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    Psychology of Marketing: Using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

    The way we're going to think about psychology of marketing today is rooted in this dude named Abraham Maslow who famously came up with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

    It's this pyramid-looking chart of basic needs you need to accomplish before moving up the pyramid:

    Abraham Maslow Pyramid

    We're using this pyramid as the basis of how to market to specific groups of people (and figure out their behavior), as they respond to vastly different messages.

    If you want to figure out what piece of society you're trying to market to, just find where Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs your average customer fits:

    Figure out what piece of society you're talking to:

    Poor people respond to certain things.

    Middle Class people respond to certain things.

    Rich people respond to certain things.

    Similarly people on different rungs of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs respond to different things.  

    Since we're greedy little marketers we need to know which stage we should be going after....let's take a look at this Hierarchy of Needs to understand the marketing psychology behind each stage:

    Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs Chart

    Your position in this pyramid is fluid through your life.  You might be on the lower rungs now, but in 5 years could be at the top.

    You can also dramatically drop in the pyramid for a variety of reasons.

    For example, let's say someone spent $6,000 to attend a conference on how "To be the best version of your actualized self" (or some high-level hippie crap like that).  They will be super interested to attend every  session, UNLESS all of a sudden they dramatically drop on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.....

    ......maybe they've been holding back a massive poop for 4 hours, and now IT'S EMERGENCY STATUS.  They have effectively been pushed back down to a low level of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs at this moment to the Physical level.

    Nothing at this point will take their mind off the absolutely urgent need to excrete!


    Yes, I just used a poop joke to teach you about Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs....but you will probably remember that FOREVER ;-)

    That example is a very temporary one.  As soon as the person finds a restroom and takes care of bidnaz, they're back to their normal top-of-the-hierarchy self.

    Similarly, if someone at the top of the pyramid just moved to a new city across the world and they have no family, no friends, no significant other......this might make them very sad, and push this person down the pyramid to the Love/Belonging stage.  It will probably become a big obsession of theirs to make sure they find a new source of love & friendship in this new city:

    Move down maslow's pyramid

    Until this person gets that feeling of love and belonging back into their life, it'll be hard to move beyond that stage for them.

    Also the broader economic climate dictates where most people will be in Maslow's Hierarchy.  If the economy has been booming for five years straight and everyone is still drunk off cheap money, easy employment, and good economic news......then a lot of people will be at the top tiers of Maslow's Hierarchy because the economy is booming, everyone is making great money and everyone in happy.

    However if the economy collapses, people are losing their jobs, losing their savings, and all the news is bad.....then a lot of people will get pushed lower down the Hierarchy:

    Depression and Boom Times Chart

    Now let's see what people at each stage of the Hierarchy need and want (so we can better sell to them)!


    --What people at each stage of Maslow's Hierarchy are looking for--


    The Physiological (Physical) Stage:


    WHO IT IS: This is going to be people in 3rd world countries, people in disaster zones, someone lost in the woods.  For the most part, you probably won't be marketing to this crowd as they have bigger problems (such as staying alive) and they probably have little to no money.


    You probably shouldn't be marketing to these people. You should be helping them.

    These are going to be some of the poorest and most helpless people. So marketing to them would not be lucrative for the most part, and you might be kind of an asshole if you're too predatory on them.


    The Safety Stage:


    WHO IT IS: These are people that would be considered "poor" or "lower middle class".  They live extremely paycheck-to-paycheck and have little-to-no support structure if they get kicked out of their dwelling.

    These are people that if they stopped working, would be 2-3 months away from being homeless.

    Most people reside their entire lives here, and until pretty recently in society, most of the world constantly lived at this rung in Maslow's Hierarchy.

    • They fear they'll lose their income.
    • They don't have a backup plan or savings.
    • They don't have skills that secure their income earning potential.
    • They aren't entirely sure they can fund their children's education.
    • They likely work at a pretty crappy or boring job out of necessity.

    A lot of predatory businesses prey on this level of people because they're the easiest to scam, the most hopeful, BUT they they still have enough income to spend money on things.

    If you were to put out a scammy ad that said: "Work at home!  Make $3,000/week! Barely have to work!" You'd most likely get people in this rung of the hierarchy responding the most.


    • They want to have stable incomes.  They respond well to "Side Income" kind of talk.
    • They want to live in a stable environment.  They probably don't live in the greatest of place (either country with unstable government, or live in a household they share with a lot of people).
    • Affordable access to medical services.
    • A safe place to call their own home.
    • Providing basic needs for children.



    The Love/Belonging Stage:


    WHO IT IS: These are typically people in the middle class or higher.

    They have their basic needs met.  They live in a decent place, have a decent income, have a decent savings.

    Typically these people are relatively educated,  and have a decent amount of money to spend.  This is the level a lot of middle class people in a society will be in.

    They're probably not looking to change the world, but they want to create a small little world around them where they belong.

    They probably have jobs that aren't terrible, but also aren't a bundle of joy.  They typically look outside of their work to find happiness.


    • They want to join groups and be part of groups.  (Church, sports, classes).
    • They want to have fun with family and friends, and will look (and pay) for novel ways to do it.
    • They want to have a sense of community.



    The Esteem Stage:


    These are people in the upper middle-class and higher.

    You know someone is in the "Esteem" stage when they say stuff like "I want to DO something with my life."

    I would like to remind you that this stage in life is a luxury afforded by the advances in our society.  In the past you'd only get very wealthy members of society hitting this level.  Now with all the cool stuff we have, this level can be reached by nearly everyone in a stabilized society and a decent income.


    • Need to respect themselves.
    • Need for others to have respect for them.
    • Need to feel important.
    • Need to feel accomplished.
    • Want their job to not only provide money, but also be "fulfilling."



    The Self Actualization Stage:


    WHO IT IS: These are people who've accomplished everything they need to.  Often people who've made their "Fuck You Money" and no longer worry about things like income or being able to provide for their families.

    This "Self Actualization" rung is where you get people who have #WhitePeopleProblems and #1stWorldProblems.


    • To solve hard problems.
    • To be creative and abstract.
    • They want to "make every moment count."
    • They want their lives to be filled with "satisfying" activities.

    This is where upper-middle-class and rich typically are.

    This spot is weird.....because I think once you reach the top (with current human biology) you artificially have to put yourself back down the hierarchy and start over, like this (my opinion):

    The circle of life

    For 99% of human history almost no one ever reached this stage.

    And it's actually interesting to watch as huge portions of our society hit this top stage at a young age.

    But people at this stage will pay for things like:

    • Seeing the world.
    • Figuring out how to be more effective.
    • Figuring out the "meaning" of life.
    • Searching for a "higher purpose."


    If I had to sum up what people at each stage would say in one short sentence it’s:

    The Physical Stage:

    The physical Stage

    “I wish I had food and shelter to live.”


    The Safety Stage:

    The Safety Stage

    “I wish I had a stable job.”


    The Love Stage:

    The Love Stage

    “I wish I belonged to a group of people that love me.”


    The Self Esteem Stage:


    "I wish I had a respectful job where I can be in air conditioning all day."


    The Self-Actualization Stage:


    "I wish I had a life path that I really love, pays better than my peers, and helps people."



    If you liked this post, you can download the whole thing as a PDF here:

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    P.S.  Where do you see yourself on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs?  Let me know in the comments what stage you're at.

    P.P.S. Where do your prospective customers stand in Maslow's Hierarchy?

    P.P.P.S.  If you have any additional thoughts on this stuff lemme know below, I love thinking about these things!

    User Feedback

    Recommended Comments

    Excellent Neville. I believe to be the self esteem stage. It is interesting to see in one chart how I can get to the next stage. I have never thought of using this system to judge where I am in life. Thank you.
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    Guest Nick Garcia


    Awesome post Neville! I was just reading about how MLM companies prey on lower-middle class people with a very similar example to the $3000/week you have. I get it now!
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    Hi Nev, like you say, a person can fluctuate between the stages. I'd say that I'm between the esteem and self-actualization stages. And my customers are between the love/belonging and esteem stages. I think there can be some overlaps and it's not a clear-cut segregation between the stages.
    Link to comment
    Guest Ralph Hua


    Thanks for sharing Neville!

    I'm currently jobless but building my freelance copywriting business, and I have an apartment which isn't fully paid off. So I would say I'm at the "Safety Stage".

    In my mind, I am always asking questions that belongs to the "Self Actualization Stage".

    So I'm in a hybrid situation?

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    Yes I remember seeing his in high school as well and thinking I'm in the safety tier. For now. But when I become a six figure copywriter like Neville I'll move up a tier.
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    Really funny—but real-talk—post. Much appreciated as I start getting into specifics when thinking about my target audiences inner-needs.
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    Guest Karen Hunt


    Can I just say I love your simple (ugly!) style. It keeps me reading every email you send :) I think the pyramid is a useful broad tool however in my case, the clients I work with - healers and therapists who want to get more clients, are often struggling financially, so would be lower down the pyramid because they focus on the top tier before they are ready (in terms of the pyramid). So for me I have to address both - give them what they want in terms of the security they need but in language that appeals to the top tier. Does that make sense?
    Link to comment

    Hello! I never thought someone have thought about this kind of things in a so clear manner. It's awsome.

    Helped me undestand: I had a stable job, a beaultiful family, a wonderful house, a good back savings and I was very respected in society. But I was in the Love/belonging Stage and thought aury that I was in the Self Actualization Stage. Then I quit my job, my wife divorced me, I needed to sell my house, I spent all my savings, and now I am retired - furious with my life - living back in the Safety Stage. This is why I'm studying, because I dont give up and I will try to revert this situation.

    Congratulations! Excelent article.

    Best regards

    Paulo Moura

    Link to comment
    Guest Fernando


    This was valuable man: not the theory of Maslow's need itself but your interpretation and thoughts on people at the different levels. Also, the "fluidity of position" is a concept I didn't think about.

    It's good to read some fresh, new theories from you.



    Link to comment

    Hey Neville, thank you for your creative posts - I look forward to them. I see myself at the esteem stage/self-actualization stage.

    I started from a love/belonging stage, I left college to pursue my passion in internet marketing and had a lot to prove. In 7 months, all the Asian relatives had to clam their mouths when I made more money that I would have as an accountant.

    Where do your perspective customers stand in Maslow’s Hierarchy?

    I’ll be honest with you. When I started coaching on internet marketing, most of my clients were in the security stage, they were dead poor, didn’t have $500 in the bank— and to come for my courses, they wanted to borrow money to enter. I just followed the target crowd that my mentors were targeting— the MLM, shiny object syndrome people.

    They were envious of the income I was making and wanted the same. I learnt from him and marketed to the same crowd. The close was easy, show income, share dreams, get them excited to buy. But. When I made the sale and actually taught them, it was sooo difficult.

    1. To them, spending on the course is a significant sum of money— they wanted to make money and make money fast- They are not going to bother about an “MVP”, “tribe-building” or “email marketing” things I was teaching them.

    They would rather join click to surf sites with no guarantees of money. (Those that click ads for $$) — another trainer popped up and served them exactly what they wanted. The pill to get rich, easy and quick. They took it and now, all their money is stuck in the account. Angry that they lost money, but couldn’t get it back from the other trainer— they said that my stuff doesn’t work and wanted a refund.

    2. They make a lot of noise and don’t do shit

    You give them instructions, they say it is too much work. You don’t give them instructions, they say that support is bad. They say “why the guy made money and I haven’t made money yet? what are you not teaching me?” I asked him to send me an email of exactly what he did. No response. I hated serving these group of people. They were constantly demanding, stripped away the joy of my creative work and so, I began turning clients away. They begged to join and told me sob stories.

    Here’s the voila moment: I raised my price.

    Raising my price is the single best thing I did to get quality clients. When I sell my training, I appeal to business owners or people who make at least $8k a month.

    These people are smart and know the value of what I am teaching. They actually see the skill of being able to write for money as being valuable, they see the power of branding.

    They actually take steps to APPLY what they have learnt and they saw huge results in their business, one became a speaker, the other had a suite of informational products she released about health foods, which made her $8k in a weekend, the other gelato franchisee made $950 in a week, extra, using Facebook ads.

    To sell to them, I speak about esteem, about skills-set, about combining passion with a solid business model. It is the new thing- digital marketing and they will have an unfair advantage over other people of their same age/social class.

    “Passion, happiness, fulfilment, time- freedom, new rich— the Tim Ferriss/Lewis Howes vibe”. Are there challenges serving these people?

    Yes 1. They are usually more skeptical

    They ask a lot of questions too, sometimes, too much such that they immobilise themselves.

    My mentor told me “very smart people seldom get rich because they shuffle around too much thinking”.

    Usually, I close the sale by telling them straight: You’re the smartest guy in the room.

    He will say “oh, thank you”.

    I will say “and a smart guy like you will know that thinking without taking any action is fruitless”. Plus, I find that with powerful branding and persistence, you can cull the critics.

    2. They demand a high level of support and quality

    When you charge high, the kind of people you attract generally have been well-travelled, well-read. They know quality and shit. So the service standards have to be much higher.

    Overall, life is MUCH better serving the people up there, if you’ve got great stuff to back it up.

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    Thank You Neville.

    It would be interesting to use this idea to reach people wishing to reach higher in social ladder, by tickling their ambitions.

    Your thoughts are valuable as always.

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    Guest Sam Korn


    The article was great but it made me want to take a poop.

    Thanks for helping me push things through if you know what I mean.

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    Guest Katz Yair


    although i don't have shit loads of money, i think i can fairly position myself in the self esteem stage of the pyramid.

    I'm not sure I 100% agree with you, about the higher stage, when you determine that those people are swimming in dollars. I think that people can comfortably position themselves in it, if they have enough money (not a lot), so that they don't have to worry about "real life issues".

    All in all a great post man, I really enjoy your tips and insights.

    Link to comment
    Guest Shirley


    My first hearing about this pyramid and is was mind blowing. I loved the way you explained it Nev! At this stage of my life seems like I'm somewhere between Level 2 and 3. As soon as you mentioned the side income thing I immediately thought of at least 3 email list I signed up for in the last month. However in the same breath, I've also been looking to change my circumstances through a change in my environment by joining a group of like minds. It's interesting to note that I'm yrying the create a business for people on the Esteem Stage (future brides) who want respect and importance. Makes me wonder if the marketing should be completely focusedbon them ans their desire to boost the self-esteem?
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    Great post, Nev! I enjoyed reading it and it's a very good idea to understand people's motivations using this pyramid.

    I think many people nowadays have needs which are from different levels in the pyramid, like fellow kommenter Ralph Hua said.


    While we're thinking about the meaning of life, getting a good relationship, friends, good income etc. *all at the same time*, we are actually really concerned (aka IT'S URGENT) about one of these levels. And people buy stuff which solves their most urgent problems. That's the point of the pyramid.

    Right now I'm at the Love/Belonging Stage, I think.

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    Guest Michael


    Pretty much a great post also - really sums up most likely what 99% of online marketers face when first writing copy. She is right dealing with economically challenged individuals is TOUGH - I want to feel bad for them - but they literally do this to themselves - I wish there was a magic pill to educate them on why life does not have to be this way.
    Link to comment
    Guest Corbett


    I'm an enigma and fall across at least a couple of "rugs" (you have a typo in your "P.S." section) on the ladder.

    The Physical Stage:

    - Almost as a kid, but parents somehow kept us fed.

    The Safety Stage:

    - Been there and it sucks. Right now I am good.

    The Love Stage:

    - Don't give a fuck if everyone loves me, but wouldn't mind either. Probably partially at this level now.

    The Self Esteem Stage:

    - I do have the AC job and wish I did. Although I really want control of my own thing. Partially at this level.

    The Self-Actualization Stage:

    - I have yet to make the "Fuck You Money", but really want to. I am partially at this stage as I do want to do cool shit that helps people.

    Link to comment

    People at different rungs of Maslow's hierarchy of needs move down the scale as needs arise. Nev... I find this one to be strikingly true.

    One of the best examples I find this applicable is the rising number of folks in 1st world countries who want to decode their purpose in life... while still having a huge debt on their head, have shitty relationships, are 30 lbs over-weight, etc.

    Sometimes people misunderstand their current stage and shoot for the self-actualization stage. For ex - every 2 out of 3 undergrad wants to know the meaning of life who just graduated with thirty thousand dollars of debt. Some of them travel, some of them stay poor and broke while struggling to break the code.

    I think this creates a great opportunity for marketers to be smart. For the above prospects, while they're looking for products in the self-actualization stage, they are in the lower depression stages.

    Smart marketers should position their messages that hits their sub-conscious mind instead of their desired self-actualized mind.

    Ah... did I make it confusing?

    Let's do it in the caveman style?

    Scenario - You life-coach. Want to help improve lives of more clients.

    Problem - Client wants happy!

    Solution - Before you offer solution... figure out which stage prospect now...

    Credit card debt? You offer solutions better finances through your life-coaching.

    Over-weight? Eat junk food? Shitty relationships? You position your product and message accordingly.

    Was that still confusing?

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    I am definitely at the safety stage right now. Good post and helps to understand what message needs to be sent to which audience.
    Link to comment
    Guest Jin Yang Lim


    Very nice article. I feel that it is not so much of their current state of 'wealth' but more towards what the individual feel they can achieve.

    In some aspects, your 'stage' reflects your primary insecurity and I agree that in different times, people will be insecure about different things. For e.g., a young, highly paid, executive who normally lives a upper middle class life might be in self esteem/self actualization might drop to the safety stage if suddenly he loses his job or if the economy takes a sudden downturn.

    I think also believe that there are cases where people over-pursue self actualization that they skip the safety stage. Trying too hard to 'find the meaning' of life might actually be detrimental if you neglect the fundamentals stages.

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    I'm "The Safety Stage" It would be nice to go higher. Fuck money sounds nice :) But in reality I guess more money more problems? But to reach to stage to go out and eat and fuck the price, order what you like and pay for your friends to. And not bother how you will pay for this when credit bill comes :D

    Hope internet and technology will provide :)

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    Actually, there is one more rung/layer that should to be added in the 21 century and it is at the very bottom of the pyramid: Wi-Fi:-) Come to think of it- sometimes your only way to get food, water, whatever is if you have internet-Wi-Fi!
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    Guest Joao Fernandes


    I don't find needed for people to follow this structure on a rigid way. For example, I find myself with variable income, I do think in very abstract ways almost "spiritual enlightening" kind of stuff and I would like to live in a better place, preferably one with a greater amount of beautiful women.

    So I do believe that you can be in various degrees of this pyramid in different aspects of your life and not only in 1 all the time. There is no way to say this guy is here and that one there.

    Do you agree with this Nev? I wonder if you simplified this on purpose just to make it simpler for marketers, am I right?

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    Guest Lesley Fisher


    I consider my self as middle class and the people I sell to as well. Only because we are barely skimping by. Even though I have a good job, don't drink, smoke, do drugs or hardly buy anything for myself, I am barely making it from check to check. It would be so nice to be able to just not have to worry how I am going to pay this bill or feed us this week.

    More money would be great!!!

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    It takes steps, lots of them indeed, to move from bottom to the Top tier of the pyramid. But there are easy, frequent and even scary slides which come from Top to bottom. It's a neat little arrangement which keeps the human race busy. A giant real life Disneyland. Marketers can sell to both sides of the traffic.....those lumbering to reach next higher level and ones who are experiencing the free fall, the dejected ones, the grasping the thin air types. Marketers are the elevator boys in a unique position to address the ambitions and concerns of both.
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