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Is your marketing too shallow?

Today’s consumers are weary of obvious salesy rhetoric and ignore a majority of the bazillion ads they encounter every day. And as the recession wears on and unemployment rates remain high, many are reevaluating their life choices, turning from materialistic interests and seeking deeper meaning for greater satisfaction.

Some companies are acknowledging this search for meaning and are finding creative ways to provide greater value in their marketing. The marketing itself is improving consumers’ lives by helping them meet deeper needs while helping to enhance the brand name.

Are consumers in general more “enlightened” than in previous generations? You wouldn’t know if by watching “Bridezillas,” but there are signs that consumers are more evolved than we give them credit for. It’s obvious, for example, that green living is no longer just a grassroots movement but a corporate mission for most companies. And a recent study shows that volunteerism is on the rise.

The drive to find greater personal fulfillment by many in the population was acknowledged decades ago by humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow (1908-1970). Maslow defined five levels of human needs that range from the very basic to very high-level. In a nutshell, the five levels are:

  1. Physiological. Needs that are basic to survival, such as water, air, food and sleep
  2. Security. Needs for safety and security, including steady employment, safe neighborhoods, health care insurance, shelter
  3. Social. Needs for belonging, love and affection
  4. Esteem. Needs for things that reflect personal worth, social recognition, accomplishment
  5. Self-actualizing.* Needs for pursuing personal growth and fulfilling one’s potential

*”What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualization…It refers to the desire for self-fulfillment, namely, to the tendency for him to become actualized in what he is potentially. This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.”

– Abraham Maslow, “A Theory of Human Motivation,” Psychological Review 50, 370-96

This hierarchy is brought into a marketing context in a new book due to be released in October 2009. Written by Bob Gilbreath, “The Next Revolution in Marketing: Connect with Your Customers by Marketing with Meaning” encourages marketers to be aware of the different need levels of our audiences and offer value in our marketing to help fulfill them. Gilbreath created a three-tiered marketing hierarchy (yes, another hierarchy) loosely based on Maslow’s.  

Level 1: solution marketing adds value to those seeking to fulfill more basic needs. Such marketing efforts could include money-saving coupons, rebates and rewards programs.

Level 2: connection marketing delivers value to those seeking more social or creative expression and corresponds to Maslow’s middle category.

Level 3: achievement marketing is aligned with Maslow’s peak level of self-actualization and seeks to empower people to improve their own lives or communities. Gilbreath points to a few campaigns, such as Home Depot’s home improvement training, Abbot Nutrition’s online diabetes management tool and Dove Soap’s Campaign for Real Beauty, that help enhance people’s lives while subtly promoting their brand.

Consumers are looking for something worthwhile. If your marketing is offering something worthwhile, chances are good they’ll pay better attention.

– LuAnne Speeter



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