Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in online marketing

Abraham Maslow , an American psychologist who was best known for creating Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, was of the idea that every man is motivated by five basic needs in his lifetime.

The principle is simple. From the time you are born, you have needs that have to be met for your overall well-being. As you grow, needs will change  and when they are not met accordingly, that motivates man to work harder and smarter towards attaining them.

We share an example of the hierarchy of needs in form of a pyramid. 

The start of every man’s need is PHYSIOLOGICAL, consisting of food, warmth(clothes etc) and shelter. These underlie your most common needs that man cannot live without.

This is a very straight forward theory that can resonate on different platforms of man’s life. However, Maslow insists that the top of the needs cannot be met if the lower level needs are not satisfied.

The ultimate assumption is that SELF-ACTUALIZATION is the highest level of need that man propels toward.

According to Maslow, self-actualization “refers to the person’s desire for self-fulfillment, namely – the tendency for him to become actualized in what he is potentially”. In other word’s, the highest level of being possible.

The Hierarchy of needs in business

We already know that certain needs have to be met to ensure self-actualization right? Suggestively, it is not too far off to equate the needs hierarchy to the needs of consumers in marketing products and services.

The needs on the lower (bottom block) level of the hierarchy are the most basic human needs therefore appealing to those needs will instigate potential success.

The same goes for the remaining levels of the hierarchy. It has always been said that when trying to start a business, the first place to start is by finding the need for a market.

If you are given a task to analyse consumer needs, they will all differ respectively.

According to Psychology Wiki, African countries are typically made up of collectivist societies where individuals are taught to be active in society and that societal needs come before those of your own.

Therefore if a business model has to be drafted for a collectivist group in South Africa, most likely it would be in rural/high density areas. Their needs would be the physiological, safety and belonging levels on the hierarchy. However, with the rapid growth of mobile devices and social media activity, more and more societies in South Africa are becoming knowledgeable.

By implication, it means that more people are educating themselves beyond their orientated environments.

It is estimated that of the 51.8 million people living in SA, 11 million of them make use of smart phones.

What does this mean for online/ social media marketing?

Social Media Hierarchy of Needs 2015

The above infographic was created by John Antonios who structured how social media marketing can be integrated within Maslow’s hierarchy.

He believes in Maslow’s theory that basic needs such as creating a social media profile on any one of the available platforms must be met before the social interaction stage can proceed, “ultimately reaching our social optimization”, i.e. self-actualization.

Social media sites as compared with the hierarchy of needs:

If we were to follow the hierarchy just as Maslow intended it to be, this would be the result of how people would go about having a presence on online social media:

1) Safety and security: LinkedIn

It is a professional social platform with a certain level of seriousness about it. The need for safety is fulfilled here because profiles are more professional than private.

It was made so that people can fulfill their security needs; employment, property and resources.

2) Love and belonging: Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram

These are your most basic social sites.  They give you a platform to be creative, express oneself and keep up with social connections whether it’s family, friends acquaintances or colleagues.

They also help one to develop a style to which he/she will be known for, thus creating a brand for future prospects; whether in business or personal life.

3) Esteem: Instagram, Twitter, Google+

These platforms allow for people to feel a part of a course. The simple action of posting your favourite pictures or sharing your thoughts gains followers, and attention depending on how things are posted.

The level of one’s esteem is really dependent on the reactions of the public. The more you unique you are, the more you get re-tweeted, followed etc, which bumps up your confidence and ego levels.

4) Self-Actualization: Blogger and WordPress

This is a much more open-minded and mature level, where freedom of expression is equipped with a deeper view of life in general.

Blogging requires a different level of creativity and thinking outside the box. The knowledge and experience based shared and gained allows for interaction between like-minded people who know where to go to find what they want to read about. 

However, in the REAL world, starting up on online social media does not follow that exact order of Maslow’s Hierarchy, for obvious reasons;

 1) People don’t wait to get to the level of seeking a “job” (security need) to join online social media

2) Facebook is usually the first online social media site that people prefer to have a presence initially (it’s more popular and easier to use)

3) Followed by Twitter and Instagram and lastly LinkedIn (in no particular order)

How do we know this?

The website showed that of the number of daily active Facebook users in the first quarter of 2015, 936 million visited the site daily, of which 65 percent of daily users in general, used the Facebook account (608,4 million).

On twitter however, monthly active international Twitter users were a mere 236 million. Interestingly enough though, LinkedIn is said to be one of the “most popular social networks in terms of active users” with a membership of 300 million!


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So if we were to analyze the hierarchy without putting emphasis of the order of needs, then it makes sense. However, that does not make “social media sense” because the online business is an ever-changing market!

The better the technology reach and use, the more competitive the social media space gets, which means sites have to constantly work on making sure that they remain relevant to the market.  

In conclusion, the base of marketing is in Psychology, and numbers. Understanding of consumer needs and wants, is optimal in the identification of targets and design of accurate online marketing strategies.

Know your consumer’s needs, know how to appeal to them and you can never go wrong!

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