Maslow and Branding

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by: Jennifer Rice

Remember back in your Psych 101 class when you learned about Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs? Bet you never expected to see it again in the business world, but… ta da! Here it is.

Personally I think a few are missing like freedom and control. But in general, we can easily see how strong brands relate back to the hierarchy. In the next couple posts, I'll walk through the expanded hierarchy (8 needs instead of 5) and discuss their relation to brand strategy.

Right above survival (food, water, shelter) we find security and risk aversion. This is the "No one ever got fired for buying IBM" syndrome. There are people  everywhere who will only purchase products and services from companies that have proven themselves over time. They stuck with SBC when their more adventurous counterparts were fleeing to try one of the new competitive phone companies. They don't want to be held responsible for making a bad decision if the new company on the block doesn't pull through. Security and trust are tightly aligned; since this is such a fundamental human need, all brands need to earn trust. But incumbents have (usually) earned the right to differentiate themselves on risk aversion, especially in rapidly changing markets like high-tech.

Above risk aversion we find connection and belonging. Combine this fundamental need with the fact that our society has become extremely fragmented, and you've got (IMO) the primary fueling factor for the explosion of social technologies like blogs, wikis and forums. We no longer stay in the same job for 50 years; we participate in fewer local activities; we do less and less as families and more as individuals (for more on this subject, check out Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam). We're seeing this era of fragmentation come to a close, and the locus of connection is reforming on two very different levels: the physical world where brands like Starbuck's are providing modern tribal gathering spots, and the virtual world where like-minded people can connect based on affinity instead of geography (like Slashdot.)

As with trust, all brands can work on facilitating a sense of connection through blogs and forums. But newer brands that are plugged into the grassroots economy are making 'connection' a foundational differentiator for their brands. I'll end up revisiting social technologies and grassroots economy after going though the entire hierarchy, because the virtual locus of connection is actually the point at which 4 different needs intersect.

I'll tackle the next two, Esteem and Cognitive, in the next post. In the meantime, what are your thoughts on security and connection? Do you have examples/counterexamples?

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