2015-02-22

Is Maslow still OK - a suggestion for a modern alternative

Maslow's hierarchy of needs was a revelation some 70 years ago. Today it is questioned and even referred to as obsolete. Now, when evolutionary psychology is closing the gap between psychology and biology we need a more contemporary model for our analysis. This is the alternative concept I have developed and been applying for a quarter of a century in marketing and business.

Creating value

Every commercial transaction means that the buyer exchanges a sum of money for something that equals or exceeds its value. The buyer decides that the value is higher than the price, and the transaction is realized. The value is set then and there.
The commercial offer has a value proposition. But creating value is not, actually, to produce an offer per se. It is to make a potential buyer perceive the value in what you have produced/are producing. At the moment of decision, the value is confirmed. Not only “perceived” any more, but definite – then and there.
A number of different features create a sense of value in the mind of the potential buyer. The supplying chain, producer to seller, creates an offer to ask a price for. If the buyer finds its perceived value matching or exceeding the price, he buys – a transaction is released and the value is set. To study this in detail, we need the complete picture of the transaction, showing both sides, in contrast to the traditional marketing mix.

What makes buyers value?

The valuing of products is only partly based on rational needs, like hunger, security, and shelter. Now, with branded products dominating many markets, an increasing proportion of the buyers’ wants depend on needs explained by psychological factors.
Thus the understanding of human psyche and behaviour is a compulsory basis for marketing. The eternal question “Who buys what – and why?” is the heart of business. An impressive amount of research has been invested in understanding buyer behaviour, especially less rational decisions believed to be rational (Kahneman 2011). Most explanations have traditionally been psychology, but in recent times more focus has been on biology.
The outstanding pioneer to explain biologically explained human and animal behaviour is, of course, Charles Darwin with his theories on natural selection (1859) and sexual selection (1871). These have influenced recent scientists to develop what is designated evolutionary psychology.

Evolutionary psychology enters the scene

In an attempt to offer a simple, straightforward behavioural model on these lines for practical use in marketing, I drew the outlines to “The Paradigm of Survival” in 1990.
Using Darwin’s universally accepted theory of sexual selection as a reference, and in the spirit of The Selfish Gene (Dawkins 1976), I placed mating at the top. This is in principle shared by a team of Arizona State University (Perspectives on Psychological Science, Spring 2010) trying to up-date Maslow.
The stair-shape does not necessary imply that one step has to be taken before the other, but is intended to offer a perspective on our basic motivations. The main objective has been to make it simple, reliable, and useful for everyday work and analyses.
The Paradigm of Survival (Linn 1990)

The steps of the Paradigm of Survival:

·      Physiological needs: conditions necessary for bodily survival – food and shelter, etc.
·      Individual safety and security: the need to protect ourselves to survive, from predators, illnesses, and competitors – and, in modern society, financial insecurity.
·      Pleasure: the ability to co-operate with other individuals in self-interest.
The sense of tastes, aromas, music, freedom or comfort, the inner satisfaction of achievements and creativity (Bloom 2010).
·      Group’s welfare: contributions to the efficiency of the group as a support of the wellbeing, safety and security of the individuals. Social proofing in being accepted by the group.
·      Social identity: social status meaning priority in situations of scarcity. The ability to convey an impression of positive uniqueness in competing for a potential partner.
·      Mating: success in mate acquisition with reproduction in mind – consciously or unconsciously.

A relevant basis for understanding buyer’s valuations

All factors have significance in the commercial situation, but it is obvious that Pleasure and Social Identity tend to offer the most in the current market.
This is in accordance with the concept of evolutionary psychology (Miller 2009), where psychology at last finds a synergy with biology.
The phenomenon of Social identity is a long time topic. The discussion on conspicuous consumption is a classic (Veblen, 1899). And now the Pleasure factor adds to it (Bloom 2008), justifying its position in the Paradigm.

Marketing in itself cannot create any basic needs. It may, though, be instrumental in suggesting ways of fulfilment of strivings already there, as shown in the Paradigm. Moral and ethical aspects can naturally not be included in the need structure of the Paradigm as such.