It starts with Maslow.

Abraham Maslow. You will probably recognise the last name and associate it with the pyramid, right?

Written by: PAUL MALCOLM

That’s it: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. One of those seemingly interesting philosophical topics from your studious years that ‘kind of’ applies to the real world—I mean, he wrote this during WWII—a lifetime ago.

For those with an interest in psychology, let’s also add Hull and Skinner from the same era to the mix, and of course, everyone’s opinion on how right or wrong Maslow’s thinking was. Since the 1940s there have been many interesting interpretations and extensions of these groundbreaking concepts - in fact, this week I was at a dinner with some of Brazil's top CEO's in Sao Paulo, listening to a fascinating session about our built in biases, and the application and mitigation of them in the business world - but what does Maslow and everyone’s new interpretation mean in today’s world, and how does this relate to engagement?

Depending on the books you read or where the clicks take you, there are Maslow’s 5, another version of 8, 16, and 12, and of course, the most recent FOMO concept (It’s not really new. Try and put a 3 year old to bed). Overlay these concepts with more recent notions of rational vs emotional thinking, our biases, and motivators—the concepts and the possibilities compound further.

I’d rather keep it simple…but also effective.

Josh Kaufman in his bestselling book ‘The Personal MBA’ cites five core drive(r)s of human behaviour: 

  1. Drive to Acquire: The desire to collect material and immaterial things, like a car, or influence.
  2. Drive to Bond: The desire to be loved and feel valued in our relationships with others.
  3. Drive to Learn: The desire to satisfy our curiosity.
  4. Drive to Defend: The desire to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our property.
  5. Drive to Feel: The desire for emotional experiences like pleasure or excitement.

Look at those 5 key terms: Acquire. Bond. Learn. Defend. Feel.  They make total sense, right? In every area of our lives. Now, let’s put a spin on those concepts and see how they relate to our industry.

  1. Acquire: Give me more points, status, benefits, badges, upgrades, recognition, everything. Move me up the leaderboard. I want to look good, and tell everyone about it.
  2. Bond: Let me connect with people like me. Talk to me. Understand me. Listen to me. Let me share.
  3. Learn: How can I upgrade to the next level/tier/seat/room? I followed X steps last time and will do it again. How can I get another toaster?
  4. Defend: I earned it. Don’t take it off me. It’s mine.
  5. Feel: Make me feel good. Surprise me. Love me. Show me you care about more than just my first name.

So how does your Engagement or Loyalty program relate?

Acquire: Do you restrict the points earning opportunities to limit liability? Do your partners make it difficult? Do your extended staff recognise a valued customer? Do you consciously hide how the program works? Are you being genuine and transparent with your customers?

Bond: How many members know other members, or know what those members are doing? Do you allow members to connect?  Are you proactive in talking to your key members and turning them into advocates?

Learn: Do you make it easy for your customer to know how points work, or expire? How to upgrade? How to redeem? How to earn more?  More importantly, do you create the environment to allow them to learn more about your business using game mechanics and contextual communications?

Defend:  Your customers spend their hard-earned money with you.  What is their natural feeling when you de-value the program or take it away? Breakage benefits aside, how well do you communicate to your customers on how they can minimise their loss (perhaps at cost). Are you flexible? Do you expire points at the wrong time and take away the opportunity to acquire value?

Feel: Surprise and Delight. Do you do it or just say it? Do you show you care? Actually, do you really care? Did you give your customers the right (one that is relevant to them) surprise? Could you do better?


If the answers you are saying to yourself quietly are more “No” than “Yes,” you likely have a fundamental problem with your program. It might look like it works, but the long term game is a losing one.

You might not see it from a high level without insights, but what is your data saying? What’s the trend over the past 12 months or longer? What are your data and insights team telling you? How is the program performing against the core metrics? Are you hitting your program KPI’s? How are you performing against your competitors? Are you listening to customer feedback? When was the last time you actually asked them? What are your insights telling you? Are you making a difference to your business? Or are you just going through the motions?

Regardless of where you think you are, STOP.  Breathe. Be real and honest with yourself. Is your program really appealing to your customers based on the core human drivers I’ve just shown you? At the end of the day, you, me and everyone else IS human with the same core drivers, in built biases and motivations.

There are a lot of questions. The good news is there are answers. Answers specific to your business, your program lifecycle, your customer base, your brand—that combination alone is different to nearly everyone else. 


Be Courageous.

Understand your customer.

Change something for the better.

They will love you for it.


Paul Malcolm - Vivid Engagement - Loyalty expert Circle
Paul Malcolm
Founder & CEO

Paul is the CEO and Founder of Vivid Engagement - a specialist Engagement Agency focusing on
strategy, loyalty, engagement and technology for clients in Asia, EMEA, Australasia and the Americas.


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