Maslow’s Theory of Motivation

Abraham Maslow sought to explain why people are driven by particular needs at particular times. Why does one person spend much time and energy on personal safety and another on gaining the esteem of others? Maslow’s answer is that human needs are arranged in a hierarchy, from the most pressing to the least pressing. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is shown in Figure 5.4. In order of importance, they are physiological needs, safety needs, social needs, esteem needs, and self-actualization needs. A person tries to satisfy the most important need first. When that need is satisfied, it will stop being a motivator and the person will then try to satisfy the next most important need. For example, starving people (physiological need) will not take an interest in the latest happenings in the art world (self-actualization needs), nor in how they are seen or esteemed by others (social or esteem needs), nor even in whether they are breathing clean air (safety needs). But as each important need is satisfied, the next most important need will come into play.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

What light does Maslow’s theory throw on Lucy’s interest in buying a camera? We can guess that Lucyhas satisfied her physiological, safety, and social needs; they do not motivate her interest in cameras. Her camera interest might come from a strong need for more esteem. Or it might come from a need for self-actualization—she might want to be a creative person and express herself through photography.


A motivated person is ready to act. How the person acts is influenced by his or her own perception of the situation. All of us learn by the flow of information through our five senses: sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste. Perception is the process by which people select, organize, and interpret information to form a meaningful picture of the world.

People can form different perceptions of the same stimulus because of three perceptual processes: selective attention, selective distortion, and selective retention. People are exposed to a great amount of stimuli every day. For example, the average person may be exposed to more than 1,500 ads in a single day. It is impossible for a person to pay attention to all these stimuli.

  • Selective attention — the tendency for people to screen out most of the information to which they are exposed—means that marketers have to work especially hard to attract the consumer’s attention.

  • Selective distortion – means that marketers must try to understand the mind-sets of consumers and how these will affect interpretations of advertising and sales information. For example, Lucy may hear a salesperson mention some good and bad points about a competing camera brand. Because she already has a strong leaning toward Nikon, she is likely to distort those points in order to conclude that Nikon is the better camera.

  • Selective retention – means people tend to retain information that supports their attitudes and beliefs. For example, Lucy is likely to remember good points made about the Nikon and to forget good points made about competing cameras.

Because of selective attention, distortion, and retention, marketers have to work hard to get their messages through. This fact explains why marketers use so much drama and repetition in sending messages to their market.


Learning describes changes in an individual’s behavior arising from experience. Learning occurs through the interplay of drives, stimuli, cues, responses, and reinforcement.

We saw that Lucy has a drive for self-actualization. A drive is a strong internal stimulus that calls for action. Her drive becomes a motive when it is directed toward a particular stimulus object, in this case a camera. Lucy’s response to the idea of buying a camera is conditioned by the surrounding cues. Cues are minor stimuli that determine when, where, and how the person responds. Seeing cameras in a shop window, hearing of a special sale price, and receiving her husband’s support are all cues that can influence Lucy’s response to her interest in buying a camera.

Suppose Lucy buys the Nikon. If the experience is rewarding, she will probably use the camera more and more. Her response to cameras will be reinforced. Then the next time she shops for a camera, binoculars, or some similar product, the probability is greater that she will buy a Nikon product.

The practical significance of learning theory for marketers is that they can build up demand for a product by associating it with strong drives, using motivating cues, and providing positive reinforcement.

Beliefs and Attitudes

Beliefs and attitudes influence customer’s buying behavior. A belief is a descriptive thought that a person has about something. Lucy may believe that a Nikon camera takes great pictures, stands up well under hard use, and costs $450. These beliefs may be based on real knowledge, opinion, or faith, and may or may not carry an emotional charge. For example, Lucy’s belief that a Nikon camera is heavy may or may not matter to her decision.

Marketers are interested in the beliefs that people formulate about specific products and services, because these beliefs make up product and brand images that affect buying behavior. If some of the beliefs are wrong and prevent purchase, the marketer will want to launch a campaign to correct them.

People have attitudes regarding religion, politics, clothes, music, food, and almost everything else. Attitude describes a person’s relatively consistent evaluations, feelings, and tendencies toward an object or idea. Attitudes put people into a frame of mind of liking or disliking things, of moving toward or away from them. Thus, Lucy may hold attitudes such as “Buy the best,” “The Japanese make the best products in the world,” and “Creativity and self-expression are among the most important things in life.” If so, the Nikon camera would fit well into Lucy’s existing attitudes.

Attitudes are difficult to change. A person’s attitudes fit into a pattern, and to change one attitude may require difficult adjustments in many others. Thus, a company should usually try to fit its products into existing attitudes rather than attempt to change attitudes. Of course, there are exceptions in which the great cost of trying to change attitudes may pay off handsomely:

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.