ReUnited Kingdoms #4: Refocusing on fundamental human needs



15 May 2020

ReUnited Kingdoms – a new conversation about the future

Businesses are starting to imagine what the world should look like “after” – both after lockdown, and even post-COVID. There’s an increasingly vocal discussion about how we can build on new behaviours and start to craft a society that is better, fairer, kinder. Our “ReUnited Kingdoms” content series explores life beyond lockdown, looking particularly at how we can all play our part in creating the future. In this piece, we are encouraging marketers to look beyond the immediate concerns of lockdown and to anchor their activities in a back to basics approach starting with an appreciation of fundamental human needs.


Life under COVID-19 – the same but different

Life feels very different right now. We’re under lockdown. Some of us have suffered profound loss, either directly to the Covid-19 virus or to its economic knock-on effects. Others have been stressing about not being able to get flour, or toilet paper, or whatever.

At the same time, viewed through another lens, things are not so different after all. We’re spending time with our families, watching TV, wondering what to cook for dinner.

Clearly, it’s a question of perspective. As we start to shift our thinking to what comes next, marketers are understandably agonising about how to transition from a lockdown frame of mind to a post-lockdown one. Should they go back to the NPD and messaging they were using pre-Covid? Should they maintain the messaging they’ve been using in the lockdown? Should they try cleverly somehow to blend the two? To us, the answer lies where it has always done: in going back to basics to understand the fundamental drivers of human behaviour.

From Maslow (link) to Needscope (TNS link) to ABA Research (link), marketers are not short of points of view or models relating to human needs. What each has in common is an attempt to ground the fast-changing, dynamic and somewhat fickle world of day-to-day delivery of products, services, experiences, marketing and communications within a broader, more stable foundational view of consumers as human beings.

As marketers begin to turn their attention to “after”, they are asked to choose between extreme points of view. Some are suggesting that life as a whole, consumer group A, or product sector B “will never be the same again” or explaining how “Covid has killed” X brand or Y sector. Others are taking exactly the opposite point of view, suggesting that life afterwards will go back to much the same as it was before all this.

The reality will, no doubt, lie somewhere between the two, or depend very much on your perspective. While some things will likely rebound, other behaviours which we’d already seen a appetite for pre-Covid (such as working from home, online grocery shopping, web conferencing) will likely retain some of their new converts.

When it comes to fundamental human needs though, here, we’re very much in agreement with those suggesting stability. This is best summed up by David Mattin’s blog om Medium: New World, Same Humans, which I’d thoroughly recommend. The view espoused there, and here, is that, while there is huge dynamism and fascination to be found in the fluctuations of day-to-day and month-to-month popularity (which we can call “trends”) each such new widget, gizmo, or message can be linked back to one or more fundamental human needs. Marketers looking to engage with consumers must, as pre-Covid, ask themselves, “how is what I am proposing to do helping consumers to meet one of their basic human needs better/quicker/cheaper than they could before?”

While we don’t claim the list below to be comprehensive or that it represents a model of fundamental needs as such, we’ve listed below a number of consumer needs we’ve been using as the basis for interesting conversations with clients over the past eighteen months or so. Each represents a different angle on our core proposition here: the fundamental need existed before COVID-19 and will exist again after it has become more manageable; the specific manifestation how the need can best be served may be slightly different right now but, focusing on the need will help marketers to retain a clarity of mission.


Trust, Security and Safety

One of the foundational levels of the Maslow hierarchy had been experiencing severe pressure over recent years. Trust in governments and corporations had been eroding and media hyperbole was creating a culture of anxiety around concepts like “fake news” and alternative facts”. To this, COVID-19 has clearly added a number of additional layers of concern, not least over our personal health and that of our nearest and dearest, but also over the mechanisms by which our governments will endeavour to keep us safe and healthy.

When core requirements for life like these are so seriously undermined, they can be very difficult to regain and doing so will surely be a major area of focus for governments and brands alike. Surely, we can expect the appetite for products and services that provide these needs to rise sharply and be retained for quite some time, products such as:

  • Hygiene, personal protection, contact avoidance and infection minimisation
  • Biometric payments and recognition
  • App/website logins with improved security
  • Trust and transparency offerings that leverage new technologies (e.g. Blockchain, AR)


Maximisation and Value

Technology has freed consumers from the usual cycles of frugality and profligacy to create a “New Normal” but Covid-19 has undermined the foundations of our economy and, most forecasters agree, worse is to come. While some will come through lockdown in relatively good financial health, many will not, and society’s focus for some time will likely be on financial caution and value-seeking, in forms like:

  • Use of mobile optimisation at point of sale to enable dynamic price comparisons
  • Longer-term loyalty being undermined
  • Use of time limited discounts to overcome purchase paralysis


Efficiency and Convenience

With consumers becoming ever more time poor pre-lockdown, the emphasis on seamless processes and convenient solutions had never been greater. Lockdown gave us more time and the equation tipped slightly in favour of simply being able to access products at all rather than how quickly we could get them. As we come of lockdown it is likely that we’ll suddenly be reminded of how much time we “wasted” on the likes of commuting and the appetite for convenience of delivery will re-emerge with a vengeance. We will likely see a resumption of demand for:

  • Automation of service that offers consumers convenience
  • Cashless options that remove a pinch point from the purchase process (with this also now receiving a boost from demand to keep our social distance)
  • Longer term, auto-replenishment is coming


Belonging, Connection and Fellowship

Before Covid-19, to outward appearances we had never been more connected. And yet, something didn’t feel quite right. There was a feeling of disconnection. For some, the single positive to emerge from the coronavirus outbreak is the way that it has reunited society. Whether it is families leveraging Houseparty to keep in touch, neighbours looking out for the elderly or vulnerable in their community, or everyone standing together at 8 p.m. to show their appreciation for NHS workers, there has been an undeniable sense of togetherness, that many would be loathe to lose once we are thrust back into the hurly-burly of everyday life. Brands should look to:

  • Encourage communities of brand fans and link into issues/causes of concern
  • Celebrate local offerings and community



Consumers were looking for their interactions with brands to go beyond mere transaction and to become experiences that they can enjoy and share. Lockdown’s demand for 2 metre distancing effectively put the experiential sector on hold but as we emerge from our cocoons we’ll be desperate for physical and social interaction, in the form of experiential stories that we’ll be able to use to demonstrate how our lives are restarting. Providers will, though, be uniquely challenged from the point of view of delivering experiences. We expect to see:

  • The value of human touch to be more recognised than ever in many situations where it can add value
  • Brands adding sensory elements (e.g. sonics, haptics) into their brand identity and messaging
  • Brands looking to blend physical and digital elements to provide experiences that are engaging and safe



Climate change had become an “Inescapable Truth”, with a genuine shift in attitudes. Our recent blog post “Rebuilding a greener society” reminded marketers that the economic side of the post-lockdown recovery needs to go hand in hand with creating a greener society, if we are not to lurch from our current health crisis, straight into an environmental one. As such:

  • Ethical activities will need to be verifiable and findable
  • Brands will need to review processes to reduce waste
  • Brands may need to review their business models and sales expectations and some sectors (e.g. aviation) may have to prepare for shrinkage


Blending business as usual with the new realities

As we come out of lockdown, “business as usual” will continue to feel inappropriate for some time, not least for its potential to be perceived as oblivious to the seriousness of what we’ve been through and our profound sense of loss. At the same time, though, the perpetuation of the lockdown communication tropes (link) that had become so ubiquitous will also be seen as an unnecessary prolongation. By continuing with messages of sympathy, support or togetherness, without medication, will likely be seen as self-serving or exploitative.

Brands will need to gradually evolve messaging so that it stresses the ability of those brands to address our fundamental needs: both in general terms but also referencing how those needs have been affected by both the health-related and economic impacts of COVID.


What next?

As we acclimatise to lockdown, individuals and corporations are starting to ask, “what happens next?”. We believe the opportunity exists to reclaim and rebuild a better post-COVID future and we’ll be exploring further opportunities to do so in the next few weeks.


This article was written by Nick Chiarelli, Head of Trends at Unlimited Group.


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