Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs & Archetypes: How These Two Psychological Tools Can Build Powerful Brands
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Abraham Maslow, a psychologist, created the ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ to explain core human motivations from as early as 1943 and continued his work on this model throughout his career. The Hierarchy, while not rigidly linear, helps us understand the order in which basic to more complex human needs tend to be a focus for us.
Of course, marketers jumped right onto it and now use it to help understand how brands can better connect with their customers.
When we understand Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and at which levels our brands play, we can understand our role in their lives better. Doing this helps us to then communicate the benefits our products and services can bring them. The model also guides us for improving our offer for our audience, to serve them better.
Archetypes [here’s an intro into brand archetypes right here] give you a picture of WHO your brand is. Maslow’s Hierarchy gives you a picture of HOW your product or service benefits your customer. Combine these two, and you’ve got yourself a powerhouse of psychology behind you to better connect your brand with your audience.
Let’s break down each of the needs and how certain brand archetypes might play in each:
The first of the needs is the most basic of human requirements for survival. Without these needs being met, we’re typically not going to focus on fulfilling needs higher up the ladder. These most primary needs include things like food, water, sleep, shelter, sex and comfort.
For brands that are playing at this level of the hierarchy, more effort is required to build strong brand ties, because there is greater competition. So many other products and services can fulfill needs at this level, so there’s greater choices available. This means the work to be done is to create a distinct brand position in the minds of the audience.
How brand archetypes might play to this level of the Hierarchy:
They set out to do the right thing, to keep everyone happy and onside. They’re transparent, honest and sometimes naive.
They act in the service of others first, they’re nurturing, based on family and community values.
Once physiological needs are fulfilled, we next move onto ensuring we and our families are safe and secure. These are things like financial security, emotional welfare, freedom, stability, health and wellbeing.
These needs are about predictability, order and control. Brands that play to these needs have to provide assurance, credibility and certainty to be believable and trusted.
This archetype is all about looking to tradition and time-honoured standards. Structure, function and professionalism are key values for The Ruler.
In the context of this need, Caregiver brands demonstrate how they help people feel safe and looked after.
This archetype is motivated by bringing joy. While it might feel at odds with Safety, when carefully executed by tapping into core insights, this can be a powerful differentiating archetype in this space.
When our physiological and safety needs are met, we seek out connection with others. This is about forming relationships, because we are social beings and need a certain level of engagement with others.
An example to illustrate this is Tom Hanks’ character, ‘Chuck’, in the movie Castaway. Chuck finds himself stranded on a deserted island after his plane crashes. As a sole survivor, he must find food and water, create shelter from the elements and ensure he’s protected from any danger. Once he has these things in place, he craves social connection. So he creates Wilson. You know the rest.
At this level of the hierarchy, things like friendship, community, trust, acceptance, affection, love and intimacy come into play. Brands that are about interpersonal relationships need to demonstrate authentic understanding and create genuine, lasting connections. They tend to encourage community or actively facilitate it.
The ‘everyperson’ archetype is about connecting with people, creating community and having a good time together.
This archetype is driven by creating intimate and rich experiences. They’re about luxury and the finer things in life.
Fighting for a cause by rallying people together. Heroes will typically find a way within the boundaries of what’s acceptable – they’ll stretch limits. Outlaws aren’t afraid to break the rules, so they will push right through limits and are provocative in doing so.
As we move higher up the hierarchy, we set our sights on personal growth and development. The needs around Esteem, Maslow actually separated into two:
1) looking inward to feel good about themselves (dignity, achievement, independence)
2) looking outward for approval from others (recognition, status, prestige)
Brands that play to Esteem need help to elevate one, the other, or in some cases, both. Celebrity endorsement is commonly used here to communicate associations between brands and status. It’s a powerful level for brands to play, as affinity with brands in this space is about ‘what it says about me’.
Unsurprisingly, many luxury brands play to this need.
In the context of the Esteem need, The Ruler brand is very much about showcasing status and prestige, as it is helping its customers say to others “look at me”.
Here the goal is to bring people together to achieve a common goal, anything relying on the community effect to succeed
Here the Lover also taps into the rich experience their customer will feel having used their product / service, but also what it says to others about them.
The Sage archetype’s drive is to seek truth through knowledge. Brands that play here help people gain recognition, demonstrate independence, act as a symbol of prestige or status.
The Magician is motivated by making dreams come true, through understanding the ways of the universe. Magician brands help people transform, so play to the Esteem need by helping them achieve a new version of themselves.
The top of the pyramid is characterised as one seeking to reach their full potential. This is about peak fulfilment for a happy life and can be expressed in a number of ways.
Creative, athletic, academic, economic are broad examples, but to each individual, it could mean something that to them is of the highest importance. Brands that play here help their customers to reach this highest potential – they help them master their craft. In this way, it’s an incredibly powerful place for a brand to be playing such a role in a person’s life. It takes time to build such trust and affinity and as such, brand loyalty is an almost unbreakable bond.
It might feel a bit rich for a brand to say they help people self-actualise, but those which genuinely do share common traits: they’re spontaneous, creative, interested in solving problems, have a strong moral compass and are unbiased and objective. Of course, any of the Archetypes could be relevant here, as each strive for some form of better ‘life’ through either freedom, ego, order or social change/connection.
One example of a brand which plays credibly here is Nike. As a Hero archetype, they help their customers achieve their personal best, from the elite athletes they sponsor to the layperson with a personal goal in their sights.
These are just a few examples of the connection between Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Brand Archetypes. Identifying both your brand archetype and which level of needs your product or service predominantly fulfils will help you on your way to crafting clearer messages that motivate your audience.
If you’re three parts intrigued and one part confused AF, book a strategy session with me and we’ll get to the bottom of it for your brand.
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Finding your brand archetype is one piece of a bigger puzzle. A puzzle I’ve broken down into a DIY brand roadmap for overwhelmed solopreneurs to gain clarity, find your purpose and stop winging it.