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Imagine having a magic tool in your hands that can help you direct your marketing communications in a way that speaks to your customers’ needs and inspires their confidence in your product or service. How would that impact your business and the way you speak to potential and existing customers?
A tool exactly like that is available, but it isn’t magic — it’s a psychological principle that was first established in 1943 by Abraham Maslow. It’s called the Hierarchy of Needs, and when you apply it to your marketing communications, especially your content marketing efforts, it can deliver powerful results.
Image via Flickr by Traveloscopy
Before digging into how the Hierarchy of Needs can help you laser-focus your marketing communications, it helps to be clear on the theory. The exciting thing about Abraham Maslow’s theory is that he wasn’t trying to figure out what could be wrong with people; instead, he was looking for the positive. He was trying to understand human potential and how people fulfill it.
He ultimately concluded that everyone has the desire to climb to a self-actualized state, and everyone has the ability to do it. The problems come into play when people try to move ahead before fully meeting their needs on the lower levels. Plus, to put a little twist in all of it, people can be on more than one level at once. Unfortunate life events can also knock a person back to a lower level even after they’ve moved to a higher one.
As you begin applying this to your content marketing efforts, you may want to start focusing on where your product or service fits in your target market’s stage of development. Later models of the Hierarchy of Needs had seven and eight stages, but for the sake of clarity and focus, this looks at the five original stages.
In this first stage of Maslow’s Hierachy of Needs, people’s needs are survival-based. When a person in this stage of life comes to your website, they’re most likely looking for information on how to meet their most basic physical needs. If your product is a commodity like a basic food staple, drinking water, or toilet paper, you may want to put extra focus on marketing to how it fulfills a person’s physiological needs.
Remember that everyone has these same needs, but the things someone at this level responds to will be very different from the factors people at other levels are seeing. For example, if you’re selling toilet paper to someone who’s struggling to get by, they’re probably going to be motivated by cost more than factors like softness, the brand, or whether it’s eco-friendly.
In the safety and security phase, people focus on the things that make them feel secure, like having basic resources and physical health. A target market in this phase of life might be those with a lower-middle-class income, a young couple just starting out in life or getting ready to start a family. Stories about things like how to improve your health, create a cozy home environment, and maintain your transportation typically resonate with people in this phase of life.
For example, if you’ve identified your target market as being in a lower income bracket or recovering from difficult life events, you might direct your market activity to this level. You would, however, ideally focus your marketing effort on the higher levels in your content storytelling, too.
The love and belonging stage begins to move people from the more basic aspects of life into a more intense need for relationships. People in this phase of life are likely to be settled in both career and home life, possibly even considering moving to a bigger home or finding a second career. Their needs have moved beyond the basics, and they’re looking for friends and a sense of fellowship.
For an identifying factor to look for in your target market demographics, consider focusing on middle to upper-middle-income levels. That’s not the only indicator, of course, but it gives you a place to start planning your content strategy. If you’re marketing to people in this relationship-centric segment, you may want to encourage interaction and make doubly sure your content is shareable on social media.
Esteem needs include the need for self-esteem and gaining the esteem of others. When people reach this stage, the focus has shifted from survival to pleasure. They’re typically very much set in life, with stable jobs, strong relationships, and not much to worry over financially.
They might look inward and write that book they always wanted to write or take a trip to an exotic location on their bucket list. To reach them with content marketing, tell stories that inspire and encourage them. Share ways your product or service can help them master a goal or enjoy a luxurious experience.
The self-actualization stage is all about reaching your full human potential. The focus is on something bigger than yourself. People in this stage have evolved from the desire to master a goal and enjoy a luxurious experience to the desire to help others. They’re more likely to care about sharing the wealth, paying it forward, and leaving a healthy, peaceful world for the next generation than people in the previous stages.
If your product or company has a philanthropic philosophy, this is the group that’s going to want to hear that message. Stories about enlightened behavior, enjoying life, and quality of life resonate with people who’ve reached the self-actualized level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. People at the self-actualized level still need the basic supplies as people at the base level, of course, but the things that inspire them to buy specific products and services have moved from raw need to a more ethereal plane.
Over the course of a lifetime, hierarchical needs transition from the things you need to survive to more emotional aspects as you move through these stages. At the peak, human needs become almost fully emotion-based. For the things you communicate with your customers to be effective, your content marketing message ideally needs to speak to the level your customers have attained in the hierarchy of needs.