Successful Brands Do a Good Job of Satisfying People’s 10 Basic Desires

Brands spend more than $450 billion each year to influence us. They wouldn’t spend that kind of money unless they knew something we didn’t know.

The most-successful brands don’t focus on what we need; they focus on what we want. We need a credit card; we want an American Express Black card. We need a cellphone; we want the yet-to-be-released iPhone 4G.

Fortunately for brands, when it comes to identifying what people want, we aren’t particularly complex. The human mind seeks to satisfy 10 primary wants. Direct your actions toward meeting as many as possible, and your brand will grow exponentially.

So what do people want, exactly?

1. To feel safe and secure.
This is reinforced through both the physical structure of the brain and our physical environment, making it one of the strongest motivating forces in our lives. The amygdale is an area of the brain whose primary purpose is to protect us. Whenever we sense fear or danger, or that things are not safe or secure, it fires. This works in conjunction with our long-term memory, which continuously references and longs for the safety and security we received as children. When Allstate tells us we’re in good hands with them, it appeals to this desire for safety and security. Who else? Volvo, OnStar, ADP, Geico, Johnson & Johnson.

2. To feel comfortable.
We all want to feel comfortable. We want to feel good, relaxed, we want it to be easy. Our brains are constantly asking, if I do this, how will I feel? We are attracted to what makes us feel good, and this is often what is most comfortable and easy — brands such as Cracker Barrel, Rockport, Godiva and Dole (what’s easier than bagged lettuce?).

3. To be cared for and connected to others.
It is human nature to want to feel that someone cares for us, that we have friends and that people enjoy our company. Humans are genetically predisposed to want to be together and to be connected. It is one of our evolutionary traits. And by observing, interacting and engaging with others, our mirror neurons allow us to learn from one another and feel what others are feeling. Think about recent communication campaigns from Olive Garden, Budweiser, Pizza Hut and Mitsubishi’s Eclipse. Further, this is one of the key wants social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and MySpace meet.

4. To be desired by others.
Some believe that all human motivation comes down to wanting to be desired by others. Freud popularized this concept pitting the id against the superego and ego. And even though brands have been targeting this want since the beginning — and people are aware of brands’ efforts in this area — it has not lost any of its effectiveness. Axe can’t make their message to guys any clearer: use our products and you’ll be irresistible. And how about Michelob Ultra, Viagra, Cadillac, Old Spice and Victoria’s Secret?

5. To be free to do what we want.
The desire to be free has been a guiding principal of humankind for the past 200,000 years. Throughout history, societies have banded together to fight for their freedom, from early civilizations in Greece, through the dark ages and Renaissance, the French and American Revolutions, and the abolition of slavery and both world wars. The desire to be free is such a dominant human want that, time after time, we have given our lives to satisfy it. Financial brands such as Fidelity, Citi and Mastercard were built by focusing on this want, as were brands such as Harley-Davidson, Southwest, Nutrisystem and even Norwegian Cruise Lines.

6. To grow and become more.
Humans, unlike animals, do not come programmed with the skills we need. We begin as blank slates, yet within the first five years of our lives, we learn to perform many of the skills we will use throughout our lifetime. But then what happens? Is there ever another five-year period where we grow as much? Most would say no, and yet our brains are conditioned from childhood to grow and learn. Because of this, our mind is constantly striving to satisfy the function it has been conditioned to perform: to grow and become more. When you think of Monster, Kindle, Bally and Kaplan, don’t they all brilliantly leverage this want to their advantage?

7. To serve others and give back.
More than 60 million people performed more than 8 billion hours of service last year. Why? As children we are fully dependent on our parents. Those early memories of our mothers and fathers serving our every need, unselfishly giving to protect, care and nurture, are deeply ingrained in our minds and condition us to want to serve others and give back. Therefore, we tend to feel good when we are making others feel good, unselfishly focusing on others. This want competes against many of our other more self-focused wants, causing an unsettling feeling when we too frequently focus on ourselves. What comes to mind when you think about Prius, Livestrong, Timberland, Newman’s Own, Make-a-Wish Foundation and Susan G. Komen for the Cure?

8. To be surprised and excited.
The amount of stimuli that our senses can process throughout the course of a day is remarkable. While our perceptual register filters the vast majority of these stimuli, what almost always gets through is what surprises and excites us. Stimuli that could potentially cause ecstasy or anxiety are the first things to grab our attention — Red Bull, Las Vegas tourism, Disney, De Beers.

9. To believe there is a higher purpose.
Most people identify with a particular religion, believe in a god in some form and believe that when we die, there is something more. We deeply want to believe there is a higher purpose. There is not a single more important belief that has such universal acceptance yet completely lacks any form of scientific evidence. But because we so deeply want to believe, anything that can possibly support this belief is powerfully motivating. When the Marines show us a wall of soldiers standing guard over our country and ask us if we have what it takes to be among the few and the proud, they are offering us a higher purpose.

10. To feel that they matter.
This is humankind’s greatest want — that they matter. That they are worthy of attention, affection and love. It is an evolutionary trait. Released in large amounts during labor, oxytocin, a neurotransmitter, bonds the mother to a child, making it nearly impossible not to want to care for the newborn. Infants who do not receive this attention can succumb to failure-to-thrive syndrome, causing premature death. So the fact that we matter is essential to our survival. We have been conditioned from birth to believe that we matter. But as we get older, the oxytocin wears off and we feel less and less that we matter. We then spend the rest of our lives trying to get back this feeling that we once felt in such abundance, and brands such as American Express, Lexus, Rolex and Starbucks help us remember that we matter.

First seen on Advertising Age
by Brian Martin
Published: February 03, 2010

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