Can Purposeful Marketing Really Motivate People to Be Their Best?

Why do people buy things?

Our culture encourages consumption as a means to meet our needs. Let’s face it, though, “need” is a relative term these days.

You’re probably familiar with psychologist Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. A quick refresher: the bottom of the hierarchy is comprised of “basic” needs for things such as food, water, warmth and safety. In the middle are psychological needs, including the need for love, belonging and self-esteem. And at the top of the pyramid are needs for self-actualization and self-transcendence.

Traditional marketers have played to Maslow’s Hierarchy masterfully. They’ve put a veneer on products that fulfill our basic needs to convince us that those products also fulfill our higher-level psychological needs.

Purposeful marketers, on the other hand, can reach for the top of the pyramid without relying on manipulation to connect and sell.

When we activate Purpose–helping customers to be their best selves–there’s no need to base our strategy on presenting the product as a false panacea.

Basic needs: The ethical problem of touting them as a false panacea

Though consumption is a legitimate means to meet one’s basic needs, marketers have created a world where consumers depend on the over-fulfillment of basic needs as a false substitute for the fulfillment of higher-level needs — including psychological ones. I might be motivated to buy an attractive new coat, for example. The coat itself meets a basic need for protection from the elements, assuming my closet is not already full of coats. However, depending on the style, designer or price tag, my selection of a particular coat may also be motivated by my attempt to satisfy higher-level needs related to belongingness or self-esteem.

When marketers appeal to our (mid-level) psychological needs to sell products and services that, in truth, are satisfying only (bottom-level) basic needs, it creates or magnifies a sense of deficiency in the consumer — and offers the product as a false panacea. This works for the marketer, but for the consumer, the psychological need is never truly fulfilled. So, you guessed it; they consume more in hopes of filling the void.

Aspirational needs — speaking to what’s possible, rather than what’s missing

The needs at the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy — for self-actualization and self-transcendence — differ significantly from the needs at the bottom and middle of the hierarchy. Specifically, they are driven by aspirational desires to achieve our full potential and to serve others. In the simplest terms, an individual’s highest-level needs are driven by a desire to achieve what is possible, rather than to compensate for what is missing.

That’s the edge Purposeful brands have: Purposeful brands actually contribute to helping consumers achieve what’s possible. (Click to Tweet)

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Partners in Purpose: Moving beyond the purchase to a sustained relationship

If we resist the temptation to apply a veneer — even though we may convince ourselves it’s an honest approach — we can more effectively motivate our customers and help them realize their potential. How? Appealing to your customers’ shared sense of Purpose, including demonstrating how buying your product and engaging with your brand aligns with their values, can help them move closer to meeting their highest-level needs for self-actualization and self-transcendence. For real.

90% of consumers are more likely to trust a company that aligns with what they care about.
— Cone

Of course any purchase, in and of itself, is not going to magically transport a consumer to self-actualization or self-transcendence. But when everything your company does aligns with your Purpose, customer engagement can move beyond the purchase toward a more transformational, mutually-beneficial and sustained relationship.

This is where Purposeful marketing comes in:

  • Purposeful marketing speaks to the highest needs for self-actualization and self-transcendence (being your best self and contributing to social change). The customer is the hero, and the product serves to support the customer’s goal—rather than pretend to be a substitute for it.
  • Purposeful marketing promotes and normalizes responsible consumption. It challenges people to consider their buying habits and the motivation for (and consequences of) their purchases.
  • Purposeful marketing invites customers to be partners in Purpose. It offers them ways to engage beyond the purchase toward fulfilling your shared social Purpose.
  • Purposeful marketing aligns with and reinforces customer values, which are far more lasting than tastes or trends. This alignment creates opportunities for meaningful engagement and lasting connections.

51% of millennials want to get personally involved with brands in making the world a better place — MSL Group

If your brand has a strong and well-activated social Purpose (does it?), why not reach higher on the pyramid to help your customers move closer to realizing their aspirational needs? By helping them actualize their self-view as a purposeful person, you form a deep emotional connection that can build affinity, trust and loyalty — all while amplifying your shared social Purpose.

Need help transforming your customer relationships? Let’s talk about putting Purposeful marketing to work for your brand, and helping your customers realize what’s possible. Schedule a free consult today!

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Anne is partner + director of strategy at RoundPeg where she spends most of her time figuring out how to use marketing to help people make good choices. In her free time, she enjoys sampling obscure teas, reading dystopian fiction and spoiling her darling rescue dog, Molly. An impassioned communicator and people person, Anne enjoys bringing people together and offering advice to anyone who wants it [or doesn’t]. See more posts by Anne.
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