Motivation in Marketing

Posted: April 27, 2016

Earlier this week, our Office Manager published an article about motivation in the workplace. As I read more about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, I realized that these exact same principals apply to many of life’s major decisions. In particular, I thought about how needs are met when deciding where to apply and enroll during the process of evaluation higher ed institutions.

I won’t get into a detailed explanation of each stage (you can read Steph’s article for that), but I will give you a quick reminder of what what the stages are.

  • Physiological Needs – The basic necessities of life, such as food and water.
  • Safety Needs – Protection from physical and emotional harm.
  • Social Needs – The feeling of belonging and acceptance.
  • Esteem Needs – Receiving recognition and praise for accomplishments.
  • Self-Actualization – Opportunities to grow and reach your full potential.

For those of you who work in higher ed marketing, I’m sure you’ve figured out which tactics are most effective at reaching prospective students. But have you ever given any thought as to why, from a motivational standpoint, these tactics work?

The Prospective Student Journey

Let’s take a look at how the Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs impacts a prospective student’s decision to attend your institution.

Physiological Needs

By Maslow’s definition, this includes things like food and water. However, I would argue that this also includes tuition and the cost of attending an institution. Many students and their families will surely be wondering if they can afford to attend your school while still putting food on the table (or paying for an unlimited meal plan).

In order to satisfy this need, we recommend making financial information readily available and easily accessible on your website. If a student feels that they can’t afford to attend your institution, there’s a good chance they won’t do much additional research on your other benefits and offerings. Prospective Student gateway pages are an easy way to put all of the information that students (and their parents in some cases) might need in one, easy to find place.

Safety Needs

Institutions often have robust security measures in place to ensure students that are safe at all times. For example, many dorms are only accessible with a key card and call boxes are strategically placed around campus for students walking home at night. Additionally, things like a student health center or counseling office provide prospective students and their parents with the comfort of knowing that their safety needs will be met.

Campus tours are a great opportunity to showcase your safe campus. Providing information about how to visit campus, along with a signup page on your website, is an easy way to make prospective students and their parents aware of opportunities to visit your campus before making their final decision to enroll.

Social Needs

For a high school senior, few things are more important the being socially engaged. When researching schools, they want to know that they will fit in on campus and be able to get involved. Many institutions offer a variety of extracurricular opportunities. From sports teams and social clubs to campus associations and the student government, it’s important to showcase everything that your institution has to offer.

Through marketing, it’s possible to start building a social connection before a student ever sets foot on campus. Quotes and testimonials from real students go a long way in building credibility. Perhaps the most effective way to simulate a social connection online is with video. Videos give prospective students a sense of they can expect and what life is like on campus.

Esteem Needs

Seeking recognition for achievements doesn’t mean that every student needs to win an award or wear a stole at graduation. For some students, recognition would be getting a 3.5 GPA or a job after graduation, for others it could be getting elected to a leadership position in their favorite club or winning an intramural sports championship. The point here isn’t necessarily to guarantee recognition, but to make it clear that every student will have the opportunity to be successful.

Many institutions showcase student success stories in their marketing materials. Whether it’s the freshman quarterback on the football team or the alumni who started their own business, every school has countless success stories to share. Speaking of sharing, why not let your followers do the work for you? Social media provides the opportunity to reach a large audience and give them the opportunity to help promote all of the great things that your institution is doing.


Before making the decision to enroll, students need to know that your institution will help them grow and reach their full potential. Do you have the program of study that interests them? Do you provide opportunities to study abroad? Are internships part of your curriculum? What resources do you have to give students the hand-on experience that they need to succeed? What are my options for online classes?

The answers to these questions should be readily available on your website. The information may live in the Academics section or have it’s own place in the main navigation. Taking an “audience first” approach to your website’s information architecture will insure that the resources prospective students need are easy to find and consume.