Can Purposeful Marketing Really Motivate People to Be Their Best?
By Anne Boyle | March 7, 2017
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.