By Meggie Petersen
Brand Strategist, Moosylvania
Co-author, Join The Brand

A little over 70 years ago, psychologist Abraham Maslow created his hierarchy of human needs. The pyramid outlines his theory of human motivation which begins with fulfilling physiological needs like food and water then moving on to safety, belonging, esteem and eventually the coveted goal: self-actualization.

The lens of Maslow applies everywhere – and for brands addressing consumer needs, it’s a wake-up call every morning.

By definition, fulfilling the hierarchy is the job of brand marketing. And right at the heart of it, is the most important function in brand connectivity: belonging.

The need to belong to something larger dictates our every move. And with the advent of the smartphone in 2007, belonging translates to connectivity. That brings friends, families and cohorts a split second away – all part of a myriad of communities that support our culture.

In our book, Join The Brand, we went back to Harvard Business Review’s definition of three basic types of communities:

  • Pools: communities where people are united by a common interest
  • Hubs: communities where people are connected via a shared passion for an individual
  • Webs: strong networks of interpersonal relationships

In a pool, that might look like cyclists meeting for races and Sunday rides. For hubs, it could be superfans of pop stars teaming up. And, for webs, belonging is carefully threaded into the ties that bind family, coworkers, friends and teammates.

These groups live by a set of standards and characteristics that not only dictate membership but contribute to one’s sense of identity and ultimately, feeling of belonging.

For brands, knowing how communities form and more importantly, the reasons why they form, is essential to building loyal lasting fans.

So, how can brands fulfill this need?

By supporting their consumers.

Then in return, consumers do their part. They purchase, spread word of mouth recommendations and share social commentary with friends and family, amplifying the message.

In our first book, The Participation Game, we argued that people don’t consume advertising – they choose to participate in brands.  In Join The Brand, we’ve illustrated the many ways that brands and consumers can come together on the journey to fulfill the need to belong.

It’s a mindset for brands who want to reach further.  You can start by inviting your fans into the inner circle through stories, language and an established “way of life,” creating a sense of belonging.

Which Maslow said we all need.


Excerpt from Join The Brand, by Norty Cohen, Jillian Flores and Meggie Petersen. Available October 1 on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Hudson News and select independent book sellers.

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