When you’re writing copy it’s easy to forget that the thing you’re selling is actually a want, not a need. No matter how much you think your prospective customer can’t live without the product or service you’re offering, the reality – most likely – is that all of their physical needs have likely already been met.
To pitch your product or service to them successfully then, you need to focus your aim a bit higher.
When writing a piece of copy, I find it helpful to think about my objective in terms of a target. Where do I need to aim to wound, and where should I hit for a killshot?!
Following this line of thought leads me to Maslow’s Hierarchy – because it presents a target like model, that overlays some useful concepts when thinking about prospect wants and needs. You’ve probably already come across Maslows Hierarchy of Needs before in some form or another, possibly without even realising it. But in case you need a refresher, checkout the pyramid below:
Right there at the bottom of the pyramid we have some actual needs. Things like food and shelter fall into the physiological layer of the pyramid. At a stretch, medicine could be considered a need as well – if you run the risk of dying without it. And no; no matter how much you might want it to be, an always on superfast internet connection for your smartphone is not actually a need.
That superfast connection won’t even keep you safe. Assuming that you have your basic physiological needs met, the next rung of the pyramid requires you to consider some more fundamental concerns like what happens if you got sick, had an accident, lost your job or some kind of major societal upheaval (like war for example) took place. Financial instruments like insurance, pension plans or government benefits normally fill this hole.
After that we get to the love and belonging layer – which surprisingly is where the 4g connection might come into play. According to Maslow’s theory, human beings need to feel like they belong to and be accepted by various sizes of groups. Their immediate family, peers and then society as a whole for starters. I’m not much looking forward to the day when my teenage daughter tells me she HAS to have the latest iPhone because all her friends have one and the 4g connection means she can always be connected to them on Facebook, Snapchat or whatever the social network of the day is.
But if I don’t give it to her, she might also start suffering from a lack of self esteem – and that means I’m failing her on two big slices of the hierarchy! At the lower end of the self-esteem spectrum – she may suffer a bit because she doesn’t have the status or prestige an iPhone might confer upon her by association. But hopefully I’ll have raised her with some higher level esteems like self-respect, confidence, independence and freedom from the need to conform to be able to get over it!
And finally, right there at the top of the pyramid we have the lofty ideal of self actualisation. Or what people do after all their other needs have been met. How can I express the best possible version of me now that I’ve been fed, am warm and dry, have a financial safety net and a bunch of consumer devices and trinkets to entertain and inspire me?
Having Maslows Hierarchy to hand for target practice helps me to look at statements like the ones below and see them for what they are. Wants, not needs:
- “I’ve simply got to have that new iPhone!”
- “We totally need a bigger house.”
- “It’s time for a nicer car.”
It’s easy enough to dismiss the iPhone want. The other two might be slightly more challenging, but when we look beneath the surface they’re easy kills too. Do you already have a house? Your need for shelter has been met. Living in a rich democratic society with an existing public transport infrastructure? Ditto for the new car.
They’re wants. Not needs. And recognising the difference can help you become a better marketer and write more effective copy.
Understanding that basically everything above the food and shelter level of physiological need is a Want gives us plenty of target still to aim for. We just need to know how to stimulate the necessary emotions in our prospective customers sufficiently for them to want to buy the product or service on offer.
We need to get them thinking about how our product and services are going to enhance their lives. How it’s going to make them feel safer and more loved for example. Or how it’s going to boost their confidence and self-esteem. Or at the very top of the pyramid, how it’s going to help them become a better person and live a more fulfilled life.
Having our target gives us something to aim for, and a mechanism for narrowing your focus on the right area or level. In the next post I’ll show you how to break down your offer so that you have something to hit the target with.