Maslow and his Hierarchy of…Marketing?

the mas“I just self-Actualized, and it felt WONDERFUL!”

You have no doubt heard the old marketing story about the drill bits and the holes.   I wish I knew whom to credit for the example.   The example goes that thousands of drill bits are sold every year, but who wants a drill bit.   People want the holes.   So sell them on the value of a hole.   I want to take that even further.   

Who wants holes in their walls?   No one!   They want holes to put screws to either hold a something together or hang up something.   Sell them on how they will feel when they finally hang up that College Degree, knowing that it is secure…just like your child’s future.   This is an example of what I have nicknamed Maslowing.     

One classic example of Maslowing is in the tire industry.   Many tire advertisements will tell you about the quality of their tire, how they grip the road and won’t let your car roll over.   This is a basic ‘safety need’ commercial.   Then along come Michelin tires.   They let you know that your tires are safe, but why?   Because in a move towards a higher need level, they provide safety for your babies.   “Because so much is riding on your tires”, and a little diapered baby is sitting in a Michelin.   They went beyond the safety level and incorporated the love level as a motivating factor.   

Many people have heard of Maslow and his Hierarchy of Need.   It is a fantastic model for getting to the heart of human motivation, and isn’t motivating people the purpose of our marketing?     This is a quick explanation of the Hierarchy of Needs and then how it can relate to marketing.   Studying Maslow, I realize that there have been book upon books written about Maslow.   This will skim the top for the purposes of simplicity.   

Here is Maslow’s Hierarchy:


Transcendence (High)





Physiological (Low)


Physiological needs are the basic needs like food, shelter, air, sleep and water.   Discomfort, sickness or death can occur when these needs are net met. It is located at the base of Maslow’s design.   Examples of marketing focused on this level would be help lines, suicide prevention, food banks, homeless shelters and other organizations focused on helping people whom don’t even have the basic physiological needs met.

Safety needs are important for feeling secure in a chaotic world.   This is a desire for order, law, and security, a desire to know that things are available.   Marketing to safety needs are insurance companies, Alarm companies and car companies.   A lot of companies who just give information about their service or goods get stuck here.   It’s comforting to know the pharmacy is open on Main Street.   People feel safe knowing that your law office is “THERE”.   

Love needs are belonging needs.   We want to receive and give love.   This attracts us to groups, families and relationships.   We desire to have our mate and our tribe.   Love needs are marketed by showing belonging.  It’s advertising that focuses on family, clubs, memberships or romance.   You see this in online dating advertising and the ‘join the family here at XYZ Automotive” commercials.   It’s also where many companies use the old bandwagon technique, “Everyone is doing it”

Esteem needs for both self-esteem and recognition from other fall here.   This level requires achievement, status, prestige and recognition.   Many categories target the esteem need consumer, from cars to clothes, alcohol to home improvements.   Many purchases are made to satisfy the esteem needs, so you will find lots of marketing here.   

Self-Actualization is the need to become more then what you are.   Here you seek peace, knowledge and self-fulfillment.   Many colleges and universities market towards people in this area of the Hierarchy.    Most people don’t reach this category so many advertisers don’t target them.

Transcendence is where you help other achieve their potential.   Being a level farther then a level that most people do not ever reach, this is a hard area to target.   What do you sell to a person who has everything that they will ever need in life and only want to help others reach self-actualization?    This is such a small target audience, dollars would be better spent in other areas.


Maslow’s theory in a nutshell is that the basic needs of a human must be met before the other needs become motivating factors.   The general needs, starting from the bottom up, of Physiological, safety, love and esteem must be met for a person to grow up the Hierarchy.   For example, someone who doesn’t have shelter, food and water, doesn’t worry so much about self-esteem needs, for they are higher on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.   Once levels are achieved, higher needs become dominant, and when these in turn are satisfied, again a new and higher need emerges, and so on.   

People are on all different levels of the Hierarchy.   Just because someone meets a higher level, like love, doesn’t mean that they quit worrying about safety, it just becomes less of a concern, thus less of a motivating factor.   Many of these needs over lap, such as people who haven’t really found a tribe but will use esteem needs to try and attract one.     

This technique can be used for a small business as well. Memories Scrapbook store has options when it comes to marketing.   Like many stores, they could show their different die cuts, their stickers and albums. They could include a shot of the three thousand different colors of paper they have and include a shot of the front of the store. Come on down!   They are sitting at the safety level.   People feel secure in just knowing they exist.   

However, if they tried to reach a higher tier on the Hierarchy, they might find a stronger story to tell.   Would it be more motivating if they reminded the consumer that they don’t want to lose those memories, or they want to have something to share with their grandchild? What about having a place to save all those first place ribbons or the certificates?   The higher level marketing moves past knowing the store is there and giving the consumer reasons to shop.

Look at your marketing copy and decide which level you are trying to reach your customers at.   Would inviting customers at a different level of Maslow’s hierarchy benefit your company?   Who wants holes in their walls?