It’s your business: What motivates your customer?

Joe Smith

Special to The Record

Much has been written about consumer behaviour, what people are thinking, what trends they are following, what new technology will impact marketing communications, and the list goes on.

What has not changed dramatically are the five basic levels of human needs that play a key role in influencing decision-making when it comes to purchasing products or services.

Sometimes in our haste to get things to market, we forget that there are deep-seated needs that affect all humans. If you can relate your message to satisfying one or several of these needs, you will be well on your way to success.

The first of these levels focuses on everyone’s physiological needs. These relate to the basic survival instincts such as food, shelter, water, and clothing.

The second level comprises the needs surrounding safety and security; health and well-being, employment, financial, and any other safety net that would provide for personal and family security.

In moving to the third level which is focused on love and belonging, this means that people are looking for acceptance, affection, and friendship.

The fourth level is one of the most intriguing as it deals with esteem. The needs that are involved here focus on recognition, respect, prestige, importance, achievement, and independence … in other words a lot of ego-boosting products and services.

The fifth or highest level is the need for self-actualization. This is where people fulfil their need to be the best at who they are and what they do … the best athlete, the best mom or dad, the best employee, the best grass grower on the block, etc.

Along with having an understanding of these five levels, there is the added knowledge that they can be classified into two categories … functional and emotional.

In functional we see many products and services that can be measured in a tangible way. The no-touch car tire cleaner or the bathroom spray that does all the work for you. It is also the services that will help make your personal or business life easier.

The other category that needs consideration in making an appeal is the emotional component. Does your product or service massage the ego by making someone feel good, important or attractive?

With all that has been written, it must be remembered that people do not always buy for just one reason. There are many factors that come into play. If you do have a good handle on who your customers are, and can provide a product or service which appeals to both their emotional and/or functional side, and addresses some of their needs, then they will be more inclined to open up their wallets.

One final thought, the basic principles of marketing and communication have not changed in decades. This theory of human behaviour, which is included in many university business courses, is just as relevant today as it was when it was first put to paper … in 1943.

Joe Smith is a communications consultant and an accomplished fine artist. He can be reached via email at

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