Brand builders continue to primarily rely on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a conceptual framework for understanding the motivation of their consumers. In a nutshell, this model proposes that all emotional needs “ladder up” to our ultimate pursuit for self actualization. Read more here
A fair amount of academic debate continues on what the hierarchy looks like after physiological needs are met. The debate doesn’t center on the ultimate goal of self-actualization, but whether there is a standard hierarchy that ladders to self-actualization. I tend to side with Maslow, thinking that the pursuit of self respect and self esteem emerges after we have satisfied the need to belong and have gained self-confidence at that level.
Practically speaking, I’m not sure order hierarchy matters as much to marketers, as the understanding that “social needs” and “esteem needs” are both powerful motivators of human behavior. That said, brands that use emotional benefits that ladder directly to “social needs” are probably working a lower order need, than those pursuing “self esteem” needs.
Brands focused against meeting “social needs” are basically saying, "use brand x and you will be liked and accepted by people you value." Brands focused on “self esteem” needs are basically promising, "use brand x and you will like yourself (and not sacrifice self respect just to “fit-in” with people you value").
Deciding where to position your brand depends on your product functionality and your consumer target. More on this determination in my next posting.