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As marketers, we all wish that every piece of content we create is anticipated and valued by our audience. But with so much content out there and people having so little time, that’s probably not the case. 

So what really makes a piece of content stand out? What makes it valuable to a customer or prospect so it will drive engagement and prompt action? 

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs has been around for a long time, in fact before content marketing entered the conversation. But it provides a great framework for brands searching for opportunities to provide valuable content that taps into their consumers’ needs, desires, challenges, and goals.

Let’s look at how we can apply the aspects of that motivational theory to our content marketing.  

Physiological Needs

At the first and most basic level of Maslow’s hierarchy, there are physiological needs: the need to breathe, eat, drink and sleep.

For brands that sell products or services that help with those basic needs, a unique opportunity presents itself: to create educational content that helps consumers with the most basic functions of a good life.

Plenty of tourism groups provide essential eating guides to their area — like these lists for New York and Seattle — and countless brands offer recipes for specialized diets and other educational cooking content, such as these grilling tips from Weber or this delicious-looking Turkish Red Lentil Soup recipe from Chobani.

Or look at consumer food manufacturer General Mills (think Betty Crocker and Haagen-Dazs) which created a branded site Tablespoon with content dedicated to recipe ideas and food. Software company Adobe also takes this approach with, a successful website that focuses on insights, expertise, and inspiration for and by digital leaders.  

Safety Needs

The next level of the pyramid is safety. Plenty of marketing — particularly in the automotive and pharmaceutical industries — taps into this, promising protection or faster recovery from injury and disease, but content can be built around safety as well.

A great example is from Volvo who not only reiterated the safety of their vehicles but also drew focus to another element – the environment and climate change. This video ‘The Ultimate Safety Test’ poses the question ‘What is the biggest safety test that isn’t on the road anymore?’ to promote its new range of electric cars.The safety category also includes the protection of resources and property, offering plenty of opportunities for brands that help protect against financial and other non-bodily threats. U.K.-based bank, Barclays created ‘Moneyverse Matchmaking’, a mini-dating show with the aim of promoting how open and honest conversations about money can lead to a stronger relationship and help couples communicate clearly about how they manage money. 

Social Needs

At the third level, the hierarchy starts to offer more broad opportunities for content inspiration. The need for love and belonging speaks to a desire for a close and happy family, fulfilling friendships and satisfying sexual intimacy. Many brands use this as a way to help consumers create deeper relationships.

Some brands focus on the family. McDonald’s is renowned for tapping into family values and togetherness in its advertising campaigns. Take this ad that aired in New Zealand that looks at the special bond between grandparents and their grandchildren.

Friendship is also a big theme for many brands. Domino’s launched ‘The Last Slice’ a social campaign that involved three pairs of strangers waiting for a pizza to be served the last slice. Despite having different interests, they bond and end up sharing the slice and starting a new friendship.

In its first major ad campaign, Snapchat’s ‘Real Friends’ highlights the stories of Snap users who have been able to connect through the app. It highlighted individual stories of friends from 12 different countries and used quotes “from 15 luminaries and famous figures”, that was showcased on billboards. 

Sex and intimacy are also part of this social needs hierarchy. Replens focused on sex in older people with the tagline ‘Sex never gets old’. The billboards and posters were shot in black and white showing people of all ages and genders in intimate embraces or simply touching. In Africa, a new campaign focused on sexual health wanted to take away any fear and focus on pleasure.  ‘Treasure Your Pleasure’ is a digital campaign that aims to create a safe space for youth in Africa to talk about sex freely, reducing shame while also advocating for safe sex and the importance of pleasure. This could also fit into the safety category of the pyramid. 

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