Any conversation around customer motivation must take the basic needs of humankind into consideration.

In an attempt to find out more, psychologist Abraham Maslow, these can be divided into five distinct categories; physiological, safety, belonging, esteem and self-actualization.

Recognizing the ramifications of these concepts is key to understanding customer motivation.

Physiological Needs

Everybody needs food, clothes and shelter. In fact, most people would agree these things must be met before all others. As a result, marketers operating in this category have both the easiest and most difficult tasks of all. When all is said and done, people absolutely have to have products and services capable of addressing these needs.

However, because they are so universal, the competition is fierce.

One must become adept at blending one or more of the other needs listed here into their offerings in this category to set their offerings apart. Yes, everyone needs shelter, but does it really have to be a 3,000 square foot mini-mansion? However, by leveraging the human need for esteem (as an example), one can often convince a customer to buy more than they really need.

Safety Needs

The need for security, safety and freedom from fear are also highly motivational, both in social interactions and life in general. People will go to great lengths to secure these requirements in their lives.

Marketers in the automobile industry often play on these needs by demonstrating how safe their cars are. Volvo has made safety and security a key focus of its marketing for years. Meanwhile, just about every sports car commercial you’ve ever seen touts the “freedom” of the open road.

If you can demonstrate how your product enhances safety, security or freedom, you’ll have a real shot at motivating shoppers to convert.


As hard as some people work to convince you they are individualists, no person is truly an island. Just about everyone needs to feel someone cares about them; that they are part of something larger than themselves.

This is why customer loyalty programs, book clubs, forums, shopping clubs and the like are so successful. They cater to this basic human need.


This too accounts for the efficacy of clubs and loyalty programs. People feel good about themselves when they think they are part of something special.

Ebooks online stores can leverage this by playing to the intellect of potential customers. Making volumes the “smart choice,” playing up shopper’s sophistication for buying books digitally, and reminding them how brilliant they are (in a heartfelt fashion) for shopping with you will endear them.


Achieving one’s full potential is a need experienced by most people, regardless of their level of education. Demonstrating the ways your product can help people in this quest goes a long way toward motivating them to buy into your pitch.

It’s no coincidence the U.S. Army settled on the tagline “Be all you can be.” This is a direct plea to the human need for self-actualization. Similarly, the people responsible for marketing Virginia Slims cigarettes back in the 1960’s—a product specifically targeting women—used the tagline; “You’ve come a long way (to get where you’ve gotten to today).”

As you’re designing your marketing campaigns, understanding how your products can serve customer motivation in this manner is vital to garnering the attention of consumers.

With that said, it’s best if your product really is capable of meeting people’s needs in a way that enhances their lives. Otherwise, like those Virginia Slims cigarettes, the marketplace eventually will out you for the charlatan you are—and deservedly so.

In other words, now that you have this knowledge, don’t be evil.