benefits.

3. Creating the Impression of a Lower Tier

In contrast to the funeral industry, consider high-end cosmetics. The industry has a legitimate claim on the Beauty tier, but not on the Esteem tier from which it markets. Billions of dollars in annual advertising create the impression that the more one spends on cosmetics, the more self-esteem one will have. It works. However, there are some serious ethical considerations in creating a false sense of urgency by marketing from a tier that your offering doesn’t legitimately occupy.

The Effect of the Overall Need Environment

Finally - I’m sure you’ve noticed that there’s always an overall consumer mood. For example, during robust economic times, when Biological and Safety needs are satisfied, companies with offerings in the upper five tiers enjoy healthy growth. In less secure times companies that satisfy lower tier needs perform well. There isn’t much your company can do about it except modify existing products or create new ones.

* * * * * *

Look at the offerings you have right now, look at the tiers of Maslow’s pyramid, and ask yourself where your offerings fall. If they naturally fall low on the pyramid, take advantage of it. If they don’t, look for ways to adjust your products and services so that they appeal to a more basic need. Remember to market biologically, not logically.

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