Maslows Hierarchy Of Needs

Maslows Hierarchy Of Needs is a very widely used MBA and marketing model. What is it, why is it contentious, and should you use it?

In 1943 Abraham Maslow came up with the theory that is commonly referred to as ‘Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs’. Maslow believed that we have five main categories of needs:

  • Physiological
  • Safety
  • Belongingness & Love
  • Esteem
  • Self-Actualization

It’s widely used, not just in marketing. In the marketing context it is used to help think on how the companies product or service meets these (usually) non-stated needs. By meeting the holistic needs of the consumer, the product will be more meaningful to them, and in turn, have greater success.

The following diagram summaries the theory:

(sourced from wikipedia)

Maslow places the most important needs at the top of the pyramid.

There is a fair bit of contention about the theory:

  • People have been critical of the arrangement of the pyramid
  • Heavily based on an individualistic society’s perspective (i.e. America), and that it does not apply across the world’s demographics
  • Maslow placing sex as a bottom rung need
  • Extensive research suggests that no such hierarchy exists, that the needs do not nicely arrange into a pyramid.

The main source of the criticism is the last point, research does not support the theory.

So should we all stop using it?

My thoughts are that Maslow’s has a place, but not as a serious marketing and strategy tool. Use it as a brainstorming, creative thinking tool only. Use it to reframe your thoughts and to think on things that you have not, and ask yourself, how does our product or service target each of these needs.

Do not bet your house, or marketing pitch on its validity. People may laugh at you, like this guy –

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is an internal reflection and brainstorming tool only.


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4 thoughts on “Maslows Hierarchy Of Needs

  1. Pingback: Alternative to Maslow: Max-Neef |

  2. We touched on this briefly during the Leadership and Management section of the PMP course but didn’t go into it in any great detail. I believe it may be in one of the readings but I didn’t feel compelled to explore it further.

    Even a cursory glance at the pyramid raises some questions, as you have rightly pointed out Andy!

    I was more interested in the instruments that we used such as Influence Dimensions, PAMS and Belbin team roles.

    PROTIP: Don’t do a search for “Influence Dimensions Wikipedia” unless you want to learn about penis size ?!?

  3. Thanks for the comments Tim! The self reflection part of Leadership and Management in the PMP program was really interesting and would be worthy of quite a few blog posts. I’ve been planning a post on Myers-Briggs, focusing on my ENTP categorisation. ENTP’s get a lot of good press (for example but it’s not all roses. So I’m wanting to explore that a little.

  4. Pingback: Needs, wants and demands |

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