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Marketing and the Need to Belong

I started last Saturday morning like I do most—I drifted in and out of sleep until finally, half-awake, I grabbed my phone and logged into Facebook. (Don’t judge me.) As I opened the app, I was immediately bombarded by a video of a pregnant giraffe walking in circles with two hooves hanging out of her. “Oh,” I thought, “I guess April is finally having that baby.”

Many of my friends were sharing the video, so I decided I would follow along.

I called out to my boyfriend, “Chris, come here, that giraffe is finally having her baby!”

He came over, glanced at my screen, then looked at me with an almost audible eye-roll and said, “What’s the big deal? Couldn’t we just YouTube a video of a giraffe birth? They must happen all the time.”

“No, we have to watch it!” I answered.

Why though?

He was right. There really isn’t anything all that spectacular about a giraffe having a baby. Sure, they are lankier than your average babies but other than that, it’s a very natural phenomenon. People and animals have babies every day.

But there was a reason I had no desire to YouTube a giraffe birth and every desire to watch THIS giraffe birth; and that’s because our good friends at Animal Adventures Park, the animal park in Harpursville, NY where April lives, tapped into one of our most primitive needs—the need to belong.

The Need to Belong

The need to belong is a fundamental part of the human experience.

According to psychologists Roy Baumeister and Mark Leary who studied belongingness, our desire for acceptance is so strong that when we lack belongingness it can cause effects like decreased levels of health and happiness.

They also stated that people who lack belongingness suffer higher levels of mental and physical illness and are more prone to a broad range of behavioral issues, ranging from traffic accidents to criminality to suicide. (Source: Aaron Ben-Zeév Ph.D., Psychology Today)

Why is this need so strong?

As many of us are aware, Abraham Maslow pointed out that “love/belonging” ranks third after physiological needs (like water, food, shelter) and the need for safety are met. But our need to belong may actually stem from those bottom two categories.

Psychologists C. Nathan DeWall, Timothy Deckman, Richard S. Pond, Jr., and Ian Bonser explain, “Humans evolved in small groups which depended on having close connections in order to fulfill survival and reproductive needs.” Tyler F. Stillman and Roy F. Baumeister add to this saying, “Unlike other species, humans receive most of what they need from their social group rather than directly from his or her natural environment, suggesting that the human strategy for survival depends on belonging.”

In fact, belonging is so critical to the survival of humans, that Darwin mentioned “love” a whopping 95 times in The Descent of Man and only mentioned “survival of the fittest” twice.

How to tap into this need when marketing

There is a tremendous opportunity for marketers and business owners to tap into this fundamental need to belong when communicating with customers.

I don’t mean this in a manipulative way, either. I mean creating a genuine connection with your customers like they have with other social groups, that fosters a long-term relationship that fulfills their desire to belong.

But how do you do this? How do you create that initial connection that then grows into a large following that propels other people to join?

It doesn’t take a psychological study to realize that a human will naturally gravitate to social groups whose members share the same characteristics, values, goals, and traits as they do. Given that this is the basis of strong relationships, it is imperative that your brand clearly articulates it’s driving purpose and values. This creates a point of relatedness and connectedness for your customers.

Let’s take Animal Adventure Park who has this clearly articulated vision:

“Our goal is to communicate an appreciation for living things through the use of the human senses; allowing our guests to get up close and hands-on with our animal ambassadors.”

How fitting, then, that they invited an audience of people to witness and take part in April the Giraffe’s pregnancy over the course of months.

We became a part of April’s journey. We had a vested interest in her pregnancy (Animal Park is even allowing viewers to name the new calf), and as many of our other friends and family started watching, April became a subject that satiated our need to belong.

Your company’s purpose becomes the cause of connection for your community. Your customers will engage with you not because they want to purchase something, but because they see it as an opportunity to belong.

Sports franchises are some of the most profitable and sustainable organizations in the world. They are masterful at making people belong. So much so, that although many of us drop serious money supporting our teams, you’ll never hear us refer to ourselves as “clients” or “customers” of the organization. We are fans. We don’t do business with the team, we belong to that team.

When you shift your mindset from that of a company to that of creating community, your marketing efforts will explode, your customer loyalty will increase, and the level of engagement you currently have with stakeholders will transform in monumental ways.

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