In addition to the serious clinical situation that the COVID-19 virus has caused all over the world, including Romania, it seems that this Coronavirus has brought something else with it.
It has brought the fiercest enemy man can have: the silent, unseen enemy, with the most powerful weapon there is: the fear of death.
The coronavirus has acted as a reset button in Romanian society. Suddenly, aspirations collapsed for hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of Romanians.
All the energy that, until recently, was channeled towards the needs of emancipation, personal and spiritual development, desires and plans for the future, is now used to rev up the survival instinct.
The COVID-19 pandemic has come as an extremely cold shower upon us, reminding us of what the need to survive really feels like.
The coronavirus has pushed us off the top Maslow’s pyramid.
And, in the fall, we dragged social, economic, political structures after us, revealing the critical role we play in the functioning of all these structures.
The Coronavirus showed us that our needs underpin everything that, today, means civilization, with all its systems.
Therefore, we will continue to talk about how these needs, these fundamental psychological mechanisms, function in times of crisis such as the present, when we are facing the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
We will also look together at what businesses lose and what businesses gain from this situation.
Finally, we’ll look at some of the marketing strategies that brands are using during this period.
Before any end, however, there is always a beginning.
At first it was quiet.
Just a soft buzz had begun to disturb the background of Romanian public opinion, the noise of contempt and revulsion at the poor hygienic conditions in the Wuhan livestock market, the place where the COVID-19 epidemic was initially thought to have spread.
Then jokes were made and laughter ensued. We continued to look towards China, where the coronavirus was already taking hold, but it still seemed to be a problem that didn’t concern us directly.
Business was booming, Romania still basking in the pride of having had the second highest economic growth in the European Union, pushed hard from behind by consumption.
Disgust and pride lost its voice, however, in the face of gloom when we saw how China built 2 hospitals in 12 days to cope with the growing number of people infected with COVID-19.
It seemed, however, that we were watching a Thriller movie that promised some Horror scenes, and the danger of a COVID-19 epidemic in Romania still seemed to remain just a matter of “what if…” in our over-rich imagination.
Then the coronavirus spread beyond China’s borders, and the film began to take on realistic valences.
Although no case of COVID-19 infection had yet been reported in Romania, anxiety was beginning to take hold of people one by one, and this was seen in the explosion of demand for surgical masks, which quickly evaporated from store shelves.
The demand for them had exploded, so speculation began to take hold. Emag got the whole of Romania in its head with its “offer” of 3 surgical masks at “only 99 lei”, price reduced from 150 lei, and with its “offer” of 50 masks at 499.99 lei, price reduced from 595 lei, and like Emag there were many more deals that followed this approach.
As some businesses thrived, most entrepreneurs were already starting to worry about how a possible Coronavirus outbreak would affect their businesses, not least because most of the products on the Romanian market are imported from China.
On February 26, the movie became reality. The first case of COVID-19 virus infection was officially announced in Romania.
Romanians stormed supermarkets to stock up on supplies, scared of a possible quarantine.
And, once again, it was laughed off.
There were jokes about these people emptying the food shelves of the stores.
The number of people infected with COVID-19 has begun to grow in Romania, and doubt has slowly, slowly begun to take the place of jokes.
According to an IRES study, 99% of Romanians have already heard of the Coronavirus epidemic, and two thirds of them (67%) say they are worried for themselves and their families.
Moreover, at present, the situation in Romania is as follows:
- People stormed the shops to stock up on food, scared by the quarantine
- 13% of Romanians have already bought their cold prevention medication.
- 6 out of 10 Romanians say they are worried about travelling abroad.
- 50% of Romanians say they are afraid to go to shopping malls or department stores.
- More than a quarter of Romanians say they are worried that, in the event of a quarantine, they would not have access to adequate medication and treatment
- Three quarters of Romanians do not trust the healthcare system
Source statistics: IRES study
Observed? It’s all about needs.
That’s why the current situation is a real subject for analysis based on Maslow’s Pyramid.
Back to the Bottom. Maslow’s Pyramid
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is the best model that exists at the moment, useful in making you understand the mechanisms behind the decisions that people are making in recent days, with the emergence and extent taken by the Coronavirus.
Also, as you will see, Maslow’s pyramid of needs provides all the answers to the problems businesses have been facing in recent weeks.
Maslow’s pyramid is a motivational theory that comprises a five-level model of human needs, often depicted as hierarchical levels in the form of a pyramid.
On the hierarchical scale, from bottom to top, Maslow’s pyramid expresses 5 levels of needs:
- The need for self-development
- Need for esteem
- The need for love and belonging
- The need for security
- Physiological needs
What is important to remember in this paragraph is the following:
It is necessary that the lower needs in the hierarchy be satisfied before individuals express the need to access the higher levels.
When we are certain that the needs at the bottom of the pyramid are met, we turn our attention to the needs at the top.
You’ll see later why this is important to remember.
The five levels of needs in Maslow’s Pyramid fall into three categories:
- Needs we consider necessary
- Needs we consider optional
- Needs that are necessary, but that we sometimes consider optional
In the case of basic needs (physiological, safety, love and belonging), we talk about three types of needs:
- A natural, intrinsic need, i.e. we need water, food, excretion, etc. to survive – physiological needs
- A necessity learned as a result of the process of natural selection to which we have adapted for thousands of years (shelter, clothing, hygiene, etc., necessary to cope with the vagaries of the environment, thus increasing our chances of perpetuating our species) – the need for safety
- A third form is a mixed one and refers to the need for love and belonging. Why is it mixed?
Of course the feeling of love is intrinsic, it comes by default as one might say, but the same cannot be said with certainty about the need to belong, which has been strongly influenced by natural selection since the early stages of human evolution.
Here I’ll open a brief parenthesis to explain why.
Yuval Noah Harari, in his well-known book “Sapiens – A Brief History of Mankind”, talks about this.
Harari puts it this way: man, unlike other animals, is born incompletely developed.
While a baby zebra flies through the Savannah just hours after being born, it takes years for the “baby” human to reach the same level of autonomy, and this leads to the conclusion that man is born at a time when he is not fully developed.
Well, Harari also says that the evolution of man from the pathomorphic form of movement to the bipedal form has drastically affected his body at a structural level, especially that of the female, who has felt this change most dramatically at the level of the reproductive apparatus, vital in the perpetuation of our species.
Practically, a woman’s reproductive system – we’re talking mostly about the bone structure – could no longer support the reproductive process as it had previously.
In this sense, natural selection forced the woman to naturally develop solutions to adapt to the new situation, and the best solution was to give birth to the fetus earlier than the time period originally needed.
Well, what does that have to do with the need for love and belonging?
Well, since the fetus is born incompletely developed, automatically unadapted to the new environment it enters, it needs support, support, care from its family, but also from the people close to it.
This innate dependence of the child on family care weighs enormously in the need to fulfill the need for love and belonging, but it is optional because, once it is no longer directly dependent on the family and the people around it, and if the environment in which it lives is conducive, it can live without this need.
It is also observed that, once the child reaches the optimal level of development and the environment is favourable, the need for love and belonging tends to lose ground to the next type of need in Maslow’s pyramid, namely the need for self-esteem, individuality and independence.
So the need for love and belonging becomes optional, at least until:
- Either a new family is established and the need for perpetuation is seriously considered.
At this point, the need for love and belonging becomes necessary, being felt as such by the man, but especially by the woman who is to become a mother.
- Either a danger looms that threatens the integrity of the family or the people with whom we share a strong emotional bond.
In this case, the need for love and belonging is reactivated as a necessity, in order to forestall eventual grief or regret, manifested in both men and women.
- Either we grieve the loss of a family member or a loved one.
In this case, the need for love and belonging manifests itself as a loss, as a regret, felt as a necessity by both women and men.
- We consider the physiological needs
- We consider the need for safety necessary
- We consider the need for love and belonging to be optional in certain circumstances, but necessary in moments that have a powerful impact on us, especially when it comes to life-threatening and perpetuating factors.
However, with regard to the last two types of needs, those at the top of the pyramid (the need for esteem and the need for personal development), a strong optional character can be observed here, manifested especially in situations such as the current one, linked to the Covid-19 virus pandemic.
Why do I say that?
Well, we know that the first two levels of need are necessary, and the third level is also necessary, but tends to become optional when the environment is conducive.
However, it is certain that all 3 levels of basic needs we have talked about above become necessary without exception when a life-threatening factor intervenes.
Not the same can be said, however, for the two types of needs on the higher levels.
The need for esteem and the need for personal development quickly disappear when there is a potentially life-threatening factor.
The fact that people have been traipsing through stores to stock up on food, medicine and other necessities is a clear indication of their real priorities in terms of needs.
These people have quickly given up their self-esteem, their need for respect, and their need for personal development.
In contrast, they focused exclusively on providing for their basic needs, physiological and safety needs.
Also, we mentioned earlier, the IRES survey showed that 67% of Romanians feel worried about both their safety and that of their family.
So, the need for love and belonging has become necessary, because this uncontrolled impulse to secure the first two needs has been influenced not only by concern for individual integrity, but also by concern for family safety.
- The needs on the upper levels of Maslow’s pyramid – the need for esteem and the need for personal development – have been abandoned, and all people’s attention has been directed exclusively to the needs on the lower levels.
- So people are no longer concerned with how to live, but how to survive.
It’s important to point these things out because that way, we’ll better understand:
Which businesses are winning and why, these days?
Before I go any further, I feel the need to let you know that I do not wish to assign any business or industry any blame for what is happening, but simply discuss how things have evolved on their own in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Until the coronavirus problem came along, all was fine and dandy in the business sector.
Businesses were promoting their products, and people were showing a huge appetite to buy, the proof being the major economic growth that Romania recorded in 2019, mostly sustained, as you know, by consumption, manifested intensely in many economic sectors.
Yes, but look, the virus has reached us, and with it, people’s need to buy has begun to polarize strongly towards certain sectors.
Of course, the problems facing businesses today are not only caused by the drastic drop in demand for certain products.
Exports from China, the epicenter of the Coronavirus outbreak, have fallen 17.8% in recent months, a huge problem for China’s economy, but also for businesses around the world, including Romania, which is filling its stocks with products from that country.
So far, however, it seems that the biggest problem is still the falling demand for certain products, in contrast to the huge increase in demand for other products on the market.
There are no concrete official figures, but from what has happened in recent days, it seems that businesses in industries that offer products designed to meet the lower needs of Maslow’s pyramid have gained a lot.
One such niche, which has gained a lot because it has precisely those products that supply the lower levels of people’s needs, is the FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) industry.
There is also an industry that has grown very much in the Business-To-Business area, where a certain need is considered practically physiological: the need for communication.
This is about the information industry, talking both about companies that sell information, such as press trusts, but also about companies that offer solutions to facilitate and streamline the remote communication process.
For example, messaging and video conferencing applications have exploded, and the trend is expected to continue on the same upward slope, strongly supported by the decisions taken by major technology companies such as Google, Amazon, Twitter or Facebook to send their employees to work from home as a measure to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Here are the figures from 4 of the companies offering video conferencing applications:
- Zoom shares up 42%
- Slack shares up 16%
- Microsoft Teams users grew 6x, and mobile grew 200%
- Teamviewer reached an all-time high price per share: $37
Perhaps the most prosperous industry during this period is the pharmaceutical industry.
Why is it thriving? Because the products offered by companies in this industry fill the need to escape fear.
Of course, fear is a widespread feeling these days. Fear has made people liquidate stocks of surgical masks, raid stores, and fear has also made them make the decision to work from home, contributing to the figures recorded by the video conferencing apps mentioned earlier.
The Pharma industry, however, places its products in the area of the most powerful form of fear manifestation, namely fear of death.
Coronavirus has already proven deadly, proof stand the nearly 5,000 deaths recorded so far, globally (source: Worldometer)
Also, since this is a virus that spreads quickly, we see that people’s fear is well-founded.
Coronavirus has been lethal in people suffering from various diseases, such as heart problems or diabetes, and also in people with weak immune systems.
As a result, people flock to pharmacies to buy vitamin C and other products that strengthen the immune system.
As we mentioned earlier, with reference to the IRES study, 13% of Romanians have already bought their cold prevention medication.
So companies in the FMCG, Communication and Pharma industries are on the list of those who are thriving from the Coronavirus pandemic.
Because the products offered by these industries supply the needs located at the lower levels of Maslow’s pyramid.
Let’s see now:
What businesses are losing and why, these days?
Well, from the Coronavirus pandemic, it’s the companies that offer products and services designed to meet the needs of the upper levels of Maslow’s Pyramid that are losing the most, namely:
- Level of esteem needs
- Level of personal development needs
It is not for nothing that the first to be affected by the restrictive measures taken by the Government, in the context of the Coronavirus, have been event organisers.
Poti says: fine, but these measures were taken because the events gather a large mass of people in one place, and the danger of the COVID-19 virus being transmitted is greater.
Perfectly true, but every day many more people gather in shopping malls or hypermarkets which, at least for the time being, remain open to people.
Now weigh the social consequences of postponing all concerts for a month vs. the social consequences of closing hypermarkets for the same amount of time.
Of course, the consequences will be bad for business in both cases, but people would always choose to prioritize satisfying a primary need on the lower levels over needs located on the upper levels.
Another industry heavily affected by the Coronavirus pandemic is the travel industry.
According to the IRES survey mentioned above, 6 out of 10 Romanians are worried about travelling abroad, and 51% say they are worried about making trips abroad.[locking in the drawer]
What do you have to do, though, as an entrepreneur, to keep your business afloat?
What marketing strategies are brands adopting in the context of COVID-19
When it comes to promotion, a major problem facing businesses in the context of the COVID-19 epidemic is the effective collapse of people’s confidence levels.
Confidence is born when man accesses the higher levels of Maslow’s pyramid, so when he focuses his attention on the need for self-esteem, trust, respect from others, but also on the highest level, that of personal development and intellectual and spiritual emancipation.
When danger arises and automatically all attention turns exclusively to the lower levels of need, and sense of trust automatically diminishes, especially trust in others outside the inner circle.
The less trust remains to be given to an abstract entity called a brand.
In fact, at this point it is very clear which brands have invested in developing a healthy relationship with their customers and which businesses have always been only looking to make money, without offering anything in return.
In some cases, however, people’s lack of trust in brands is supplanted by the need to provide for their lesser needs, as we saw earlier.
So, if you want to promote your brand successfully these days, you have two choices:
- Either you rely on strategies designed to build a healthy relationship between your brand and potential customers, based on strategies that earn people’s trust.
- You provide people with products that meet their inferior needs
Since not all businesses have products in their portfolios that cater to people’s lower needs, most of the promotional campaigns we’ve seen in the digital space these days focus on building and strengthening customer trust in the brand.
Is this marketing strategy effective?
Well, here are some of the marketing strategies we’ve addressed, packaged in ads or organic posts on Social Media pages:
- Education campaigns, related to measures to be taken to prevent coronavirus infection
- Information campaigns, related to the fact that the brand’s products can be used without exposing you to any risk of infection
- Loyalty campaigns, with special offers or even free access to certain applications that are extremely useful during this period
What you give, you get.
Brands give, instead of ask, in these delicate times.
They can’t compete on the supply side with players in the industries people are prioritizing at this time.
The only level where there is room for competition is the third level of Maslow’s pyramid, the needs of love and belonging.
Though they are not part of people’s intimate circle of closeness and, as a consequence, no longer enjoy as much trust, brands are experimenting with a number of elements in the emotional sphere, such as:
All these acts of closeness that branders do are normally only offered by extremely close people, who receive in return, most of the time, guess what?
So, you’re an entrepreneur and you want to know not only how to stay afloat, but also how to gain advantages that perhaps only such delicate situations can give you?
Build your marketing strategy at the brand level, put sales aside for a while, rev up the communication engines and target the needs at the third level of Maslow’s pyramid.
And remember: the more you give and the less you ask, the more you will get.
The coronavirus has pushed us off the top of Maslow’s pyramid.
But the fall is only a chance to look towards a new beginning, to step onto a new path, to enjoy the new opportunities that are on the horizon.
Once the Coronavirus is gone, a new game will begin.
Remember, though, that only “awhen we are sure that the needs at the bottom of the pyramid are met, do we turn our attention to the needs at the top.”
And whoever wins people’s trust on the top 3 levels of needs wins the game.