Maslow & Branding: Control

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by: Jennifer Rice

OK… after 2 computer crashes, a new computer and a trip to San Fran, I'm back in business. I've been reviewing the 8 basic human needs in Maslow's Hierarchy and discussing the implications for branding. First came Security and Connection, then Esteem. Now we're on to a need that's currently not in the hierarchy but I think it's crucial: Control.

It's quite possible that Control didn't show up on Maslow's radar back in the 30's; I think our need for control is directly proportional to the rate of change in our society. As stability breaks down, our need to control whatever we can becomes greater.

Control is tightly linked to the notion of freedom; without freedom we have no ability to control our environment. Control and Freedom are two sides of the same coin, a linkage that has surfaced in primary research for several different technology and B2B clients. Features like flexibility and customization relate back to Control, but so do social technologies like blogs, forums, user ratings, etc.

The emerging grassroots economy is pushing both Freedom and Control into the hands of employees and customers… forming a vast, distributed human network where each node (individual) can connect, communicate, make choices, learn from each other, grow. In essence this new economy is enabling and empowering us to live and work the way we want, not how someone else tells us we must.

On a related note, the do-it-yourself (DIY) movement is spurred on by several core needs including Control, Cognitive and Self-expression. As it relates to control, DIY goes far beyond building your own deck or painting your house. Instead of paying professionals for our divorces,  wills, travel arrangements, stock trading or tax filing, we're embracing technology and information sources that enable us to learn and do it ourselves. In other words, we are taking control of the areas of life that are important to us (and we'll outsource those activities that aren't so essential.) Home Depot's tag line, "You Can Do It. We Can Help." beautifully sums up how brands can think about putting power and control in the hands of their customers.

The challenge for marketers is that we're accustomed to maintaining control (over our messages, over the product), but we're being pushed to share it. We're being relegated into the 'helper' role while customers are willingly doing the work. Customers are not only taking control over ad viewership (a la Tivo) but are appropriating many aspects of marketing and business including

  • marketing (word of mouth, consumer-created ads)
  • product development (open source,
  • media and journalism (blogs)
  • distribution (eBay, Amazon affiliates, peer-to-peer)
  • content & information (wikipedia)

At some point, perhaps we'll be evolved enough to realize that the pie is not finite — giving or sharing control does not leave us powerless. On the contrary, companies that ride the grassroots-economy wave and enable customers to have more control over the brand experience will find themselves in a much stronger place than those companies who refuse to open up. When you give customers control over the brand experience, they feel a sense of ownership… which of course leads to greater loyalty. And let's not forget all the unpaid labor you're getting with your volunteer army.

In what ways can you help your customers gain greater control… over their lives, their jobs, or your carefully crafted brand experience?

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