How covid has changed consumer behaviour


Mar 01, 2021

by Rob L


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There’s so many interesting insights into human behaviour from 2020. Watch the Vlog with 3rdspace UK Head of strategy Rachael Sullivan & 3rdspace Founder Rob Logan as they explore the learnings from the pandemic and how brands can plug into the global community with local context through content marketing

There’s no doubt about it. 2020 was a very challenging year globally for humanity, which makes it a very interesting year for observing human behaviour.

The impact of the pandemic will have lasting implications on how we live and work as a global community. It will also potentially have lasting implications on consumer behaviour post covid. Here are three cultural trends we’ve been observing that look set to continue and shape consumer behaviour for the next few years.

Fear is a by far the biggest driver of human behaviour 

Sigmund Freud stated that human motivation is driven by two innate needs. To increase pleasure or reduce pain. Most marketing over the last two decades has been, consciously or not, been based on the concept of ‘toward motivation’ where people receive a benefit for buying something – a positive feeling and an enhanced experience. 

During Covid, this motivation has become far less attractive. Today it would seem that humans are only motivated by one thing – to relieve discomfort. Which talks to Freud's other human motivation. We buy products or services to avoid something or a feeling that is unpleasant to us. And 2020 was an extremely  uncomfortable year. Which poses the question: is human buying behaviour now primarily motivated to relieve discomfort? Either, hunger, boredom, cold, overheating, pain, social isolation, not feeling good enough? It seems that the acronym FOMO is far more than a social media phenomenon -  it’s human motivation personified.

Our hierarchy of needs has had a reset

The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent global lockdowns threw our focus downwards in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. From esteem needs which have been a growing focus in the last decade,  right down the triangle to our physical and safety needs initially, setting in the middle on Love & Belonging. This seems to match early retail data with consumer spending on home renovations, accessories for the home, healthcare, food, home and family time increasing.

Resetting our focus on safety, love and belonging also sparked more honest and open conversations around psychological safety. With people being motivated by decades of discomfort - around subjects such as black lives matter, male suicide and the mental health ticking time bomb. These significant, more honest conversations will hopefully have an evolving positive impact on our industry, with marketers taking a more conscious approach to communicating from both an inclusion and mental health point of view. 

Things are far from perfect, but 2021 does feel altogether more hopeful and optimistic in Australasia. A feeling that will hopefully soon be shared in the west as the vaccination program has a positive impact on transmission. Meaning our human need state is now hovering around ‘Love and Belonging’ instead of bouncing back to esteem. Brands who are able to adapt their marketing and communications quickly to tap into shared values of love and belonging will continue to see the best customer engagement.

People are more judgemental yet less predicative

A by-product of mass global uncertainty is that humans subconsciously try to create more certainty for themselves because we confuse feeling certain with feeling safe. 

The result is we see worrying trends of people being more judgemental and divided – particularly in political spheres. As this compounds, consumer behaviour also becomes less predictable. Customers are more vocal in their judgements in periods of hyper uncertainty and less likely to be loyal as their tolerance for change increases. One campaign or tweet that doesn’t resonate and people change their views and behaviour quickly. The message for brand marketers is taking a purpose driven approach, that you can stay true to, while adapting to your customers needs in an ever changing world.

3rdspace is a content marketing company whose purpose is to help purpose driven brands connect with the values of purpose driven consumers. If you’d like to chat about how your content marketing can better connect with your consumers by finding the place of shared purpose our team of marketing & content strategist, behavioural psychologists and creatives are here to help. Contact


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