Maslow and Branding: Esteem

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by: Jennifer Rice

Yesterday we looked at Security and Connection, the two most foundational needs (above basic survival) on Maslow's Hierarchy. I was planning to focus on another two today, but this next need — Esteem — is rather juicy. I'll save the other ones for tomorrow.

Or, "make me feel special and important."  There are numerous ways that brands can deliver on customers' need for Esteem; customer service comes to mind first. A great example is Conference Calls Unlimited, which stopped all advertising and redirected marketing dollars into overqualified customer care members, employee incentives and a ton of customer perks including free passes to events and conferences (I received flowers after my first conference call!). The CEO, Zane Safrit, informed me that the strategy produced measurable results.

Some newer ways of delivering Esteem include:

  • "New Economy" forums like LegoFactory. Not only is this a place to show off your new Lego designs to other community members, but you also get a chance to be publicly recognized for a great design by the Lego Product Designers themselves. Another example is Slashdot, where you earn karma for smart participation in the forums. You can see in the FAQs that people's karma scores serve as  'reputation badges,' and it appears that some folks were a bit peeved when the karma indicator was changed from a potentially unlimited number to a label ( Terrible, Bad, Neutral, Positive, Good, and Excellent.) You can see the importance of Esteem in this (pretty funny) response:
    • "Q: It seems unfair that I can't get any more karma than that even if I earn it.

A. The text label is one way we've decided to emphasize the point that karma doesn't matter…. Karma is used to remove risky users from the moderator pool, and to assign a bonus point to users who have contributed positively to Slashdot in the past. It is not your IQ, d**k length/cup size, value as a human being, or a score in a video game. It does not determine your worth as a Slashdot reader. It does not cure cancer or grant you a seat on the secret spaceship that will be traveling to Mars when the Krulls return to destroy the planet in 2012. Karma fluctuates dramatically as users post, moderate, and meta-moderate. Don't let it bother you. It's just a number in the database."

Interesting; they're trying to emphasize that karma doesn't matter. Clearly it does… it's a foundational human need. Despite their huge success, they may do even better if they reinstate numbers instead of labels. It's all about earning recognition.

  • Amazon's plogs (personalized weblogs) and recommendations are good examples of how to deliver Esteem using technology instead of people. They're so good it's almost creepy. I visited Amazon yesterday and was greeted with "Jennifer's Plog" that included a long post written by Elizabeth Kostova, author of The Historian (good book, BTW.)  Amazon is the only brand from which I actually enjoy receiving emails; they're always kindly informing me about a new book that I should be interested in (and they're always right.) It's as if I had a personal book assistant thinking about what Jennifer might want to read.

So yes, this really is all about ego. We don't like to admit that we need our ego stroked, that we want to be recognized and feel important. But hey, it's a fact AND it's a huge motivator for purchase (like L'Oreal's tag line: "It's more expensive, but I'm worth it.") Obviously all fashion, cosmetics, car companies, etc. are playing on Esteem, but as you can see from the above examples, any company can meet this need.

How could your brand boost your customers' egos and make them feel special?

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