Why should you care about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?

Simple…because Marketing’s main focus is engaging with humans and that means understanding human nature, its needs, reactions and top priorities is a basic part of the marketing role. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs can play a major part in this.

For that reason, marketing and psychology usually overlap. That is why a good marketer knows that before developing a marketing strategy, understanding the target audience of a business is vital.

Doing this through psychology is an effective way of getting to know potential customers properly as it helps us find out what they like or dislike, what kind of language affects them and more.

The more you understand your audience, the greater influence your marketing strategies will have.

Maslow's Hierarchy of needs marketing featured image

Therefore, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – a popular psychological theory – can be a very useful key to understanding consumer buying behavior.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Definition: Psychology of Marketing

According to Simply Psychology “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a motivational theory in psychology comprising a five-tier model of human needs, often depicted as hierarchical levels within a pyramid.”

In 1943, Abraham Maslow proposed a theory of needs in his paper “A Theory of Human Motivation.” The theory suggests that there are five basic needs that every human being is entitled to fulfill. These needs are not equal, instead, they are hierarchical.

That’s why they are often called Maslow’s pyramid of needs, where the most basic and crucial needs are situated at the bottom of the pyramid. Once a level is fulfilled, humans are motivated by the next one, and so on.

What Does Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Include? (Original 5-Stage Model)

For marketers, Maslow’s Hierarchy can essentially be thought of as the five basic needs of every customer. These are:

  • Biological and Physiological needs: air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep.
  • Safety Needs: security, order, law, stability, freedom from fear.
  • Love and Belongingness needs: friendship, intimacy, trust, and acceptance, receiving and giving affection and love. Affiliating, being part of a group (family, friends, work, etc.)
  • Esteem needs:
  • esteem for oneself (dignity, achievement, mastery, independence)
  • reputation or respect from others (status, prestige)
  • Self-actualization needs: realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences. Maslow described that as: “to become everything one is capable of becoming.”

It is worthwhile to mention that Maslow himself modified these five needs later. Two more were added before self-actualization, and one was added on top of the pyramid. These three needs are:

  • Cognitive needs: knowledge and understanding, curiosity, exploration, need for meaning
  • Aesthetic needs: appreciation and search for beauty
  • Transcendence needs: values which transcend beyond the personal self (religion, experiences with nature, aesthetic experiences, service to others, the pursuit of science)

Observations on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (five-stage model) is divided into two categories: deficiency needs and growth needs. The first four are deficiency needs while the one on top is a growth need. Deficiency needs emerge when humans lack them. For example, when humans lack food they feel hungry, and therefore seek to satisfy this need.

The longer humans are deprived of a deficiency need, the stronger the desire becomes. Meaning that, the longer you are deprived of food, the hungrier you become. Once a deficiency need is met, the motivation to satisfy it disappears and humans seek to fulfill higher needs.  Once you satisfy your hunger, finding food will not be your motivation anymore. On the other hand, growth needs do not emerge from the lack of something. They merely stem from a desire to develop and make progress. Moreover, growth needs do not vanish when they are satisfied, they may even grow stronger.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Traditional Marketing

What Is Traditional Marketing?

Traditional marketing is any type of marketing that has existed for a long time and has proved itself successful through the ages. The four categories of traditional marketing are: print, broadcast, direct mail, and telephone. In other words, these are the four marketing “elders.” Print covers advertisements in newspapers, newsletters, magazines, and brochures. Broadcasts incorporates radio and television advertisements.

Meanwhile, direct mail includes fliers, postcards, brochures, letters, catalogs, and other material that is printed and mailed directly to consumers. Finally, telephone refers to telemarketing whether through cold calling or requested calling. These four channels continue to prove their effectiveness, despite the disruption caused by digital marketing.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: A Guiding Principle in Marketing Strategies

Many marketing schools consider Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs a compass which should guide all marketing efforts. In any marketing strategy, the main goal is to persuade potential consumers that they need a specific product or service. Marketing schools teach that in order to succeed at that, marketing campaigns must address at least one of Maslow’s needs. Two important factors play a role in using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in marketing: identifying the product’s strength features and its target audience.

Identifying a product’s strength points means highlighting the main reasons why people should buy this product. Identifying the target audience is a main step of this process. Consumer demographics such as age, gender, social class, interests, etc. are key factors in determining the proper audience for a specific product.

Using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in Positioning

A company manufactures a new, cost-effective, mid-sized family car. Why would consumers buy this car? Is it because of its optimum speed or because it is more economic? If the company highlights “speed” in its marketing campaign, they would be giving people reasons to stay away from this car. This is surely not the car’s strength point. Who is the target audience? The business class or middle-class families?

Imagine if this company decides to promote its new car by considering the upper class as their target audience, will it succeed? This car is money-saving, but is that what an A-class businessman/woman looking for?

How to Fix It?

Solving this problem starts by knowing what each group needs. Middle class families have lots of commitments and relatively limited resources. Most of their commitments are physiological needs which revolve mainly around saving money. In addition, they also need safety, comfort, and stability to guarantee the well-being of all the family members.

For that reason, it would be wise to highlight these needs to its matching target audience. On the other hand, most of the upper-class needs are esteem and self-actualization needs. There is a high probability that a businessman/woman has more than one car, so they are not exactly looking for a money-saving car. They need a luxury, high-speed car with multiple options instead.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Consumer Buying Behavior

Consumer buying behavior is a broad term that covers a consumer’s attitudes, preferences, and decisions in the marketplace. A huge part of studying consumer behavior relies on psychology and sociology. The first step in the buying process is problem recognition. Problem recognition refers to the time when a consumer realizes that he/she has an unfulfilled need.

The more basic the need, the higher motivation this consumer has. Here comes marketing’s goal, to convince consumers that a specific product meets their motivating need. Traditional marketing achieves that through perception, attention, distortion, and retention.


Perception in marketing is described as a process by which a consumer identifies, organizes, and interprets information to create meaning.” The way the audience “interpret” your brand’s marketing information is psychological. Seymor Smith, a prominent advertising researcher suggests that selective perception is “a procedure by which people let in, or screen out, advertising material they have an opportunity to see or hear. They do so because of their attitudes, beliefs, usage preferences and habits.” These two concepts play a role in how the audience receive your marketing efforts.


Grabbing the audience’s attention is different than sending the marketing message. You may have a great marketing message to deliver, but nobody is attentive enough to listen. To get attention, traditional marketing usually depends on shocking information, surprise, humor, visual aspects, or powerful headline. In addition, selective attention means that “people are more likely to notice stimuli that relate to a current need. A person who is motivated to buy a computer will notice computer ads; he or she will be less likely to notice DVD ads.”


Not everyone who notices your advertising is going to receive your message the way you intended. This is called distortion. Distortion literally means “giving a misleading impression of something.” Viewers tend to distort the information they receive based on their own previous brand conception and product beliefs. In other words, people may be biased when judging your product based on their previous experience with your brand. For example, when asked about their opinion of how a product tastes, consumers gave different answers when they did not know the brand of the product, than the ones they gave when they knew the manufacturing brand. Sometimes marketers call this “blind loyalty.”


Researchers estimate that the average person may be exposed to over 1,500 ads or brand communications a day. Viewers will forget most of the advertisements they see during the day. However, as a message is being repeated, it sticks into our memories.

Or as the saying goes, “Repeat it, believe it.” Brands who have been there for a while establish their brand awareness by maintaining the same slogan for a long time, such as “I’m lovin’ it” or “Just do it.” This helps consumers recognize and remember the brand through repetition.

How Can You Apply Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs through Traditional Marketing?

Study Your Product

A common mistake that marketers make is not knowing the strength points of the product they are promoting. Take time to know all your product’s features. Try answering questions like what kind of value does it provide? Most likely, each product has some key features that you should shed the light on. One is money-saving, other may be user-friendly, while another could provide higher security.

Pinpointing a product’s key features will help you determine which one of Maslow’s needs it addresses, and therefore, helps you determine the target group which desires to fulfill these needs.

Stay Relevant to the Target Audience’s Needs

If you managed to execute the first step correctly, staying relevant to your target audience should come naturally. By applying further study onto your target audience, you can figure out what they need. Creating a consumer persona is the ideal way of understanding your audience’s needs. Some target groups will be more obvious, while others may require further study.

If the product you wish to promote is a children’s toy, it is easy to determine what your consumers need from your product: safe for children, educational, entertaining, and money-saving. However, if your task is to promote financial services, the needs of your consumers is less obvious and your target audience have varying needs, which will require further studying from your side.

SEE ALSO: 6 Effective Sales Techniques Guaranteed to Close the Deal

Deliver Your Message

The most effective marketing tricks lie in the details. Pay attention to the way you choose to deliver your message while addressing consumers’ needs. Determine the tone and language of your advertisements based on the your target audience’s characteristics. The tone you use in addressing mothers should be different than the one you use with businessmen. Age, gender, social, class, and the nature of the product gives your advertisement a specific frame of reference.

Useful Repetition

As we’ve seen, repetition is beneficial to consumer retention. However, exhausting your audience with excessive repetition will only bore them, and will wear your brand out. The old golden “Rule of Seven” suggests that a prospective buyer needs to hear or see a marketing message at least seven times before making a decision to purchase.

Marketing and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

As we’ve seen, the role of Maslow’s theory in understanding your potential customers could be of huge value. The fact that the Hierarchy of Needs has stood the test of time until today suggests that it Maslow’s thinking about human motivation has much to offer, even in the today’s world of digital marketing.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs is a very important framework for modern marketers. Image credit: ProfileTree

Motivation Theory and Marketing Strategy

Let’s take a bit of a step back. Why is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs important for modern marketers? The answer to this is fairly straight forward. The role of any good marketer is to find creative ways to consumers with the products and services which suit their needs.

It’s hard to do this without understanding what motivates consumer behaviour. As such, the importance of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs should be pretty self-evident.

The question then becomes how do you use Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for marketing?

The key is to making appeals to each tier of Maslow’s hierarchy. That is how y our products and services can make people:

  • Healthier,
  • Safer,
  • Happier,
  • Belong,
  • Be the person they’d like to be.

There are countless ways to use Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in marketing like this. Levers you can pull include your:

  • Branding,
  • Copy,
  • Imagery,
  • Video,
  • And really any other tool at your disposal.

The key is to use the factors which motivate your target audience to inform all of your campaigns. Additionally, consider that some audiences need at each tier will differ from others.

For example, different age groups may have different ideas of esteem or safety.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Advertising Examples

Of course, studying marketing theory is one thing, but to truly understand the importance of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it’s helpful to look at some concrete examples. Luckily, there are countless examples of Maslow marketing out there, if you just know where to look.

Interestingly, some of the best examples of hierarchy of needs marketing can be found towards the top of the pyramid. This makes a certain amount of sense, as luxury brands are often the best placed to cover all elements of Maslow’s hierarchy of consumer needs.

Check out the following ad from Mercedes:

Hierarchy of needs marketing mercedes example ad
Mercedes consciously reference the fact that their products provide something well beyond what is necessary of a car. Image credit: Mercedes

This ad makes it explicitly that Mercedes AMG provide something above and beyond safety or other utilitarian purchasing factors for a car. Instead, with language like ‘cockpit’ and ‘wings’, the copy emphasises thrill and excitement. This isn’t a utilitarian product, it’s about fun. This hits the self actualization level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and consumer behaviour.

Additionally, the imagery touches on several tiers of Maslow’s behavioural theory. The open door is a clear visual metaphor for providing a sense of belonging, while the prominence of luxury Mercedes and AMG branding are aimed at projecting esteem.

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