Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs was developed by psychologist Abraham Maslow in the 1940s and has since been used by many other businesses to explain human behaviour. It is also well known to be used by marketers to explain what motivates consumers to behave as they do. During times of a crisis Maslow’s needs can explain why consumers behave as they do.

Maslow's Hierarchy of needs pyramid

Maslow described 5 stages of needs in hierarchical order:

  1. Physiological Needs:- These include the basics of food, water, clothing and shelter
  2. Safety and security: – These include health, employment, property, family and social stability
  3. Love and belonging:- These include friendship, family, intimacy, sense of connection
  4. Self Esteem:- These include Confidence, achievement, respect of others the need to be unique
  5. Self Actualisation:- These include morality, creativity, spontaneity, purpose and inner potential

Maslow described that as humans meet the needs at each level, they move towards the next and so on. For brands and marketers to understand how to use the pyramid they must understand how their product serves the consumer at each stage. Marketers will do well to understand what needs are important to each customer or groups of customers. This is essential when persona building.

A purchase of a car by someone with a family may value safety and security over needing the respect of others (self esteem).

A purchase of a non essential service such as fine dining may be better marketed at consumers in the self esteem stages.

Before Coronavirus many consumers had moved beyond the first two basic needs stages and flutter around the last 3 stages.

However now during Coronavirus, consumers are knocked off kilter regardless of what stage they were sat at before. How can they be concerned about confidence and the need to be unique, when they have health and safety or food shortages to worry about? During the first 3/4 weeks of lockdown all consumers were back down to the basic stages of the pyramid.

Luckily, humans are resilient. As time goes by, we very quickly figure out how to become sufficient and satisfied with the two basic stages. We find new places to buy food, we wash hands more thoroughly or wear protective clothing, we keep our loved ones safe – we have re-evaluated what is truly essential.

Once we are satisfied with the first two stages, the desire to find true happiness occurs and we move quickly to the other stages.

Many brands that serve best at these later stages will benefit from ensuring their messaging speaks to these needs, but in a way that is empathetic to the current situation.We have already seen this occur as brands shift and pivot to meet these adapted needs amid coronavirus.

Love and Belonging:- When in lockdown the sense of connection needs grow massively, consumers will be looking for new ways in which to sustain and grow their relationships with friends and family. This is why we have seen a huge increase in online hangouts such as Zoom and Netflix parties.

Secret cinema have tapped into this well. With the launch of their Secret Sofa project, the secret cinema community can will meet again. The events are sponsored by Haagen Daz, who have teamed up with Amazon Prime to bring the ice creams straight to the front door! Genius idea and collaboration which sees both brands front of mind, when they could have actually withered away until the lockdown lifts.

Self Esteem:- With more time on our hands our need for external validation is even more important. Some luxury brands may feel it isn’t a time to communicate – but actually now is the time to engage more. Many luxury brands, instead of pushing sales are using digital platforms to engage with consumers. It is well documented that many luxury brands may lose sales during a crisis, but bounce back very quickly afterwards.

Salvatore Ferragamo are using their own heritage and rich storytelling to engage on social platforms. They have also launched the Trivia digital project where they ask users to test their knowledge of the brands history and products.

Self actualisation:- In times of a crisis many consumers who get to this stage are spurred to take action. This is where consumers are looking to give back and improve their world. This is not just about donating money – this is about doing good. And many brands have been seen to communicate how their charitable efforts are helping at a time of need.

The founder of Spanx is donating $5m to help female business women struggling during the pandemic. They have also partnered with True Story Brands to launch Frontline Dine, which is an initiative to deliver meals to workers at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta