The New Listener’s Hierarchy of Needs

In psychology there is a theory called Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Abraham Maslow’s 1943 paper A Theory of Human Motivation identified self-actualization, esteem, love and belonging, safety needs, physiological needs.

As today’s consumer morphs and technology spurs alterations in their behavior, it has occurred to me that the media needs of humans has not only changed but their needs and priorities are changing – important for content creators and marketers who want to follow them to the digital Promised Land.

It’s fair to say in the past -- say 1960’s and 1970’s – a consumer's media need primarily included radio and television. To have a radio to be connected to their rock and roll music and news and information. And then a TV to enjoy arts and entertainment as it developed in color.

Even in the 1960’s reading a newspaper was optional compared to, say, the 1940’s when consumers bought newspapers on the street corner to read “Extra” editions to learn about the latest war news. It’s debatable whether radio or TV would be first on the 1960/1970 hierarchy of needs list but suffice it to say they were interchangeable.

I thought you’d enjoy my view of today’s consumer’s hierarchy of needs in light of the digital revolution, new media, the Internet, filesharing, social networking and the like. Keep in mind I am observing the next generation because at 70 million strong and coming of age this is a bellwether group.

So here are Del Colliano’s Hierarchy of Media Needs as of this moment:

1. Text Messaging

Take away any other device, any other connection to today’s world of communication and a Gen Y’er could probably survive. Take away their cell or smartphone with its ability to text message and you have created tremendous anxiety.

Interestingly, text messaging is not content creation such as radio formats or that magazine articles offer – it’s a way to stay connected. Moreover, I believe texting is a replacement for telephone conversations in this generation. Parents of Gen Y’ers please observe, wouldn't your children rather text you then call?

The voice call is a goner. Skype with video is a keeper. FaceTime, the new Apple iPhone feature makes mere voice calls seem like communicating by antiquated telegraph.

The customary mobile carrier texting charge of $20 is assumed and accepted by everyone even if their parents are paying the cell phone bill. In other words, without the ability to text, today’s consumer is anxious and disconnected from their peer groups. Mobile carriers fell into this one because they provide nothing but connectivity and the next generation does the rest.

Still, text messaging is your silent competitor.

2. Facebook

One could argue that Facebook trumps text messaging and I would be up for that debate, but to live without Facebook in the world today is like living on a desert island all alone. Facebook is simple and because everyone is on it, it provides a means for communication that is extraordinary.

Facebook is texting institutionalized.

Facebook also allows for the self-absorption that permeates our society today and in fact promotes it.

Example: by counting and displaying how many friends one has. In reality, I have only had a handful of best friends in my real life but lots of acquaintances in my virtual world. Yet by counting and displaying the number, it redefines what "friend" really means.

Also, sharing pictures is simply the modern way of showing someone else a picture album or making them sit through a slide show – a digital improvement to say the least.

Facebook defines Gen Y and even though its founders have opened it up to everyone on the planet (over 65’s are the biggest group of new Facebook accounts currently), Facebook is the pivotal communications point.

By the way, when you look at the percentage of membership to Facebook compared to say MySpace or others, number two is a very distant number two.

Social networking will define Gen Y – not the technology that enabled it.

3. Filesharing

Record labels don’t have to be ashamed that they had their ears pinned back by an entire generation that broke into the record store and stole their music.

Filesharing has helped quench Gen Y’s thirst for music discovery that was not being fed by music radio stations. You’ll remember short playlists have been a staple of radio program directors to get ratings. When you sell out the listener for the audience research company’s methodology to win ratings, you wind up with unhappy listeners.

Don’t look now but the radio industry is doing it again – pandering to People Meter drive-by ratings knowing full well that listeners can find plenty of music on their own online and at the iTunes store.

4. The iPod

Before Apple invented the iPod, portable MP3s were not a threat to the record industry or radio. Apple made them cool, portable and intuitive. Apple's iTunes store was where music lovers could buy legal music for a reasonable price – 99 cents. Now, iPods are loaded with all kinds of music from differing destinations.

They are a portable jukebox or to the next generation what a Walkman might have been to the rest of us. The big difference is an iPod user is in control of the playlist -- when the music plays, if it plays and for how long it plays.

And no commercials.

5. The Laptop and Internet

The base station for all the above needs reside on laptops and connectivity to the Internet. From there, websites will go mobile on iPads and other portable devices. The iPhone and android clones have become enablers of the needs described herein. Without a computer and the Internet, arguably the rest of today’s needs for Gen Y could not have developed.

Before we end, look at what did not make the new consumers Hierarchy of Needs list.

Radio – it hurts, but only in RADAR studies can you find tons of radio listeners. In the real world, they are casual listeners at best just as station owners have in fact become casual programmers cutting live and local programming for financial savings.

CDs/vinyl – the record or CD is dead. Music is alive. The labels don’t seem to know the difference. The need is not for CDs. It is for music discovery.

– No way. Gen Y and many of the rest of us have become as disinterested in print publications in direct proportion to how interested publishers are in cutting expenses and firing reporters.

Someday soon you may see iPads on the Hierarchy of Media Needs. It is the killer app. Wait until you see how many iPads Apple sells at holiday time and next year (Full disclosure: I am an Apple shareholder). Still, iPads are on everyone’s holiday gift list.

In the end, let’s not make this the last time we actually think about today’s consumer’s hierarchy of needs because understanding it allows our creativity to be inspired and energized to meet them.

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