When Abraham Maslow conceived his Hierarchy of Needs in 1943, he couldn't possibly have known that it would be one of the most influential advances in the fields of marketing and human behavioral study - remaining so well into the subsequent century.
Maslow Marketing Hierarchy
The first level that we are concerned with is our physiological needs: the basic things that keep us alive. Safety needs are met next, followed by social needs. We then move into the less tangible needs of esteem and, finally, self-actualization. Any student of the Maslow theory will understand how it can easily fit into a marketing context. When we attempt to make a sale, we are not only selling the product: we are selling the idea of the product, the image of the product, and the result of the product. We are essentially promising to fulfill one or more of the needs in the hierarchy.
Obviously, a marketing campaign will be more successful the more it appeals to the lower levels of unfulfilled need in a person's life. What this means for you, the marketer, is that knowing your audience's needs is key. A product that promises to fulfill an esteem need will be virtually useless to a customer whose safety needs are not yet met.
In order to be successful in any marketing endeavor, the first step is to get a firm grasp on the psychographic motivators to which you will be appealing. Which need on the hierarchy is your product going to fulfill? How will it fulfill this need, and how can you prove to your potential customers that it will effectively fulfill their need?
Maybe a more important question is how you can tell which level of need your potential customer is currently attempting to address. If a customer comes to you asking for your product, then they are doing a large portion of your work for you. However, it's exceedingly difficult to understand the needs of a complete stranger when you are attempting a cold sale.
The best way to overcome this obstacle is simple, and it's one that every marketer is taught from the very beginning of their career: just talk. Talk about sports, the weather, or family life - anything other than the product you are trying to sell. Chatting with your potential customer in a friendly, non-pressured way will allow you to pick up on invaluable clues about their needs.
Once you understand why your potential customer may be motivated to buy, you are one step closer to being able to fulfill their unmet need. By identifying their motivating factors, you can cater your sales techniques to each individual customer. By analyzing the needs of customers at large, you can now effectively market to your target audience as a whole.