Using psychology to succeed in advertising, marketing and sales.


There is a huge psychological component to marketing, advertising and sales. In fact, I’d argue that the majority of what we do is psychology-based. After all, what is marketing other than trying to motivate a person to make a decision to do something you want them to do?

In order to persuade a person, first you need to figure out what makes that person tick, and what kinds of messages are going to effectively motivate them to make the choice you want them to make (i.e. buy my product, engage with my service, donate to my cause, come to my event, etc.).

If you don’t know psychology, how can you expect to get inside your customers’ heads?

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

One of my favorite examples of how to use psychology in marketing is based around Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. I’m sure most of you have studied—or at least heard of—this pyramid:

If you haven’t seen this before, here’s the gist:

Physiological needs

The most fundamental needs are on the bottom, or foundation, of the pyramid. These are Physiological needs—the physical requirements for human survival. If these requirements are not met, the human body can’t sustain life. Food, air, water, sleep and sex are in this category.

Physiological needs are thought to be the most important, so they should be met first. 

Safety needs

Once a person’s physical needs are satisfied, their need for safety take priority.

These needs include physical safety, health, security of home, financial or employment security, and safety within a family.

Love and belonging

After physiological and safety needs are fulfilled, humans focus their attention on belonging.

According to Maslow, humans need to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance among their social groups. Humans need to love and be loved, or else they can become lonely, develop anxiety and even depression.


Much like all humans need to feel a sense of belonging, we also have a need to give and receive respect. This could be accomplished through feelings of self-esteem, the respect of others, strength, competence, mastery, confidence, independence, and freedom.

People with low self-esteem often seek fame or notoriety, and a lacking in this area may lead to an inferiority complex, weakness, and feelings of helplessness.


After all of the previous needs have been met satisfactorily, people begin to focus on realizing their full potential. Maslow described this level as, “…the desire to accomplish everything that one can, to become the most that one can be.”

For example, one person may have the desire to be the perfect boss, or to be the best marathon runner in the world. Maslow believed that to understand this level of need, the person must not only achieve the previous needs, but master them.

So what does this have to do with marketing?

If human behavior and decision making is motivated by one of these 5 levels in Maslow’s hierarchy, then this gives us as marketers an incredible insight into how to identify our customers needs and appeal to them in a meaningful, relevant way.


When building a persona (or ideal customer…learn more about that HERE), it is vital to correctly determine where on Maslow’s hierarchy that ideal customer is sitting.

If you are selling security systems, your ideal customer should be actively working through the second level of the pyramid: security. If they are still trying to work through Physiological needs like food, water, and shelter…well, they aren’t going to give much thought to your security system, now are they?

Likewise, if you are a Mercedes dealership, you may want to target potential customers who are actively focused on Esteem, the fourth level.

Think about it: If a Chevy will get you from A to B just like any other reliable vehicle, those still focusing on more basic needs will likely not spend the extra $40k for a car with that coveted Benz hood ornament.


After determining that you are reaching out to the right people, it’s time to look at what message you are sending.

  • Is it addressing the needs they are focusing on?
  • Where does your product fit in?
  • How does it help your persona fulfill their need?

If your brand of Homeowners Insurance helps secure people financially in the event of a personal disaster, you need to describe how that will make them feel more safe and secure, knowing that if everything they own was destroyed you will take care of them and help them get back on their feet.

If you build million-dollar homes, then your message better not be focused on the fact that you’ll simply put a roof over your customers’ heads so they won’t freeze to death. You may want to look a little higher up on the pyramid, don’t you think?


We are all different, yet we are all the same. Don’t you love contradicting statements like that? But when effectively persuading others to do what we want, to think what we think, to feel what we feel…well, we all have similar motivations. Some of us are higher up through Maslow’s pyramid than others, and that’s often when miscommunication occurs. If you’re worried about making your mark on the world but I’m still trying to put food on the table, we’re not going to see eye to eye with regard to priorities.

It’s science. It’s phycology. It’s marketing. And it all boils back down to the basics: provide the right product that solves the right problem to the right people. If you can do that, you’ve won half the battle.

Eleven Eleven Media

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