Consumers build brands, not companies. This is a fundamental marketing truth that cannot be denied. Consumers give brands value by developing perceptions and expectations for those brands. Companies enhance the value by delivering consistent brand experiences that consumers can trust.
Human psychology and how it affects consumer behavior is the foundation of brand building. What do consumers need? Do they really need those things or do they just think they do? What drives them to actually take action and buy once a real or perceived need is identified?
The key words are needs and actions, and the best brand marketers paid attention to their marketing, psychology, and philosophy professors. They have seen through experience that Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Aristotle’s Seven Causes of Human Action can be directly applied to consumer behavior and brand marketing. You’ll never really “get” marketing if you don’t “get” the psychology of needs and the philosophy of actions.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
In 1943, Abraham Maslow wrote a paper called A Theory of Human Motivation in which he identified five human needs and ranked them in a hierarchy:
At the bottom are the things people need to survive such as food and water. These are physiological needs.
The second level includes safety needs, which are things that give us a sense of security in all aspects of our lives. They include health, family, a job and so on.
Love and Belonging
The third level of the hierarchy includes love and belonging needs. These are needs humans have related to relationships, family and friendships.
The fourth level in the hierarchy is esteem needs, including self-esteem, confidence, respect of and by others, and personal achievement. Like the need for love and belonging, the need for esteem is very emotional and happens in both our conscious and subconscious minds.
At the top of the hierarchy is the need for self-actualization, which refers to personal growth and realizing full human potential. It is this need that Maslow believed people are always striving to satisfy but few achieve. It is very subjective and highly personalized.
Notice as you travel up the hierarchy, each need becomes less essential for survival and more emotional. The goal for a brand marketer is to understand each level of needs for a target market and develop marketing communications and initiatives that clearly address those needs for consumers. As they travel up the hierarchy, marketing communications must create perceived needs in consumers’ minds. Communications must differentiate the product from competitors and position it as the only solution, the best choice for the consumer, and the brand the consumer needs. Of course, the majority of this need is perception-based, not survival-based.
Aristotle’s Seven Causes of Human Action
One of the most important aspects of any marketing communication is a strong call to action, but aligning a marketing call to action with one of the seven causes of human action defined by Aristotle thousands of years ago is essential to getting the best results and maximizing return on investment. According to Aristotle, the seven causes of human action are:
The saying, “leave nothing to chance,” applies here. Don’t just hope that consumers understand what you want them to do. Make sure they understand with no room for confusion. After all, confusion is the number one brand killer.
Human nature and environmental nature play important roles in motivating consumers to take action. Make sure the actions you tell them to take align with their natures.
We live in a world of instant gratification, and compulsion causes a significant amount of human actions simply because things are so quick and easy today. Make it easy for your customers to take action and act on their impulses, and your marketing results will improve.
Human beings are creatures of habit whether they admit to it or not. In fact, much of our habitual nature is subconscious, but it plays a direct role in how and when we take action. The three steps of brand-building—consistency, persistence, and restraint—play directly to the habitual nature of human beings. Setting and consistently meeting consumer expectations for your brand is critical to developing trust in your brand, which leads to action.
For consumers, reason can be rational or irrational. The former applies to the lower levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs while the latter applies to the higher levels of needs. These higher level needs require marketers to develop perceived reasons for consumers to take action. Appealing to emotions is the most effective way to develop these perceived needs in consumers’ minds.
Passion also relates to emotions. What is the emotional trigger for each customer that will motivate him or her to take action? When that key message is communicated and that passionate emotion is triggered, it will be nearly impossible for a consumer not to take action.
Creating desire in a consumer is all about understanding the target audience’s wants and needs and massaging consumer perceptions so they desire what you’re selling. It’s not about a product or service. Desire is about a feeling, a lifestyle, a personal benefit, or some other intangible (and often subconscious) goal or want. Listen to your audience and communicate with messages and brand experiences that position your products and services as what consumers want so they can fulfill their desires.
Susan Gunelius, Contributor