Are brands aiming too high on Maslow’s Pyramid?

A while ago, Verbal Identity was invited to help a technology company define their brand mission.

During a great first briefing, there was just one thing that didn’t feel right.

The brand owners had romantic notions of the brand’s history. That’s to be expected.

They imagined a huge market. Fine. We’ve all got to reach for the stars.

Their vision for the brand’s role in society was pitched just over the horizon. It was based on solid research and felt like the right direction to go.

The bit that didn’t feel right, though, was the definition of the consumer. If memory serves me right, their brand was going to be aimed at “the fully actualized individual” , as described by the uppermost level of Maslow’s Pyramid.

verbal identity and branding consultants looks at maslow

My problem with this is, I’ve never met a fully actualized individual.

And it made me realise, when it was spoken so clearly, perhaps most brands aim too high on Maslow’s Pyramid when they describe their brand mission.

Even when they’re supplying basic physiological needs, brand owners try to elevate themselves up a few levels. In their external communications, hamburger sellers don’t sell 99p hamburgers – they sell moments with your loved ones (+2 levels).

When you look in glossy mags at property spreads, you realise your house isn’t about ‘safety and security’ – it’s about self-esteem.

When New Labour talked about what they wanted to do, they didn’t sell social stability, they sold morality, creativity (Cool Britannia) and purpose (+3 levels).


I have no problem with “laddering it up to emotional values”, that awful expression I overuse, but that’s for your external communications.

For your internal-facing brand mission, it’s important to stay focussed on doing the basic job well.

After all, that’s the only way you can make it mean something else to the outside world later on.