Maslow’s Theory has been circulating since the 1940s, but it has never been more relevant than it is today. In a society that changes at the click of a button, it seems as if consumers are all over the map on what they want. But when you get down to it, we all have basic needs that we are trying to fulfill. When brands understand these needs and build upon them to create mutual respect, learning, and values, they can achieve actualization. Reach higher.
A refresher on Maslow’s Theory
If you need a refresher on Maslow’s Theory, we don’t blame you. The Hierarchy of Human Needs “is a motivational theory in psychology comprising a five-tier model of human needs, often depicted as hierarchical levels within a pyramid.” This recognizable pyramid breaks down into five sections between three tiers.
At the bottom (Basic Needs tier) are physiological needs like food and water and safety needs like security and shelter. In the middle tier (Psychological Needs) is belongingness and love needs like intimate relationships and friends. As well as esteem needs like the feeling of accomplishment. In the final tier (Self-Fulfillment Needs) is self-actualization, which is “achieving one’s full potential, including creative activities.”
Maslow’s idea with the pyramid is that humans need to fulfill their basic needs before they can focus on the next level. And if there is a deficit in these needs, it must be addressed or the person cannot hope to self actualize.
If you’re still awake at your desk, this is where branding comes in. If you consider your brand a living thing, then you must climb the tiers of the pyramid to have brand actualization. Remembering that your customers are human can only help your brand become relatable and authentic.
By following Maslow’s basic principles and applying them to your brand, you can strive for brand actualization. Which means your brand goes above and beyond basic needs and lives up to a higher brand purpose.
Tier 1: What needs is your brand fulfilling?
Depending on what type of product or service you sell, your brand may be meeting consumer’s basic needs without trying very hard. For example, if you are a food service or custom home company. But, as you well know, meeting the most basic needs is the beginning. If you stop there, you run the risk of your brand becoming stagnant and irrelevant.
A recent Hubspot piece interpreted Maslow’s hierarchy into common customer needs for brands. They broke their needs into two categories: Product Needs and Service Needs. The basic needs they outline should be something all brands make a priority. These include functionality, convenience, design, performance, empathy, transparency, options, and accessibility.
Another basic need is brand trust. In recent years, consumers are distrustful of brands, especially bigger ones, for misusing their data. But that’s only one element of brand trust. To establish trust, brands must be “over-communicating and demonstrating how they’re ensuring the safety of their consumers.”
If your brand can check off these needs, then you are on your way to achieving brand devotion and actualization.
Tier 2: Creating brand devotion
If basic needs refer to product and service needs, then the middle tier of the Maslow Theory, when applied to brands, is brand devotion. In a traditional Maslow pyramid, this middle tier houses Belongingness, Love Needs, and Esteem Needs. When you distill it for brands, that’s your brand devotion or loyalty. And recent studies show that “only 9 percent of U.S. consumers say they’re loyal to brands that they’ve always bought.” Which means modern marketers have a long way to go.
Within the brand devotion category (read: Psychological Needs if looking at a traditional pyramid), are two subcategories: brand belonging and brand respect.
Brand belonging is only legitimate for your customers when it occurs authentically. You are cultivating a feeling of belonging when customers see you speaking to them and understanding them. Brands that go beyond the basic products and services can “play a substantial role in expressing one’s identity by expressing and reinforcing various depictions of what a community means.” You can achieve this by being inclusive and representative in your marketing. By showing people of different ages, backgrounds, genders, and by highlighting different points of view. When customers feel represented, they feel that they belong.
When equating this subcategory to Maslow’s Theory, brand respect is equal to Esteem Needs. Respect is a two-way street and one in which customers will reciprocate only if the brand respects them first. A lot of this has to do with customer experience. Which, at the moment, “only 22 percent of U.S. consumers think that brands are able to build an exceptional customer experience.”
And, even though empathy, trust, and fairness are part of Tier 1 for branding, they carry over into brand respect as well. You become a respected brand when you foster a community with values and goals that align with your audience. And when using your product or service allows consumers to feel accomplished.
Before diving fully into achieving brand actualization, it’s important to note a slight update to Maslow’s pyramid that occurred in the ’70s. This update added two more subcategories in Tier 2 that addressed Cognitive Needs like knowledge, curiosity, and understanding. And Aesthetic Needs like appreciation for beauty, balance, and form. This means your brand must also challenge your customers and appeal to their curiosity. Oh, and create meaningful and beautiful messages.
Tier 3: Achieving brand actualization
Now for the peak: brand actualization. Actualization is “the realization of a person’s potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.” For brands, actualization means that you have both elevated and lived out your brand purpose. When you have not only met your customer’s basic needs and created brand loyalty and respect. But your brand stands for something bigger than itself. That it contributes positively to society and has a purpose bigger than profits. Ultimately, “brands that know who they are and what their role is within society behave as conscious companies with an elevated, mission-driven purpose that attracts and retains devoted consumers.”
So how do you know when your brand has achieved this? There’s unfortunately not a department that puts the seal of approval on actualized brands. But you can ask yourself some questions about your brand:
- Does your brand “embrace the facts and realities of the world”?
- Is your brand spontaneous, agile, and creative?
- Does your brand solve a problem, whether for individuals or societies?
- Does your brand “feel a closeness to the human condition, express respect for all people, and generally [is] life-affirming”?
Brand actualization is something that your brand can achieve. But it’s also something that you have to work to maintain. After all, if actualization involves being the most that you can be, is your work ever really done?
We admit that categorizing brand actualization can be a subjective process. Still, there are certain brands that have gone above and beyond their customer’s basic and psychological needs to become something much more.
There’s a reason why the athletic juggernaut makes our list so often. Nike has lived up to its brand purpose from its inception. And the choices the company has made––from branding to social responsibility––have led to its actualization. The purpose? “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.” Nike lives this mission from the Just Do It campaign that inspires athletes at every age. To its If You Let Me Play campaign to its give back, focusing on “fueling communities.”
Starbucks’ purpose is simple: “To inspire and nurture the human spirit—one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.” The international coffee company has become actualized by living up to this mission at every touchpoint. The company focuses on the basic physiological (food, drinks) and psychological (shelter, place to belong) needs for customers and partners (employees). But it also creates brand devotion through meaningful experiences. And its corporate social responsibility goals of sustainably sourcing products and creating opportunities ties into their values of inspiration and nourishment.
The Body Shop
As far as actualization goes, The Body Shop is a double-whammy. With founder Anita Roddick achieving self-actualization (founding the company to survive and growing it to something much bigger) and her brand achieving it as well. Its purpose to “Enrich, not Exploit” shows how the company is “committed to enriching its people, products, and planet.” The Body Shop not only respects its customers’ most basic needs. It has also focused on sustainable, natural ingredients and the higher purpose of “regenerating 75 million square meters of habitat helping communities to live more sustainably.”
Maslow’s Theory in practice
The last time you heard about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs was probably in high school psychology class. But if you are a marketer, the Hierarchy of Human Needs is more relevant than ever. From making sure your customers’ most basic needs are met to achieving brand actualization, it turns out we can learn a lot from Maslow.