By Kathleen Hosfeld
I’m a fan of perspectives that make sense of seemingly conflicting points of view. This is why I love PEAK: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo From Maslow by Chip Conley.
Conley, owner of the Joie de Vivre boutique hotel chain in California, writes about his own and others’ experiences in cultivating deeply satisfying relationships with employees, customers and investors (this book is a very readable compendium of stakeholder marketing ideas). His stakeholder strategies ultimately contributed to the survival of his company in the travel industry meltdown following 9/11. He based his methods on the teachings of psychologist Abraham Maslow.
“Maslow believed that human beings seek to meet base needs for sleep, water and food (physiological)” Conley writes, and that we focus on the lowest unmet need at a time. “As those needs are partially fulfilled we move up … to higher needs for physical safety, affiliation or social connection, and esteem.” Finally, we aspire to the top of the pyramid which is self-actualization.
Conley used Maslow’s hierachy to map out how his company satisfied these needs for employees, customers and investors (his key stakeholders). His book provides a wealth of detail on how his firm did this, how others have done it and how to apply this to your own firm.
So what conflicting points of view does he brings together? Depending on your own view of human nature, as a marketer you may find yourself believing one of the following views about how to win customers: 1) customers act from their most base needs (bottom of hierarchy) or 2) customers act (or should) from their highest motivations (top of the hierarchy) and values. This dichotomy shows up starkly in branding and advertising models, many of which assume we make all our purchase decisions with the most primitive part of our brain. There’s a tension between these and the strategies that try to sell products based on “doing the right thing,” assuming green or social criteria will make a difference. (They can and do, but sometimes not enough).
The truth that Conley articulates so well is that good marketing and good relationships address both of these polarized views and all the needs in between.
Take customer relationships for example. The most basic need a customer has, according to Conley, is that we meet their expectations. Our products and services have to do what they expect them to do. He points out, however, that this alone rarely creates loyalty or the more-coveted evangelism. Fostering loyalty means identifying the desires customers have, which are typically desires for social connection/belonging and esteem. Evangelism comes when we offer customers the opportunity for transformation and self-actualization – to be more fully themselves, or the self they long to be.
This is solid advice for any firm that thinks it’s not tapping the full potential of its customer relationships. Start with the basics: Are we clear about what our clients expectations are for our product or service? Are we meeting their survival and safety needs? Second, how are our relationships and interactions – do we provide warm customer service? Do we make our clients feel important and valued? Finally, do we offer our clients an opportunity to be more than just a consumer?
At Joie de Vivre, they meet the top of the pyramid by offering what Conley calls “identity refreshment.” You stay at a hip hotel and you feel like the hipster you want to be. Through examples such as Harley Davidson, Whole Foods, Apple Computer, the high tech service group Geek Squad, as well as his own company, Conley provides numerous creativity-sparking stories and examples. The book is packed with tips for how to apply these ideas in your own firm. Equally valuable are his suggestions for building strong partnerships with employees and investors.
Can companies do reasonably well at the bottom or the middle of the hierarchy? Certainly. If you aspire, however, to levels of relationship that create evangelists for your brand, and resilient companies that can withstand volatile economic cycles, says Conley, you need to deliver value at all the points along the hierarchy: survival, success and transformation.