Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs In A Nutshell

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs was developed by American psychologist Abraham Maslow. His hierarchy, often depicted in the shape of a pyramid, helped explain his research on basic human needs and desires. In marketing, the hierarchy (and its basis in psychology) can be used to market to specific groups of people based on their similarly specific needs, desires, and resultant actions.

Understanding Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in a marketing context

A simplified overview of the hierarchy is as follows, starting from the most basic needs and progressing to the most complex. There are five levels in total.

  1. Physiological.
  2. Safety.
  3. Belonging. 
  4. Self-esteem. 
  5. Self-actualization. 

Marketers can target any and all of these levels in the marketing campaigns, depending on the motivations of their target audience. Let’s return to the five levels in the context of marketing, and why consumers on these levels require distinct marketing strategies.


Consumers who are driven by the most basic needs often reside in third world countries or come from low socio-economic backgrounds. 

However, some basic needs go unmet regardless of financial standing. Pharmaceutical companies, for example, recognize the fundamental need for sleep in insomniacs. Clean drinking water is also a physiological need that some businesses market aggressively.


Consumers on this level have the most basic physiological needs met, but they may have difficulty securing stable employment, housing, or healthcare. Fundamentally, consumers on this level have a need for stability and security. 

Businesses who are involved in selling insurance, retirement living, and alarm systems some that benefit from marketing strategies focused on stability and security. Banks also touch on the need for shelter when marketing their home loan packages.


The third level is where most middle-class consumers reside. As a result, it is potentially the most lucrative for businesses. With basic needs met, this level has discretionary income to spend on clothing, sport, and entertainment among other things. 

The consumer’s need for belonging means they are motivated to buy if it means they will fit in. They tend to have larger circles of family and friends and more disposal income, increasing the effectiveness of word-of-mouth marketing strategies.


Consumers on this level are motivated by a need to respect themselves and also gain the respect of others. They also want to feel important and accomplished. Some have a need to make the most of their life and become fulfilled, while others are motivated by status and vanity. 

Organizations that sell higher-end products such as luxury cars, club memberships, and fine wine can reap the rewards of touching on these motivational points in their marketing campaigns.


Consumers with a plentiful supply of time and money have a need to solve problems, be creative, and have their lives filled with meaningful activities. This is self-actualization, or the realizing of one’s talents or abilities. 

The U.S Army recruitment slogan “Be all you can be” is a good example of marketing to consumers with a need for purposeful self-actualization.

Key takeaways:

  • Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs argues that all humans have universal needs which they must meet. 
  • Maslow’s needs range from basic necessities such as food and water to more abstract needs such as love, self-esteem, and life purpose.
  • Consumers on each level of the hierarchy have different needs, requiring unique, tailored marketing strategies.

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