Maslow’s hierarchy of needs & vegan branding

Welcome to a deep dive into brand theory and plant-based branding. This is the first of a four part exploration of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and positioning vegan brands.

Branding depends on so many interlocking variables that it’s hard to know where to start. One of those variables needs to fall into place in order to start a chain reaction. Anything that can help you work out what to focus on first is welcome.

Maslow’s hierarchy is a theory in psychology which I’ve adopted as a prospecting tool in the brainstorming stage. It will help you imagine someone’s, needs and objections and consider ways branding could address those.

The hierarchy

There are four strata in Maslow’s heirachy, ranging from the most immediate and physical to the most aspirational and abstract. The basic idea is that you are less likely to consider needs from a higher strata if you aren’t satisifed in lower ones.

  • The first and most basic strata is Physiological: things human need to live; human rights type things. If you’re lacking in this department, you’re likely not worried about much else.
  • Next we have Safety needs. Once you have successfully remained alive, you probably want to feel safe. You do not want to be raising your family in a war zone, and if you are, you’re probably not thinking about much else.
  • The next is Belonging and Relationships. You want to have friends, family – people to love. If alive and safe but all alone, Maslow states that you will probably focus on this next.
  • Next is the need for esteem. You want to be seen as a good person. If people don’t like you, this will prevent you from focussing on…
  • Self-actualisation. This grandly titled strata encompasses a more personal esteem, where you strive to improve and realise your potential. Empathy goes here.

How does this relate to veganism?

The hierarchy goes from fear to love, and the general idea is that your fears need to be allayed before you can start to hope, create and love. Most of us feel fed and safe, yet there is a niggling worry that if we misstep, we’ll be face down in the mud. How many things have to go wrong for things to fall apart? This question does hold us from higher considerations.

Non-vegans have struggled to understand vegans’ choices. They saw them as elitist, because unlike most people, vegans who bucked cultural trends in earlier decades didn’t need satisfaction on any rung of Maslow’s ladder before making enlightened choices. Family? bugger them. Tribes? I’ll go it alone if I have to. Lunch? I’ll eat potato chips if needs be. They were literally (OK, just figuratively) upside down.

But most people can’t be upside down, because Maslow’s hierarchy does apply to most us.

The world desperately needs a massive expansion of vegans (ideally – at least vegan diet). And it’s getting one: shopping and is easier; eating out with friends is easier; dealing with families is easier; vegan tribes are everywhere. Collectively, we are climbing Maslow’s ladder as far as veganism is concerned. Soon, economies of scale will mean plant-based meat-substitutes will be more affordable – at that point the tables will have really turned.

So have we defeated Maslow and have no need for his ideas? In coming posts we’ll look at how you can use this theory as tool to examine your customers’ needs, or even to work out who your ideal customer is. Make sure you’re signed up to the Blog feed or with us on our socials.

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