January 2021

Understanding the Quarantined Consumer

We are living through a time where around 2.6 billion people globally are under some form of lockdown. With quarantine measures comes a change in the way we live our lives and interact with brands, marking the arisal of a new form of consumer: the quarantined consumer.

As the UK economy shrinks, many brands are fighting to survive COVID-19. We are living through a time where around 2.6 billion people globally are under some form of lockdown - that’s around one-third of the human population. With quarantine measures comes a change in the way we live our lives and interact with brands, marking the arisal of a new form of consumer: the quarantined consumer.


Some marketers have drawn parallels with this change in behaviour and the well-known motivational theory, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. In doing so, brands can better predict the wants and needs of their quarantined consumers, and can adjust their positioning and product proposition to withstand the ebb and flow of the Covid economy.

What is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?

Firstly, for those who aren’t already familiar with Maslow, here is a brief run-down of his work.


Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a motivational theory that consists of five levels. The idea is that you must complete each level of human needs to reach the next - beginning at basic, and working upwards towards self-actualization.



Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

The 5 Levels of Needs:

  1. Basic physiological needs, like food, water and shelter.
  2. Safety needs, like resources, employment, and health.
  3. Love and belonging; your need for friendships, relationships and family.
  4. Esteem needs, relating to your confidence, achievement and respect.
  5. Self-actualisation, meaning your morality, creativity, spontaneity and problem solving needs.


But what does this have to do with the quarantine?

Quarantine Survival Mode

In a recent report by Profitero, our most current key word searches were analysed to reveal the ways our behaviour has been changing. Before the lockdown, our basic and safety needs were consistently met with fully stocked shelves at supermarkets, twenty-four-hour pharmacies and full working weeks.

This meant that consumers were fluttering around the top three stages of the hierarchy, focusing on friends, family, self-esteem, achievement, and morality. But then, we were hit with a virus, and then, a quarantine - and for most of us, this was new territory. The initial notion of a long-term lockdown sent consumers spiralling down to the bottom stages of the hierarchy, where our mindsets shifted from ‘thrive’ to ‘survive’. As time has passed, consumers have adjusted to the lockdown and we have started to traverse Maslow’s hierarchy once more, only this time in a totally different way.


Basic Needs

The new virus was unchartered waters for many of us. As the headlines grew more worrying, and the death tolls began to rise, consumers responded by panic buying what they perceived to be necessities: tinned food, toilet roll and sanitisers. For example, in their research, Profitero saw the term ‘pasta’ searched 896 times more than normal, and the term ‘hand sanitiser gel’ by 887 times. 

At this time, most large retailers struggled to keep their shelves stocked as consumers hoarded these items, showing they were concerned by the unpredictability of the future. However, fast forward to now, most retailers have caught up with demand, and most essential items are readily available. This means that consumers are moving up the hierarchy, where brands are really beginning to act on this change in consumer behaviour.

Safety Needs

You only have to watch the news or head to social media to see that PPE has become a sought-after commodity. Due to shortages of PPE, people have resorted to making their own. We can begin to see how brands are reacting to this, particularly within the fashion industry where brands such as Louis Vuitton and Zara have pivoted their businesses to produce face masks in their factories to meet the Covid-19 demand.


Love and Belonging

The quarantine appears to have brought many families together, with online searches for board games on the rise, according to Profitero. In addition, the need for love and belonging can also indicate why there is a huge rise in video conferencing technology like Zoom, Houseparty, and Google Meet, through which consumers are able to reconnect with family and friends.

Brands have responded to this, by bringing out new features and ways to connect. A great example is Netflix, who created a ‘party’ function to allow people to chat remotely while watching films and series together at the same time. The immersive-storytelling company Secret Cinema went as far as collaborating with Haagen Daaz and Amazon Prime to launch a new weekly series, Sofa Cinema, where consumers are given the opportunity to enjoy weekly film screenings, where they can order ice cream directly to their sofas.

Esteem Needs

Next, consumers will seek to validate themselves through achievements and confidence building. Profitero noted how the search term ‘bread machine’ has risen by four times in the UK, and suggest that at this stage, consumers are beginning to embrace the quarantine. At this stage, brands should reach out to consumers.

Health and beauty brand Deciem are doing this well by offering an online consultation service with face-to-face video in order to connect with their consumers through quarantine. 

Self-Actualisation 

At the final stage of the hierarchy, consumers are spurred to take action while in quarantine. Consumers here want to improve their world, for example by exercising, creating, learning, or by giving back. Profitero believes these consumers are making the most out of a crisis, noting the  keyword search for ‘gardening’ and ‘home workout’ rise by 7 times and 6 times their normal rate.

Joe Wicks as and his brand, The Body Coach, has done extremely well from the lockdown, and has been dubbed the nation's PE teacher after the success of his engaging live workout videos during the quarantine. Class Pass has also successfully targeted the at-home clientele by offering their subscribers online classes, which has been met with a positive response.


How Brands Can Overcome the Quarantine 

The waves of volatility caused by the COVID-19 outbreak are being felt by businesses far and wide, and despite the awful circumstance we find ourselves in, with volatility comes opportunity. Right now is a sink or swim moment for your business.


The way your brand interacts with your customers has changed overnight, but with it poses some real opportunity to win back market share and connect with your customers at a point in time where it is more important to do so than ever before.


Now is the time to innovate. Watch the market, monitor key category terms, keep an eye on the data, but most importantly, think hard about how you can reconnect with your audience. This is a time where the mantra ‘improvise, adapt and overcome’ is most relevant to brands. Adaptation is necessary for your company to innovate - it was this that saw brands overcome the 2008 recession. With this, keep Maslow’s hierarchy in mind, adapt your product offering, content or price accordingly with each level, and your brand can overcome COVID-19.

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