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Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and how to sell a toilet seat

In 1943 Abraham Maslow published his paper, “A Theory of Human Motivation”. We know it better today as “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs”.

This is the pyramid you probably saw in health or psychology class. It starts with “Physiological” needs at the bottom. These are things like food and water. Then “Safety”, like shelter or clothing to keep warm. In the middle is “Love/belonging”, then “Esteem”, and at the very top “Self Actualization”.

In wealthier economies most people have their bottom two bases squared away. They have food, shelter, clothing, protection, and are generally able to focus on on the top two tiers.

This is why so much advertising over the years have revolved around a sense of belonging, being loved, and a sense of purpose.

Website designers have long focused on their own basics of human motivation: usability, readability, speed, performance, interaction, and functionality. But it’s time to join other consumers in understanding a need for higher belonging.

We focus largely on websites that many would consider “boring”. They’re not for huge brands or places with big budgets, but it doesn’t mean they can’t help people reach a sense of belonging or share the love.

Let’s assume you sell toilet seats. How would you angle your product to people so they felt like they belonged? Or to love your toilet? Or develop a sense of one-ness with it?

It sounds silly, but people spend time using toilet seats every day, shouldn’t it at least be comfortable?

What if I told you that buying a certain toilet seat put you in the company of only 10% of the world to have a seat with such a softness?

Or that the wood used in the seat frame came from sustainably grown and recycled wood and paper by-products?

Or that your toilet seat comes with a warranty or high guarantee? That reinforces the notion of safety, albeit in a different application.

Almost every product or service can dial into Maslow’s hierarchy. Use it as a beginner’s guide to marketing whatever you’re advertising.

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Photo of Justin Harter


Justin has been around the Internet long enough to remember when people started saying “content is king”.

He has worked for some of Indiana’s largest companies, state government, taught college-level courses, and about 1.1M people see his work every year.

You’ll probably see him around Indianapolis on a bicycle.

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