The 16 Basic Human Desires - An Introduction

Updated: Dec 10, 2020

I'm always advising my clients to get a better understanding of their customers. We have to if we are going to remain relevant. We need to if we are going to create value for them and survive and thrive as businesses. To suggest we don't need to understand our customers is to bite the hand that feeds and will end in disaster for businesses. Making decisions with the customer in mind is at the heart of brand-building. A brand is the meaning that your audiences attach to you, your product, your service or your offering. It's your "reputation". It exists in the hearts and minds of your audience. Branding is the strategic act of seeking to manage that meaning. To constantly put your customers at the heart of your thinking and orientate your business around providing them with the best experiences for what they desire.


Credit: freestocks


It can be hard though for decision-making executives who operate many "onion layers" away from the customers they serve. It's so important though that leaders get into the mindset of their audiences so that the decisions that are made are done with the customer in mind. The employee experiences, customer experiences, innovation, products and services should be created in giving the customer a gift: to satisfy a need the customer has. To help the customer fulfil their desires. In return, the customer will dip their hand into their pockets and pay you with hard earnt money. The more value placed on the need you fulfil the more money the customer will be willing to spend.


The first step of course in the management of meaning is to define what game you are in. To align around who your audience is and to understand what it is they desire.


Recently I was introduced to the work of Steven Reiss by Nathan Hendricks (Creative Director at LPK - watch out for the upcoming JUSTBranding Episode with him and Jacob Cass) and I've become fascinated by it and how his work can be used in brand building.


I've seen first hand, across many of the businesses that I've helped in recent years, the power of getting leadership teams to think long and hard about their customer and base their decisions around them. I tend to use a combination of market research and customer persona's to help with this. Reiss' 16 desires are fast becoming a key part of this aspect of my work.



American psychologist Steven Reiss (1947–2016) Source: Wikipedia

Steven Reiss was an American psychologist who was an expert in what makes us tick (or in technical terms: "intrinsic motivation"). He died in 2016. As a part of his work, Reiss conducted one of the first large and cross-cultural research surveys on motivation. From four continents, he assessed 6,000 people and discovered 16 "basic desires" (or psychological human needs). These are common to all of us and deeply rooted in human nature and the way we think and the behaviours we exhibit. In his book "Who Am I?" (recommended reading) Reiss explains that we are all motivated by the 16 basic desires, but as individuals, we prioritise them differently. In his work, he outlines a helpful psychological tool to assess what motivates a person and this outputs a "Desire Profile" (interesting for classic marketing persona building I'd suggest).


An overview of the 16 Desires

"What are these 16 desires" I hear you say. I'm glad you asked. Here's a brief summary below:


Desire #1: Power

End Goals: Achievement, competence, leadership

Associated Emotion: Competence, influence Behaviour: Leadership, achievement


Desire #2: Independence

End Goals: Freedom

Associated Emotion: Freedom Behaviour: Self-reliance


Desire #3: Curiosity

End Goals: Knowledge, truth

Associated Emotion: Wonderment Behaviour: Truth-seeking, problem-solving


Desire #4: Acceptance

End Goals: Self-worth, positive self image

Associated Emotion: Self-confidence Behaviour: Assertive behaviour


Desire #5: Order

End Goals: Stability, organisation

Associated Emotion: Security, stability Behaviour: Rule-making, perfection-seeking, compulsive


Desire #6: Saving

End Goals: Collection, property

Associated Emotion: Ownership Behaviour: Collecting, frugality


Desire #7: Honour

End Goals: Morality, loyalty

Associated Emotion: Loyalty Behaviour: Character, morality, principled


Desire #8: Idealism

End Goals: Fairness, justice

Associated Emotion: Compassion, sense of justice Behaviour: Social causes, fair play


Desire #9: Social Contact

End Goals: Friendship, fun

Associated Emotion: Happiness, belonging Behaviour: Parting, joining clubs/groups


Desire #10: Family

End Goals: Children

Associated Emotion: Love Behaviour: Parenting, homemaking


Desire #11: Status

End Goals: Wealth, titles, awards, attention

Associated Emotion: Self-importance, superiority Behaviour: Concern with reputation, showing-off


Desire #12: Vengeance

End Goals: Winning

Associated Emotion: Anger, hate Behaviour: Aggressive, Revenge


Desire #13: Romance

End Goals: Beauty, sex

Associated Emotion: Lust, appreciation of beauty Behaviour: Sexual, flirting, courting


Desire #14: Eating

End Goals: Food, dining, hunting

Associated Emotion: Hunger Behaviour: Eating, dining, cooking


Desire #15: Physical exercise

End Goals: Fitness

Associated Emotion: Vitality Behaviour: Physical activity, sports


Desire #16: Tranquility

End Goals: Relaxation, safety

Associated Emotion: Safety, sense of peace Behaviour: Avoids stressful situations



16 Desires Conclusion

So in conclusion, have a think about your brand. What desire(s) is it fulfilling? This is the big question for leaders focused on attracting and keeping customers. If you can focus on one or two key desires and ensure your teams are aligned around the meaning of this desire and are all making decisions to create tons of value and fulfil this in the best possible way for your audience then you will be on a sure footing for building a long term, sustainable business that will thrive.


If you don't know what desires your brand is fulfilling then you may need to get out there and ask. If you are seeking to fulfil too many desires it might be time to simplify and focus so you can become famous in your audience's minds for fulfilling one or two desires really well, rather than fulfilling eight or nine in an average way. Another thing to consider is that of the desire of your employees. How can you motivate them by helping them fulfil their desires whilst not compromising on the desires of your audience? These are the big brand and culture questions for those in HR.


I for one will continue to add this thinking into my work, my research and my leadership workshops in the quest to get businesses to put customers first in their thinking. Happy brand building and desire fulfilling!

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