Understanding the Need to Belong

Understanding the Need to Belong

Understanding the Need to Belong

As Maslow’s hierarchy of needs affirms, belonging is an essential human need – one we associate with acceptance and esteem. What are brands doing to support their customers’ need to belong? Tactics such as cultural appropriation, color washing, idiosyncratic communities, and the use of symbols all play a role in speaking to the deep-seated human need to fit in and feel connected to others. 


Whether or not you’re aware of it, you’ve likely seen a brand leverage cultural appropriation. How do they do it? To make products or services more relevant and contextually pleasing to their audiences, brands often play on cultural elements. What once may have been a way to stand out from the competition is now the source of much-heated debate in business, pop culture, and politics. Is cultural appropriation always an offense, or can it sometimes be a way for brands to honor a culture? Regardless of a brand’s legitimate motivation, cultural appropriation can directly fuel a customer’s desire to be included and belong. 


Have you ever experienced “color washing” in a brand’s messaging or advertisement? This could involve white washing, black washing, pink washing, etc. Color washing is a brand’s way of playing on the attributes, traditions, and desires of a specific demographic, population, or group. 


I like to think of idiosyncratic communities as granfalloons, a term coined by Kurt Vonnegut. A granfalloon is a group of people who look and act as though they belong to a shared culture, even when there is no real rhyme or reason for their community. Granfalloons leverage the habits, gestures, symbols, and catchphrases of pop culture and, with creative marketing, can contribute to a customer’s sense of acceptance and esteem.


Lastly, symbols are the visual life force of a brand. They make a brand visually recognizable, differentiate brands from their competitors, and have the power to resonate with people psychologically. On the flip side, symbols have the power to turn people off, depending on how they play with consumers’ associations and the ability to derive meaning. Easily recognizable symbols can tell stories that need no words and quickly align a consumer with a certain air, status, or special interest.


In today’s marketing landscape, there are more ways than ever before to connect with all audiences. That said, the fundamental aspects of human nature and behavior have not changed. Any customer you’ll ever want to target has the same essential needs – security, safety, belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. How can marketers tap into the behaviors and patterns that support these critical needs? To learn more, read my whitepaper, The Algorithm for Consumer Spending.