Understanding User Needs – The Fundamental Motivation Theory

Ever wondered why Enfield riders wave each other? Why people keep tweeting ‘I just crossed 1,000 followers’?
Why people buy certain set of brands?

The answer, to a very large extent lies in the very basic fundamental of human motivation – Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Read on, even though it sounds a little B-school talk (but is the most practical framework to understand user needs).

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

The human motivation theory is a pyramid structure consisting of five different levels –

  • Physiological needs
  • Safety Needs
  • Love/Belongingness
  • Esteem
  • Self-Actualization

Physiological Needs

The lowest level of need is mainly associated with human body needs (food, clothing, shelter, sex, sleep etc).

Safety Needs

The innate desire to have a stable/safe life, a sense of orderly world and personal as well as financial security constitutes safety needs.

Social Needs

Sense of belongingness and acceptance form this group.

Esteem Needs

Esteem needs comprise the basic human desire to be respected by others, to be recognized in the society and appreciated for one’s contribution to the society/workplace.

Self-Actualization

Valid for only 2% of the crowd, self-actualization needs refer to realization of one’s potential, and speaks of one’s search for seeking personal growth.

Level 1-4 are also called Deficiency Motivator, while Level 5th is the Growth Motivator. What’s important to note here is that once a need is satisfied, the person moves onto the next (constant struggle and that’s why opportunity to up-sell).

Why you should care about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?

Because user motivation drives usage of certain products. In order to market your product, you need to understand where does your service fit in w.r.t these levels?

Keep following questions in mind:

  • What level of needs are you satisfying?
  • Do you even know your customer’s present level? (atleast segment wise?)
  • Most importantly, are you helping people move from one level to the next? Can you create a marketing messaging around the same?

Examples of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

– Insurance companies pertain to safety needs. When they market their product, they create a fear of safety (post-death scenario).

– Aspirations – a lot of product usage happens because people aspire to be something else. They want to move to the next level and that’s where a marketer comes in.
Take any beauty cream/lifestyle ad and they would want you to be somebody else. And it sells.

– Social Networks : They tend to fit in Level 3 – where one wants to be part of the society/group. But, most of the successful socionets have one thing is common – they started within a closed circle (Orkut: invite only, Facebook:colleges only), and others aspired to be part of the crowd/network. They were able to create an implicit ‘Esteem Need’ by not opening the network.
Most of the flop social networking product failed to understand this.

Wikipedia: Why do people contribute to Wikipedia? What drives them to write (with no monetary gain?)?

– Why people want to break news on Twitter? Why do they RT (Re-Tweet?)

– How companies like Apple/Harley Davidson/Royal Enfield have been  able to create a strong community (while deep pocketed competition’s attempt failed flat?)

What about open source? Why do people contribute? Why do some kickass developers give away free WordPress plugins to the community? What motivates them?

The answer lies in basic human motivational factors.

But the bigger question is whether your product/service appeals to your users or not? Does it help them move up the value ladder?

Share your opinion.

Next: Examples of Successful Businesses that have Built Services around ‘”(Un)Defined’ User Needs

[Part 1 of This Week’s Theme – Understanding User Needs]

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