In 1943 Maslow proposition was about people’s needs was first made in a paper entitled “A theory of human motivation”.

Maslows hierarchy of needsHe used the terms Physiological, Safety, Belongingness and Love, Esteem, Self-Actualization and Self-Transcendence to describe the pattern of needs that motivate people. At the time he didn’t present it as a hierarchy, nor as a pyramid, but that has become the accepted representation these days.

While the hierarchy remains a popular framework, it has largely been replaced by attachment theory in clinical psychology and psychiatry. However since attachment theory concerns how people respond to separation within relationships, it has less relevance for general marketing.

All brands, products and services are designed to meet their target’s needs. So Maslow’s hierarchy is a good structure for marketing. This framework is also especially useful for global or regional businesses as I will explain in a moment.

Three steps to working with needs based marketing

1. Satisfying: Firstly identify which of the five levels your brand or service is looking to fulfill. Remember that different brands, even in the same category, can play to differing needs, especially in their advertising.

While it is generally accepted that the lower needs must be met before higher needs can be addressed, there are exceptions. Think of consumers in poorer countries who may buy a TV over proper shoes and clothing for their children. In such cases status and in particular consumer emotions are playing an important role.

2. Resonating: Next develop communications for your target audience by incorporating solutions to their relevant needs. These will obviously resonate more quickly and easily with them than product or service information alone. They would also be more emotional and will therefore have greater impact on them.

Here are some good examples that I have seen in recent years of easily identifiable needs that are being addressed through advertising.

– Knorr’s packet soup in the UK, based on needs of food, safety and love. See the video

– Cartier’s corporate campaign from 2012, which marked its 165th anniversary, was appropriately named “L’Odyssée de Cartier.” It is clearly based on esteem and self-actualisation.

– Omo washing powder, one from a long series entitled “Dirt is good” based on safety and love. See video

– Peugeot car, based on self-esteem and status: See video

A golden oldie from the UK back seat safety belt buckle-up campaign, based on safety. Warning, the ending is violent! See video

Interestingly, all these examples are from several years ago. Although newer ads are available, they are not as blatantly needs-based as are these examples. I believe one reason for this is the increase in the level of pure emotional content of advertising today.

We find much more content these days that addresses desires rather than needs. One reason for this is that marketers have come to realise that people buy out of desire and not only out of need.

What makes marketing a challenge in this environment is that people find it easier to speak about their needs or what they don’t want, than about their dreams and desires.

Henry Ford already knew this when he said:

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horses”

Ford however responded to his customers needs by providing a better solution, in an exciting new vehicle. A more recent quote with a similar sentiment comes from the late Steve Jobs of Apple. People often claim that he was against market research, but that was not true. He was only against market research in which answers were sought directly from consumers. He objected to marketers simply to the answers given without further thought. As he was quoted as saying:

“It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them” (>>Tweet this<<)

I believe he understood that it was better to respond to a consumers desires than to their needs. Look at Apple’s advertising; it has almost always been resonating emotionally rather than rationally with its target customers. Their most recent advertisement is a great example of this – and a real tear-jerker too! No product images, just a reference in the title and in the closing shot. How many other brands can allow this?

However, I know that many good examples of needs-based advertising do still exist. If you yourself have any representing identified human needs, then it would be great if you would share them in the comments below.

3. Going Global: Another advantage of using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to position a regional or global brand is that they are relevant at a human level. That is why these communication ideas are often referred to as “Human truths”.

Using Maslow’s needs increases the likelihood of a successful roll-out regionally or even globally. The examples above, although mentioned as being from certain markets, were actually all regional or global campaigns.

So coming back to the question asked in the title of this post, the answer is BOTH.

To guarantee satisfaction, your customers must feel that you really care about them and understand their needs. If you are successful in connecting at an emotional level, they will identify themselves with what is shown. Furthermore, an emotionally charged ad is more likely to be shared with their friends on social media. This is an important, dare I say essential benefit for today’s connected world.

If you believe that your communications are not addressing your target customers’ needs AND desires, then please contact us. We have some great case studies from well-known brands that we can share. We know they will inspire you and support your desire to improve your own. You will also be excited to learn about the unique, proprietary methodology we use to understand the meaning your customers take away from your ads – whatever the media as well as across multiple platforms.

This post is based on a much shorter one that was first published on C³Centricity.

C³Centricity used images from Denyse’s book “Winning Customer Centricity” and one from Microsoft.