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Maslow for marketers: Don’t rely on the trickle-down effect

The needs of your marketing organization mirror Maslow's hierarchy of the needs of the individual—make sure you're meeting all of them.

Maslow’s Hierarchy is a succinct illustration of the needs that motivate human beings, from the most fundamental at the bottom to the most complex at the top. If this full range of needs isn’t met, your ability to be happy and successful is impeded accordingly.

Happiness and success are crucial to people’s natural development—and the same applies to your business. When you think of a marketing organization as an individual and apply Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, something interesting happens:

To fully leverage the potential of your staff, your employees need to have all of their needs met. Tools are their food and water—it’s impossible to even do work if they’re not equipped with the basics. Then come the skills that give them the confidence to use those tools to get the job done. Without these, they’re lost in the wild, unsure of how to even be successful. Then comes the clear role on a team—the feeling of belonging and security that comes with fitting into a defined community within your organization.

Understanding the brand means that your employees believe in the organization’s goals and its purpose, and in their power to play a crucial role of their own in fulfilling this larger mission. As in Maslow’s hierarchy, the final stage is the most difficult and complex to attain: the empowered feeling of making decisions and having a real, personal impact on the success of the brand.

Over the past decades, it has become clear to more and more leaders that investing in employee brand engagement is worthwhile. And it certainly is, at least when it is done well.

But in reality, engagement efforts are too often limited to internal communication and training programs that aim to explain to employees what the brand stands for, and how that meaning applies to their daily work. Investing in just these programs aims to address the top two levels in the pyramid, appealing to employees’ drive to make a difference in their work lives, without addressing foundational needs.

A short term surge of inspiration then collides with the hard reality of the actual workplace. In large, global brand and marketing organizations, lack of clarity around roles and responsibilities—and the resulting mismatches between skills and roles—are the rule, not the exception. As a result, the investment in internal communication campaigns and brand training—under the assumption that employees will “sort out the rest” with each other have a very low return and often lead to cynicism instead of a renewed energy.

To ensure the power of your brand to drive growth and foster integration across company silos reaches its full potential, internal communication and brand training needs to be accompanied by marketing capability building: creating the clarity, tools, ways of working, and processes that people need to be successful, feel grounded, and be effective in their work.

Your brand is one of the most important assets your company has. Making sure that those who are responsible for nurturing and leveraging it as a growth-driver for your business are truly engaged with it is crucial. Building that engagement in a sustainable way requires you to address the needs of employees at every level of this application of Maslow’s hierarchy. Only investing in the top of the pyramid and assuming those efforts will “trickle down” is not enough to meet the thorny challenges of the daily life of a brand manager or marketer in a complex organization.


To find out how to build a strong foundation for ongoing growth, download the Marketing Capabilities handbook:



Chief Strategy Officer, North America
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