Flip the Pyramid: Appeal to Self-Actualization, Not Self Interest

Without purpose, the human brain will actually neglect its base need for food and shelter. It seems that hope is truly more important than food. This crushes Maslow’s pyramid into one consumer influence that drives all others: Social Purpose.

This means that prosperity has been ill-defined. We have come to the proverbial end of ourselves, after the endless chase after physical things. Our industrialized and information-rich society has made this possible. It’s as if we each live today as kings of our own castles. In the land of designer-labeled toilet brushes, what further substance can we who live in an advanced society “consume,” except a great mission by which to live our lives?

These influences make for an exciting possibility. An entire society of brains have become fulfilled in the quest for the obvious physical needs of life, but they remain starved for something they cannot understand: the need for a greater social purpose.

Influence in the Participation Age manifests in a very different leadership style. Modern leaders don’t merely attract followers; they inspire other leaders. This new breed of leader doesn’t pay people to do a job with mere money. They pay them in delegated authority.

Modern leaders don’t merely attract followers; they inspire other leaders Click To Tweet

So, if you plan to lead in the Participation Age, don’t entice your team members with more money only. Don’t attract consumers with mere discounts, either. You can’t buy loyalty with financial incentives. Loyalty and trust are empowered by purpose.

Loyalty and trust are empowered by purpose. Click To Tweet

A 2017 Harvard Business Review (HBR) article titled, “The Neuroscience of Trust” explains why employees would work longer hours and even reject up to a 20% salary increase in exchange for the opportunity to have more personal influence on the company’s purpose. Consumers show a similar behavior in their purchasing patterns in relation to purpose-driven companies.

Researchers in the lab of Vernon Smith, a Nobel laureate in economics, focused on a brain chemical named oxytocin and its impact on building movements by building trust. The HBR study concluded, “Trust and purpose then mutually reinforce each other, providing a mechanism for extended oxytocin release, which produces joy.” Oxytocin also increases empathy, which can unify a movement. In fact, it’s the very chemical that is released during childbirth that mysteriously bonds a mother to her child.

Trust and purpose then mutually reinforce each other, providing a mechanism for extended… Click To Tweet

Perhaps this is what makes Coke taste better with the label on the can. The associated sense of trust associated with the Coke brand can actually change the perceived flavor of the beverage in your brain.

This represents a change in how brands will engage people at every level. As marketers, we must stop appealing to base human needs and start appealing to the highest human expectations.

In the subconscious brain, prosperity is not defined by what we get, but by what we give. We had it all upside down. New studies of the unconscious side of the brain reveal the deepest and most powerful of human forces: the need to be needed — to provide value within the society in which we identify ourselves. This is why the previous model of behavioral economics is being replaced with identity economics. Ego and belonging are not merely the pathway toward progress, but the destination itself. Our self-worth is defined by our relationship with others.

Our self-worth is defined by our relationship with others. Click To Tweet

Consider Maslow’s pyramid upside down. If self-actualization and social influence are base human needs in our society, then how would our consumers want us to engage them?

Consider ourselves and our own desires. At the highest level, we want to have influence in society. That’s what motivates us to have children. We start our life journey as a disciple, but we find fulfillment as the teacher. As we grow up, we go from being hungry to feeding others; from feeling needy to living generously. We enter this world as followers, but we are all restless and driven to self-actualize as leaders of society.

At our very core, what we all desire most is to become leaders. I’ve interviewed dozens of top achievers and mega earners, and I’ve never met one who would be happy to be second best at anything. Customers and lower level leaders are no different. They don’t want to be used or taken for granted as followers, either. These consumers of your leadership are hard-wired with the same desires: to become leaders, too.

Resist the temptation to tell leaders how to do their job. Even worse, don’t do their jobs for them. They will be the first to call you a micro-manager. Like a child who desires to grow up, they are telling you that they want to do it themselves. Embrace listening instead. This is a powerful leadership discipline for influencing the participation generation. Give them vision and actually use their ideas. If you refuse to listen, you will be surrounded by useless minions who refuse to speak or think for themselves.

Even allow them room to fail. This is how you will teach them. They don’t cognitively learn lessons from books alone, but from experience. So, don’t fear failure. Embrace it as the pathway toward progress. If you don’t trust your followers to lead, they will leave you and lead on the behalf of others who will.

Brands are enlisting consumers and followers to become self-actualized because this generation wants to have a voice. They want the opportunity to lead. Don’t give them a task to do. Don’t sell them a product to buy. Provide them with a worthy cause to join. Invite them to lead and drive change in your business with you.



Excerpted from Surfing the Black Wave: Brand Leadership in a Digital Age, now available on Amazon and other fine booksellers. 






Daniel Brian Cobb is an Emmy Award-winning advertising executive, keynote speaker and business strategist, who has partnered with some of the world’s most remarkable brands for nearly three decades. He is a member of the Forbes Agency Council as an advertising industry innovation thought leader, a member and highly rated speaker for SHSMD, serves on the board of the Make-A-Wish Foundation in Michigan, as well as CA-based Missions.Me and Angel House orphanages. 




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