Are You Hanging Out in Maslow's Basement? One Thing You Can Try When No One is Buying & You Feel Like They Just Don't Get It

When I picked my 4-year-old up from JK the other day he showed me a rare piece of artwork (he's mostly into building things & leaves the art to his older sister).  I gushed.  I oohed & aahed over his abstract masterpiece.

"Hmmm," I said, "I think it looks like a muddy puddle you were jumping in & these are muddy footprints walking off the page."

His proud smile vanished instantly.  I had gotten it wrong.  And he was more than a little miffed that I couldn't tell that his fingerprints were clearly dinosaur footprints leading directly to the swooshy bit which was obviously the cave where the dino was hiding out.  I mean, come on Mom, get it right!

And with that explanation, I could see it.  I just needed a little help to see what had been so vivid inside his mind all along.  But my poor boy was also a little deflated at having to explain it to me.  Like he hadn't done a good enough job communicating his vision through fingerpaint for me to immediately see it the way he had.

So, we had big hugs & I told him how much I loved it & asked if it was okay if I displayed on the fridge (which we all know is the Guggenheim of childhood art) when we got home.  Maybe we could even put one of our dinosaur magnets over the cave & pretend that was the dino hiding out.  Which, of course, perked him up 'cause 4-year-olds are resilient like that.

But on the drive home, I couldn't help thinking how so often we do the same things with our businesses.  We create a vision in our heads of what we want it to look like.  We carefully bring our vision to life.  We choose some images that seem to be the right ones, pick a few colours that we love & go well together, maybe even invest in a professionally designed logo & brand photos.  And we talk about our biz on our websites & Facebook & Twitter & Instagram with the passion of someone who believes in their vision & the hours they've invested in bringing it to life.

And we get a few likes, a few hearts, maybe even a few inquiries.  Though never the resounding viral supernova we're all secretly hoping for. ;)  And it kinda feels like maybe people don't get it?  Maybe they don't see that it's clearly dinosaur footprints leading to a cave where the dino's hiding out?

And it's hard NOT to feel a little disappointed after all the hard work you put in that you might have to explain it more clearly...or differently.  That people don't instantly connect to your thing - like love at first sight.

Because here's the thing...when you're building a brand, it takes a whole lot of work behind the scenes to ever achieve love at first sight with your ideal client.

Not ONE of your favourite brands just opened their doors with their magical combination of drool-inducing elements & said, "Well, that's it, I guess we're done now.  Nailed it with the first shot.  Well done.  Let's just watch the customers & dollars flow in, shall we?"

Even though there's a whole lot of online let's-do-it-easy-&-fast-with-astronomical-results-guaranteed hucksters who would love for you to think that way.

So here's something for you to consider when you're feeling like no one cares (but they should) & you're not sure how to explain it differently.

We all know people buy things for different reasons.  They have different motivations.  So the trick is finding out what the deepest, most compelling motivation is for your target audience when it comes to buying your product or service.

Now, if you remember the famous psychologist who categorised our motivations, his name was Maslow & he published his work back in 1943.  Later, people organized it into a pyramid, which is useful visually but that's about it.  You see our needs don't have to progress up the pyramid from bottom to top in an orderly fashion.  That's why for example, you can have artists who live in war-torn countries, they haven't achieved security (at the bottom of the pyramid) but they're still investing their time going after aesthetic (near the top).  Or monks who fast in order to try to achieve enlightenment, denying themselves the bottom of the pyramid to try to get near the top.

Here's the pyramid.  I re-created it for us in Canva with the later addition of an 8th level you may or may not be familiar with.  

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

We pretty much pursue all these things simultaneously but the emphasis we choose to put (the time, effort & financial resources) will vary depending on our circumstances.  We focus on different things depending on where we're at in life.

Our worldview (age, gender, past experiences, level of education, country of origin, etc., etc.) all influence where our primary focus will be on Maslow's pyramid as well.

Your job is to know your ideal client SO well that you know what level they're focused on.  If you know that, then you can begin to guess the best way to appeal to them.  The best way to position your product or service so that they're motivated to buy.

The problem is that most marketers knee-jerk reaction is to hang out somewhere near Maslow's basement.  Security -> you'll make more money or Esteem -> you'll feel better about the way you look.

We forget to look at the whole pyramid.  We forget to see our clients as complex humans capable of more than just neolithic caveman desires (even though we see ourselves as capable of more).

CAUTION: as you approach the top of the pyramid things can get a little academic & ethereal.  Don't forget to keep it concrete, ground it in simple, everyday experiences & stories that make things like realising your potential or self-fulfillment relatable.

If you've taken my brand personality quiz (if you haven't, what the hell are you waiting for?)  I did a little Maslow matching to give you a place to start thinking.  And I have to say it was absolutely fascinating for a psychology geek like me to see that each personality was naturally drawn to 3 or 4 categories on the pyramid.  Some near the bottom & some near the top.  

The Innocent - security, esteem, self-actualization

The Caregiver - physical, security, love & belonging & transcendence

The Explorer - esteem, learning & self-actualization

The Hero - security, esteem, self-actualization

The Visionary - learning, self-actualization, transcendence

The Artist - esteem, aesthetic, self-actualization

The Good Neighbor - security, love & belonging, transcendence

The Sage - learning, self-actualization

The Entertainer - esteem, love & belonging, learning, aesthetic

The Executive - security, esteem, love & belonging, aesthetic

The Lover - physical, love & belonging, aesthetic, transcendence

The Rebel - esteem, aesthetic, self-actualization


What a rich palette of motivations we have to paint with & play with when we speak to our clients.  Let's pinky swear we'll never forget again. ;)