Meta-Needs, Core Values and Doing Business

You’ve probably noticed my colleague Bryan and I are thinking a lot about Abraham Maslow recently. There’s a reason for that: we think the stuff Maslow came up with is pretty important. His is the sort of framework that can help you identify those core values critical to your online efforts.

From those values, everything else flows, just like a river from its source. And if you can’t communicate those values to your visitors, remaining true to them throughout all your messaging, how in the world do you propose to make it out there in cyberspace?

We’ve talked before about how, through uncovery, you identify the objectives and values that help you shape the message that will engage and motivate your visitors. It’s the very first step in creating the persuasion architecture of your Web site and gives you the foundation for speaking to the dog in the language of the dog about what matters to the heart of the dog. Part of the job in an uncovery is to identify the needs your product or service fills – we talked about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and the value of aiming high last time.

A quick recap: Maslow spoke of four types of needs called “deficit” needs. There are physiological needs, safety needs, love/belonging needs and esteem needs. These different levels of need motivate people’s behavior only if the need is unsatisfied. When a person adequately meets the needs of one level, she is able to move on to meeting the needs of the next level. Deficit needs can be satisfied, and once they are satisfied reasonably well, they cease to motivate behavior. When you are stuffed full of food, hunger isn’t an issue.

The topmost human need is for self-actualization – the desire to become the best you can be. This is not a deficit need. It’s a growth need, and fulfilling it is generally a lifelong process. Very very few people achieve complete self-actualization. And that’s a great piece of information to have when it comes to identifying your message.

Within the realm of self-actualization, Maslow identified 17 meta-needs, or “being values” (B-values), which describe the various needs people seek to fulfill in the process of self-actualization. Meta-needs fuel the process of self-actualization. Unlike deficit needs, meta-needs are not hierarchical – individuals prioritize and choose the values that matter most to them.

Maslow identified these meta-needs: Truth, Goodness, Beauty, Wholeness, Transcendence, Aliveness, Uniqueness, Perfection, Necessity, Completion, Justice, Order, Simplicity, Richness, Effortlessness, Playfulness and Self-Sufficiency.

Looking critically at your stuff, you list every possible feature you can think of. Then you turn those features into benefits, asking what the feature means in terms of human emotions and experience. Sometimes there are layers of “which means” questions before you arrive at the core benefit, but always the core benefit is the simplest logical extension of a feature – as in, more RAM means a faster computing experience.

Next you decide which deficit needs your benefits fulfill, so you can create the message that will motivate your visitor. People don’t buy mattresses because they have coils and special padding. They buy mattresses so they can sleep comfortably. The fellow who sells coils won’t do nearly as well as the fellow who sells sleep.

But don’t stop at sleep! Why sleep? So you can feel better during the day. So you are more alive, more aware. Aliveness is a meta-need. B. J. Bueno, The Power of Cult Branding, tied mattresses to self-actualization: sleeping on a good mattress helps you live your dreams by day. Who is going to buy coils or sleep when they could buy dreams of self-actualization?

The trouble is, simply identifying and addressing your visitors’ meta-needs is only part of what a meaningful uncovery must reveal. So, let’s turn to the other important task of the uncovery process. This is the part that focuses on you – your core values. Through uncovery, you identify the values that motivate you to do business in the first place – these are, essentially, the meta-needs you are attempting to satisfy through your occupation on your own path of self-actualization.

What do you stand for? It’s the most humanistic part of the process, in that discovering your values is largely driven by intuition, experience and skill. But you must stand for something and remain consistent with that projected value. If you – as in you and your business – appeal to fundamental human needs, you make it possible for visitors with the same meta-needs as yours to connect with you, for through your product or service, they can move closer toward self-actualization.

The meta-needs that you identify for yourself are those that will guide your choice of the meta-needs you “sell” to your visitors. But to breathe life into your product or service, you can’t simply tell folks what meta-needs you are all about – you must show them.

B. J. cautions that a potential problem occurs with uncovery when you fail to uncover you own core values:

“When you do not discover your value, you cannot aim higher. This is the potential problem with uncovery. Values are not hierarchical. They are intimately tied to self-actualization. Ideally, you don’t choose what you do for the audience, you choose it for yourself. Only then will the audience truly connect.”

Trust me. Magic happens when you express your core values and make the business they reflect congruent with the needs your visitors are trying to satisfy.

So, how are you going to marry the two and make a match in self-actualizing heaven?

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