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Building Buyer Personas with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

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Updated By: Amber Chmielewski on Fri, Jul 15, 2016

One of the first things that piqued my interest about inbound marketing was how helpful it seemed. Inbound didn’t look or sound like the image of marketing I had in my head. I had always thought marketing meant convincing people they needed a product or service. But inbound was different. Inbound marketing meant positioning and presenting a product or service so people who need it can find it. And that was it. With my ethical side satisfied, the rest follows.  

Inbound marketing sounded so simple, so intuitive, so ethical – which by the way, are not terms I ever thought I’d use to describe marketing. And, like most theories, inbound seemed simple up until the point of application. The amount of thinking, planning, researching, and doing required for an inbound campaign is astronomical. And when inbound is done well, those on the outside looking in would never see the degree of complexity beneath the surface.

Building buyer personas

Finding My Footing

I am all about foundations. There’s something about having a sturdy base to start from that calms and invigorates me like none other. And as a content creator for an inbound marketing agency, my foundation is buyer personas.

When it comes to buyer personas, I want to know everything – well beyond the demographics and watering holes. What would your persona order at a movie theater concession stand? Which stand-up comedian makes them laugh the hardest? How often do they talk to their mother? To me, it all matters. 

But I get it. Not everyone views buyer personas with the mind of a rhetorician and the heart of a creative writer. That’s me. That’s my personal brand of crazy. I’m not here to start a revolution. I’m here to contribute.  

Everything I read on buyer personas discusses how the most effective ones are also the most realistic. Then the realization came: I wished personas could be a little more human.

Enter Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

I knew of a methodology for understanding human needs that’s built upon a solid foundation: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It’s one of my favorite frameworks for understanding human motivation and behavior. A quick search confirmed the obvious: I am not the first to tie Abraham Maslow’s concept to marketing. So here’s a great synopsis from an eBook by our friends at Hubspot:

In 1943, American psychologist Abraham Maslow introduced the world to his “Theory of Human Motivation,” which later became known as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This theory consists of five vital human needs, with the most basic of needs falling at the bottom. This Hierarchy looks like a pyramid with physiological needs at the base. As you move up the pyramid you see safety, belonging, esteem, and finally, self-actualization at the very top.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs

Identifying the Layers of Human Need

With each level tied to a human desire, Maslow created a revolutionary way of understanding human needs and motivation. He posited that it was only once the needs of one level were satisfied that an individual could move up to the next. So, what do these levels mean and how do they apply to persona building?

Physiological needs

The base of Maslow’s Hierarchy focuses on the human desire for survival. The needs represented here are: food, water, clothing, sleep, sex, and breathing.

Safety & Security

Next comes the desire to live comfortably. This need is broken down into job/financial security, property, and safe neighborhoods.  

Love & Belonging

Humans satisfy this need through romance, family, friends, organizations, and clubs.


Coming from our desire to feel important, self-esteem comes from gaining respect and having achievements.


The very top of the hierarchy is the human need for meaning, legacy, and purpose. According to Maslow, an individual must meet and satisfy all of the previous needs before reaching their full potential of self-actualization.

Buyer Personas from The Ground Up

In order to build buyer personas, it’s important to understand your ideal customers’ challenges, motivators, and goals (and much more). By understanding an ideal customer through which basic human need your product or service satisfies, you’re able to grasp a deeper understanding of what motivates them.

Begin by taking a look at your ideal customer and identifying which need(s) your product or service satisfies. For instance, if the product you're offering is a car, consider the various needs a car can meet. It could easily appeal to your ideal customers’ need for safety and security, love and belonging, or self-esteem. In fact, purchasing a car could satisfy any of the five basic human needs, depending on the way you look at it.

Since Maslow determined that most individuals stay within one level of the hierarchy until it is fully satisfied, the customer buying a car for safety and security is not buying it for reasons of self-esteem. Applying this process is a method to make your content more specific and fine-tuned.

Viewing buyer personas through this lens creates a larger understanding of where your ideal customer is at socially, economically, physically, and psychologically. And through this understanding, you can structure more targeted content.

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Amber Chmielewski

About The Author

Amber Chmielewski

I love language and all the power it wields. Perfectly placed punctuation and artfully used alliteration brighten my eyes and bring joy to my heart. As Lead Writer, I ensure the ideas, visions, and goals of our clients are able to reach their intended audience. Articulating complex ideas and representing them honestly, ethically, and artistically is something I consistently strive toward. When I’m not solving the world’s tiniest problems with concise word choice, you can find me enjoying nature, practicing yoga, and expanding my knowledge of human nature – sometimes all three at once.

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