5 Psychological Triggers That Will Enhance Your Marketing Superpowers

To understand exactly what makes another person tick is a skill – an art even.

The pioneering psychologist Abraham Maslow spent much of his life trying to figure it out, and after years of observation he came up with a way to explain exactly why people behave as they do.

Ranging from the lowest, basic physical needs up to the highest, noblest desire for ultimate self-actualization, he mapped out a hierarchy of needs that motivate people.

Marketing experts soon found a practical use for Maslow’s theory. They knew that if they could appeal to what people desired, or use their fears against them, they could begin to manipulate their buying behavior too. Maslow had unwittingly pointed out exactly where people’s emotional triggers lie.

Sometimes, using a marketing trigger is as obvious as a sexually suggestive photo. This fits into the base tier of the hierarchy. At other times, however, it’s far more subtle. Showing how an online course enhances your social esteem or leads to personal growth, for example, is nearer the top of the pyramid of needs – and just as effective.

This post will reveal five emotional and psychological triggers, and show you how you can put them to practical use in your marketing.

Trigger 1: The Desire to Belong

As we progress upwards in the hierarchy, the needs start to become harder to pinpoint, but perhaps easier to leverage – especially if you’re selling something that isn’t strictly necessary for survival. The next step up brings us to a more emotional need – everybody has an inborn desire to belong.

It starts with belonging in our family, and as we grow up, we want to belong to groups of friends, then certain social circles.

Social media exists because of this basic need. It’s a powerful emotional trigger you can use to great effect in your marketing.

How to Use This Trigger:

  • Show people how you can help them connect, feel loved, or be a part of a support group.
  • Use the power of social proof; for example, “If all of these (successful) people are using it, why aren’t you?”
  • Invite people to join your social community – in other words, be welcoming and sociable.
  • Use the principle of reciprocity – give them something of value first, so potential clients feel more inclined to give something back. It’s an unwritten social law.

Trigger 2: The Desire for Abundance (and Fear of Scarcity)

At the base of Maslow’s pyramid are the basic human needs – the physiological necessities for sustaining life, including the need for sex and money. When those needs are met we experience pleasure (albeit temporarily), and when they are not met we experience pain, frustration, and even fear. These basic emotions are all powerful trigger points.

Perhaps you’re thinking that what you sell doesn’t directly meet a basic human need – there may only be an indirect link. Fortunately that’s not a problem, because all you have to do is associate your product with the right idea or mental image to trigger the appropriate emotion.

Think of the countless advertisements using sexually suggestive images to sell practically everything from ice cream to office stationery. The secret is simply the power of association. By placing two ideas together, a link is formed automatically.

In the same way, you can appeal to any basic need. Remember: everyone desires abundance and fears scarcity. What you need to do is show how using your product will help bring your customer an abundance. You need to show why your product is either rare or scarce, and why it is needed – or you may even need to create some artificial scarcity.

How to Use This Trigger:

  • Focus on how you can boost someone’s earnings. For example, “Double your revenue using (these unique resources).”
  • Focus on avoiding the fear of scarcity. For example, “No need to be a starving artist – use (your product) to help land your next paying client.”
  • Create seasonal or time-dependent offers (such as “This Summer Solstice offer expires on 21st June”) to create scarcity.

Trigger 3: The Need for Safety (and Fear of Risk)

Once someone has access to a source of life’s basic needs, his next desire is to secure that source – it’s the next tier on the hierarchy. The emotional trigger here is the need for safety and security – for your life, your health, your family, and of course, your job.

You can approach this trigger from two different angles – either foster trust directly and make people feel safe, or point out a potential risk and show someone how to avoid it.

How to Use This Trigger:

  • Use images and ideas appealing to someone’s desire for safety.
  • Demonstrate your own trustworthiness by using testimonials from clients, or badges and certificates from trusted sources, to encourage trust.
  • Create a common enemy, and show how you’re going to ensure victory. If you’re a designer, for example, show how bad design is your potential client’s enemy, and how you’re going to help him beat it.
  • Point out a risk such as losing sales, spending too much, or losing income – and then show how your product minimizes that risk.

Trigger 4: The Desire for Esteem

At some point, merely belonging to a group isn’t enough. This is the next step up on the pyramid. People also want to feel liked, respected, and needed as individuals within that group. They need to feel that they are respected by their peers.

This is another powerful emotional need you can tap into. Does what you’re selling make people stand out from the crowd? Can you enhance someone’s personal brand, their self-esteem, or their company’s image?

How to Use This Trigger:

  • Create a message appealing to the desire for esteem using images that show how your product or service will make someone stand out – if they purchase it, of course.

Trigger 5: The Desire to Grow as a Person

Ultimately, everyone wants to evolve as a person. We want to feel that life has meaning, independent of the status of our bank balance or social standing. This brings us to the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Sometimes this need only develops in later years, once all of the other more pressing needs have been met. The desire to achieve self-actualization can take many forms, and it can be a useful marketing trigger. Meeting this need can be rewarding for you as a person too.

Can your product help people to grow or develop personally? Does it educate, enhance, or challenge them? Can it help them express their highest ideals, or enable them to become teachers? If so, this might be just the trigger you’ll want to use.

How to Use This Trigger:

  • Appeal to the need for self-actualization by helping people become the best version of themselves.
  • Be the authority. To appeal to the needs on the top tier, you’ll have to come across as knowledgeable and authoritative. You need to master your niche and offer people something to really help them grow.
  • People don’t want to feel trapped in a small, pointless life. Offer them greater freedom by showing them how you can broaden and deepen their experience of life.


Abraham Maslow’s theories have proved very useful to marketers. People usually buy things for emotional reasons besides the purely practical ones. Understanding those psychological triggers can help you develop your marketing superpowers.

Each person is on a journey through life. On that journey, each of us progresses through the hierarchy of needs. So put yourself in the shoes of someone who might want to buy from you, and think about which of their needs are most pressing:

  1. Basic, physiological needs.
  2. Safety, or the risk of fear.
  3. Love and belonging.
  4. Acceptance from others.
  5. Personal growth and self-actualization.

Each one is a trigger point that will create an emotional incentive – which is the driving force behind effective marketing.

What do you believe is the most effective way to trigger the right response in potential clients? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!