An Introduction to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

An Introduction to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
John Hernandez
Written by John Hernandez
How-to / tutorials

Effective marketing is essential to a growing brand. Small business owners and managers need to know how to communicate with customers and prospects to grow a healthy company. While definitions of marketing vary by textbook or industry, it all points to one thing: marketing is communicating value to the right audience.

By effectively sharing your message, you can connect with your potential customers. They see the value you offer and how it fulfills their unique needs. How can we find the best way to connect with our audience through marketing? We need to understand the basic underlying needs of humankind.

When we study what people inherently want, we can distill those principles and create an effective strategy for our brand. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs identifies those underlying wants and equips us to apply them to our own companies and customers.

The model helps us break down each need. Each business likely targets a certain need the most, depending on the product perception, price, industry, and the positioning of the brand. But you'll quickly see how a shifting economy and customer needs can easily relate to more (or all) needs and even change entirely.

Why We Need Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

The hierarchy is separated into three categories: basic needs, psychological needs, and self-fulfilling needs. Each person faces these needs and searches for solutions to live a fulfilling and happy life. Your product or business plays its role in these needs.

Remember, it's not about you. It's about your customers. When we think of our brand story, we see ourselves as the heroes but that's not reality. Customers think of themselves and what they need. They are the heroes. They have needs and you are a guide to help them get to their destination.

We can only do that by understanding the multi-level needs customers have. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs breaks it down for us so we can analyze each level.

Not only will we understand our customers concerning our products, but we also identify sub-needs that our product fulfills, making it easier to segment the audience based on their unique needs and shift messaging if tides change.

Below, you will find a representation of the pyramid.

Maslow Needs

Together, we’ll analyze each of Maslow’s Needs and study how they can relate to our small business.

1. The Basic Needs

Starting at the bottom of the pyramid, the foundation is the basic needs consisting of Physiological Needs and Safety Needs. Both of these are raw, essential needs for humans. If they are not met, then they'll likely not have the time or ability to focus on the remaining needs. These needs are about survival and stability.

You might be thinking this has nothing to do with you because you might fulfill a need much higher up the pyramid. But this has everything to do with you. If these needs are not met, you won't resonate. Everything can change tomorrow and your success depends on your understanding of the foundation.

For example, the Pandemic of 2020 changed everything for all of us. If you ran a shop that sold cellphones and electronics, basic needs like food and water might not have been on your radar. All of a sudden, safety became a huge focus. People wanted to know that if they walked into a store, the business kept it clean, wore masks, and took care of cleanliness. You, an electronics business, now had to fulfill this basic need.

Understanding each element is critical to resilient business and growth.

Physiological Needs

These needs are necessary such as food, water, housing, and a warm place. Many businesses provide these needs like supermarkets, utilities, and more. In the last 100 years, restaurants, often a luxury, became a basic need as consumers cooked less and depended on outside sources for sustenance.

Without these needs, other products and services become secondary. Many businesses that service physiological needs have a high volume of business and consistency. Their price points may be competitive and hard to increase.

As Benjamin Franklin once said, "…in this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes…” Businesses that fulfill universal, lasting needs, are considered basic needs.

Safety Needs

Once people have everything they need to live, their next focus is on safety. Are they safe from danger and external threats?

When people have a home and job to put food on the table, they want to make sure they can protect what they have. If they feel unsafe where they live or threatened by economic changes, they won’t think of anything beyond this need.

House alarms, self-defense brands, insurances, legal protections, and similar products and industries help fulfill these needs.

COVID-19 shifted customers from thinking of vacations, luxury products, and experiences, to thinking of their health and how brands helped them in that journey.

2. The Psychological Needs

While basic needs are needed to survive in this world, psychological needs are needed to thrive and be happy. They connect strongly with us and we crave it every day.

It mostly relates to people and how we perceive our value. We want to feel loved, needed, connected and valued. We want to feel like we can contribute to something.

Love and Belonging Needs

Everyone craves relationships. We need a partner we can go through life with. We need family and friends that love and care for us. Without it, we live unhealthy lives. Researchers continue to publish studies on the life-shortening effects of loneliness in the world.

In the commercial world, you see that need fulfilled through associations and clubs, customer service that emotionally connects with customers, and brand followings that build movements.

Recently in the past several years, brands have also recognized their role in community. Businesses are starting communities or contributing to them to build true connections with customers and interested parties in the industry.

Communities are not about sales, but rather groups of individuals providing value to each other with common goals. This helps build brand reputation and loyal followings.

Esteem Needs

Whether we admit it or not, we all need a certain level of recognition and appreciation from others. We are social beings and have the desire to contribute positively and be recognized for it.

Do you want to be respected? Do you want to feel good about yourself? Do you want a title, status, or appreciation for your hard work? Do you want to have a sense of control in your life? Do you want the freedom to make decisions best for you and those you are responsible for? If you answered yes to any of those, then you have esteem needs.

We see examples throughout the economy. Luxury brands give people exclusivity. Job promotions with titles give status. College degrees and certificates give recognition for the education you worked hard for. Gyms make you stronger, healthier and feel good about yourself. These are all powerful motivators in an economy.

3. The Self-fulfillment Needs

Now we've reached the top of the pyramid. This is often the WHY or purpose behind why you are here and enjoy your life. It is the ultimate fulfillment and it's what gives the most brand equity to a company. It's why people pay more for shoes when there is a Nike symbol or Adidas logo on it.

We seek to fulfill our lives and find purpose.

Self-actualization needs

These needs are the desire to fulfill our full potential. Most of us have an idea of who we want to be and what our ideal self looks like. If we can find a way to get there, we meet our needs.

Companies and brands that cater to these needs are bigger than life. They follow Simon Sinek's "Why" principle that people do not buy what you provide but what it represents. It's usually bigger than the basic need and about a movement or something greater than the individual.

Apple, Google, and Starbucks are all great examples of this. Yes, they might provide other needs, but they are selling self-actualization.

For instance, when you buy a Starbucks cup of coffee, you aren’t buying a refreshment. You are participating in their café culture of freedom to socialize, work wherever you are, and join the pursuit of gourmet coffee. You find self-actualization in reaching your full potential based on your lifestyle. You join a club and community of people that feel the same.

How to Apply Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Throughout this article, we've emphasized how a brand or industry can solve each need by fully understanding the model. But when we learn to optimize the entire model for our business, we'll see our best results.

On some level, our products are relevant to each need on the pyramid.

For example, let's examine Apple's MacBook.

Basic Needs

As a customer, you might buy a MacBook for your school or work. You need this to invest in your career and put food on the table, whether it is for now or in the future. It gives you access to research and software to learn and do your job. If you're a freelancer, it's the most important tool to do your job. You depend on its reliability and quality.

Physiological Needs

You didn't just pick the MacBook for quality and great features. Tons of other laptops can do the same or similar. A lot of your friends pick it. Some of the apps that MacBook hosts are only accessible via IOS, plugging you into communities with friends exclusive to the product. When people see you using the MacBook, they recognize your creativity, a theme tied to the brand, and respect you for your work in technology.

Self-fulfillment Needs

Apple doesn’t make laptops. They pioneer innovative technology that transforms the world. When you buy the MacBook, you join that movement. You are a part of the legacy of moments like when Steve Jobs revolutionized the phone, music, and internet industry in a 15-second announcement about one device. You reach your full potential in embracing innovative technology and moving the world forward.


By understand Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, what role each level plays, and how your company can address these needs, you can connect with your customers more effectively. When you can fulfill all needs, you provide an offer that’s impossible to refuse.

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