In previous posts I've outlined 8 basic human needs in Maslow's Hierarchy and how they relate to branding: Security, Connection, Esteem, Control, Aesthetics, Cognitive, Self-Actualization and Transcendence. But as Tomas commented, "such a sequential hierarchy of needs doesn't usually happen in our post-scarcity society. Rather, we should see "human needs as an ecosystem where all needs co-exist together for the vast majority of us once our basic subsistence needs are met." Exactly right... and that's the topic of this post.
As you can see from this diagram, I've changed the pyramid to a circle (I've also rephrased a few of the names to be more reader-friendly). In the center of this example is "Web 2.0", which refers to blogs, forums, wikis, social networking, etc. You can see at a glance what's driving the massive growth of web 2.0 -- almost every core human need is satisfied through these technologies. Blogs, MySpace, epinions.com and Slashdot are all places where different types of people can converge to get their needs met. Whereas web 1.0 only offered a source of learning via one-way communication, Web 2.0 offers entire ecosystems for people to learn, share, grow, achieve, connect, and promote a cause.
I've titled the chart "Employee/Customer Engagement" for you to think about how your brand activates core needs, both internally and externally. Let's take a look at Starbucks as an example. Starbucks environment activates Belonging and Aesthetics. Ordering a half-caf blended vente latte satisfies the need for Control (I get my coffee exactly how I want it), and Ego/Esteem (pride of being an "insider" and knowing the terminology). Ego/Esteem is also stimulated by friendly employees who remember your name and exactly how you like your coffee. Starbucks is a strong brand because they meet numerous core needs simultaneously. I'd be interested to hear from John Moore or Paul Williams on how this model works internally at Starbucks.
From an employee engagement perspective, you might think about how you can enable employees to learn, grow, achieve, or contribute to a cause of their choice. How can you give them more control over their work environment, or their career path? How can you use Web 2.0 technologies to create an ecosystem for learning, collaborating and recognition?
Everyone talks about change... but basic human needs don't change. By aligning your brand with one primary need -- Apple with Aesthetics, or Starbucks with Belonging -- then that need serves as your anchor and compass to guide business decisions over time. Then establish links with secondary needs to deepen and enrich the brand experience.