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The “Hierarchy” of Needs and the Connected Home

Maslow's Hierarchy

Back in 1943, humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow introduced his now-famous concept of a Hierarchy of Needs. In short, he theorized that people are motivated to fulfill various basic needs before moving on to other, more advanced needs.

While he produced several versions, the most prevalent form of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs includes five motivational needs, often depicted as hierarchical levels within a pyramid. Four of the five needs are basic, or deficiency needs; that is, they motivate people when they are unable to fulfill them. This includes physiological, safety, social/love, and esteem. The last need, self-actualization, is considered a growth need; that is, it is not specifically related to survival but is more about personal development. Here is what the hierarchy looks like:

So what does all this have to do with the connected home? I would have asked the same question until I came upon a very interesting article entitled, Smart 2025: The Future of the Connected Home and Community. Produced by Ovum, a market-leading research and consulting business, this piece was created to survey the status and outlook for the connected home and community segments in the US-including a traditional graphic of Maslow’s Hierarchy, with two other columns overlaid on it.

On the left was a column entitled “Example Products,” showing some of the larger groups of items that might fall into each section of the hierarchy. The other one, which really caught my interest, was titled, Smart Home Products, which showed the kind of smart home devices that would satisfy each of the five needs in the hierarchy. The list included the following (the need each products group satisfies is in parentheses):

Hierarchy of Smart Home Products

  1. Wearables (Self-Actualization)
  2. Home Automation (Esteem)
  3. Well-being/fitness/entertainment/media (Social Needs)
  4. Home Security, Personal Security (Safety)
  5. Smart energy, e-health (Physiological Needs/Survival)

The article explains that the connection between Maslow’s and smart home products was created to identify which [smart home] segments support more fundamental needs and thus may drive mass market adoption, and which support higher-level needs and thus may happen later and on a smaller scale. It was a brilliant correlation, one which certainly has value in predicting the acceptance and growth of connected-home technology by the general public.

However, this thought-provoking graphic did far more than that. It also highlighted a glaring deficiency in the way the connected-home industry which includes device manufacturers, service providers, technology platform developers, and more has marketed the connected home in general.

Many consumers still perceive the smart home to be a luxury, an indulgence that brings them the ultimate convenience. But, as evidenced by the Maslow diagram, the use of smart home products creates real benefits that go to the core of our basic needs. Maslow describes the most elementary needs of our existence, needs that must be fulfilled quite literally for our survival (with the possible exception of self-actualization).

The juxtaposition of smart home products over Maslow’s needs shows consumers that smart home devices and connected home technology are not only a convenience, but they are also a tool to help us satisfy our most elementary requirements for survival.

For example, we know that through smart home technology, you can lock your doors at night once you’re already in bed — very convenient. But do we talk enough about how you can get text messages that your children arrived home from their field at the designated time (i.e., Safety)?

There are literally hundreds more examples of how connected home technology can meet our basic human needs, not just cater to our desire for greater convenience. The industry has done enough to promote the latter. We need to do a better job of promoting the former.