I was reading an article this morning on socialmediatoday.com talking about how to market blog posts or Facebook updates to the needs of the reader to make them keep reading.  The author’s point was that by identifying the psychological motivations of their reader and writing the headlines to target those motivations, an author can convert a higher percentage of blog grazers into actual readers.

Why should you care about blog readership and headline writing as a reader here on this site?  Because the same concepts that he talks about in his article apply to behavioral analysis and more importantly how to better understand the people that we need to collect information from.  There will be some follow on posts that translate this theory into a more tangible form later this week, but we need to cover the underlying theory first.

To understand the foundation of what motivates people, I like to refer back to the structure outlined by Abraham Maslow back in the 1940’s. I acknowledge that since his research has been released there has been some great discussion amongst behavioral scientists about what happens when a previously fulfilled lower layer in the pyramid is no longer being satisfied, but I want to avoid that for the sake of this article.  I want to focus on the basic and universal motivating factors that we can use to help understand needs, motivations and actions.

The Hierarchy

The five layers in his hierarchy of motivation relate to how a person views him or herself and how that observation relates to the world around them.  At the base of the pyramid you have a person’s physiological needs such as food, water, shelter, and sex. These are the basic requirements that when unfulfilled, the body simply can no longer function.  Once these structural needs have been attained, a person is able to focus their attention and motivation at striving for the next level of the pyramid.

The second layer in their hierarchy drives individuals to seek a safe and secure environment.  These concerns can be based on physical security, which often dominates behavior in combat zones or following natural disasters as people become more and more focused on their personal protection or protecting the food and water (physiological needs) that they know will be sought after.  These concerns can also be financial as experienced by people in economic downturns.  This can lead people to strive for job security, removing money from the stock market for more secure investments such as a savings account and purchasing additional insurance policies.  A person’s health and overall wellbeing can also be considered at this level in the pyramid.

As a person elevates to the third level, their actions will become focused on finding a sense of belonging and becoming accepted into a group.  This could be a search for friendship or an intimate relationship and drive people towards religious groups, sports teams, networking groups, the military, or any other place they feel they will find the acceptance they are after.  This could also contribute to teenagers who feel rejected from their academic settings or a sports team seeking the camaraderie of gang life.  The lower level needs are still present, but fulfilling them could be seen as less of a concern.

As people become comfortable in those groups, the next motivating force will cause them to seek esteem within that group.  Humans have a need to be respected, both by others as well as themselves.  People will become focused on taking action that will cause them to stand out from their peers and receive public recognition.  Those actions will be “other” focused as they are dependent on the acknowledgement of others.  A person could also be striving for self-respect gained through experience that leads to mastery, self-confidence and independence.  Failing to achieve this level of the pyramid could lead a person to developing an inferiority complex and conduct additional attention-seeking behavior.

The tip of the pyramid is reserved for those who have reached self-actualization.  This is when a person realizes what their full potential is and become focused on becoming the best they can be.  As implied through the pyramid, to attain this level, a person must not only fill those lower level needs, but master them as well before they can reach their full potential and transcend beyond them.

It’s Just A Foundation

I say that it is just a foundation because it allows for flexibility within it’s levels.  When looking at the Esteem level, there are examples that everyone can think of where people gracefully rose to fill this need and there are those that will do anything possible to appear to lead the group.  How we use this understanding of motivation is where the art gets applied to the science, but identifying what is motivating a person is the first essential step in the process.