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Needs Supplant Aspirations as COVID-19 Sends Consumers Back to Basics

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Needs Supplant Aspirations as COVID-19 Sends Consumers Back to Basics

By: Cara Finkbeiner, Account Director

In just over a month (that felt like an eternity), the COVID-19 pandemic has upended every facet of normality, shifting many of our most entrenched routines, forcing everyone to adapt to a world lived almost entirely at a distance and for many, making uncertain the provision of even the most basic needs in life.

At our foundation are unprecedented levels of ambiguity and uncertainty.

Perhaps it’s elementary, but Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs helps articulate where so many have shifted their mental focus. Abraham Maslow’s psychology theory states that until our lower level needs, Physiological (feeding ourselves, sleeping, shelter, etc.), Safety (health and wellness), and Love & Belonging (friendships, family, sense of connection) are met, we can’t expect to focus on higher level, more complex needs of Esteem and Self Actualization.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

For many consumers, aspirational thinking about bucket lists, slaying, and “living my best life” have taken a backseat to making sure there’s enough food, face masks, and toilet paper.

However, this doesn’t mean that only essential businesses have a role to play in these times. Non-essential businesses can stay relevant by finding ways to serve consumer’s foundational needs, rather than their aspirations.

Here are some examples of how The Marketing Arm’s clients are doing so.


Having food to eat falls within the Physiological level of Maslow’s pyramid, and pre-COVID-19, more than 37 million Americans struggled with hunger, including 11 million children. The growing Coronavirus pandemic has resulted in a massive increase in the number of individuals and families experiencing food insecurity. That is why TaxAct, in partnership with Feeding America, set out on a mission to donate 10 million meals to support the drive to end hunger. The goal was to give all families access to nutritious, fresh meals no matter their financial situation.


Health, which falls within the Safety level of Maslow’s pyramid, is a constant concern for most people, but has heightened due to the Coronavirus – especially within the senior communities and those with compromised immune systems. In order to keep these special members healthy and safe, Sam’s Club launched two new programs: Special Shopping Hours and a Concierge “Shop from Your Car” Service. While the special shopping hours are beneficial for select members, they wanted to go above and beyond for some of their senior and at-risk members by allowing them to place an order from their car, and a Sam’s Club associate will grab the items on the list and deliver to them in the parking lot.


Those living with Chron’s disease, specifically adolescents, often feel alienated, lose their sense of connection to the outside world, and don’t have a lot of friends. Rates of depression and anxiety are higher among patients with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis as compared to other diseases and the general population. Friendship and connection are two of the main needs within the Love & Belonging level of Maslow’s pyramid. Goodyear teamed up with Athletes vs Chron’s & Colitis (AVC) in order to raise awareness for these diseases in the adolescent population and help children realize they are not alone. AVC helps connect young people with mentors in order for them to keep moving and realize their athletic potential despite being diagnosed with a chronic illness .

Although the future is always uncertain, it’s even more questionable during a pandemic.

Here are things as marketers that we need to adopt now in order to solve the current basic needs of consumers, as well as embrace post-COVID-19 behaviors.

Be Ready to React ‘Smartly’

  • Use data to accurately observe current conditions – most importantly, social sentiment in order to optimize a brands position in the marketplace.
  • Focus less on historical ROI, because the landscape has completely changed, and shift goals towards awareness and brand perception.
  • Continue to measure actionable results in order to quickly/constantly adjust your approach so that it matches the current environment.

Create Value

  • Customer Experience: Go above and beyond to help your clients navigate the next few months. Consider having your agency’s analytics team create specialized reporting tailored to COVID-19 related impacts on clients’ business.
  • Content: Use audience data to create blog posts, eBooks, webinars, and other information that helps your target audience solve their problems.
  • Discounts: Everyone is cautious about spending right now. A good deal not only helps your cash flow but gives consumers something new to be excited about (i.e., no one is flying right now, but airlines are offering deep discounts on tickets for trips later in the year).

Start Planning for the Future

  • Direct-to-Consumer: This has been evolving for years, but the spread of COVID-19 100% sped up the process for late adapters. Brands must continue to innovate in the DTC space.
  • Innovation: What is unlikely to subside is the current trust of cleanliness, experts say. A whopping 87% of U.S. shoppers prefer to shop in stores with “touchless or robust self-checkout options.” And more than two-thirds are using some form of self-checkout, according to new research from weighing solutions firm Shekel. Brands must continue and expand into low-touch services and more sanitary displays and handling of merchandise.