Odds are that nearly every reader of this blog has at least a fuzzy familiarity with Maslow’s famous Hierarchy of Basic Human Needs. To recall, they are:
- Self=esteem and esteem of others needs
- Love and belonging needs
- Basic safety and security needs
- Basic physiological needs
Maslow’s said that a person must experience “substantial gratification” at one level before advancing to a higher level. For example the newborn infant’s basic needs are first and foremost “basic psychological needs." As the infant grows and develops needs of a higher order begin to emerge.
Borrowing a term from Kurt Goldstein, Maslow called the highest order of basic human needs “self-actualization.” The term stands for a person’s basic need to reach his or her fullest potential.
According to Maslow, very few people ever reach a full state of self-actualization – he estimated that only about 2 percent of us ultimately reach a full state of self-actualization. The rest of us may experience the processes of self-actualization in varying degrees but do so while lower level needs remain the dominate focus of our attentions.
Maslow said that he rarely encountered anyone under the age of 60 who had reached a full state of self-actualization and despite his lifelong career at Brandeis University he claimed to have met only one college age person whom he considered to have reached full self-actualization.
Though few people reach full self-actualization those who otherwise get closest are older people who have enjoyed substantial gratification in the four lower levels of basic human needs. Given that, it only makes sense that marketers working in older markets stand to benefit from at least a Maslow 101 level of understanding of the older psyche.
The fact that most marketing messages either project values associated with lower level needs or fail to reflect the transcendent values of self-actualization suggests that relatively few marketers have a Maslow 101 level of understanding of the older people to whom they direct their marketing messages.
It stands beyond any need to defend the proposition that marketing success rises or falls according to the marketer’s understanding of the customer’s worldview, values and aspirations. However, this basic need of marketing cannot be satisfied by asking customers about such issues. Few people know themselves well enough to give a marketer the answer he or she wants.
The understanding of the older psyche that every marketer working in older markets wants is rooted in empirical research. While Maslow actually did little empirical research he was gifted with an awesome level of intuitive insight about human behavior, others have investigated many of his insights in empirical studies.
Beginning with this post I will present a Maslow 101 course in older people’s behavior. For sure, Maslow is not the only source of intelligence on older consumers’ behavior, but in my judgment his work offers one of the best starting points for cutting through the fog of myths and misconceptions about older people and their motivations that prevail in marketing.