Marketing pyramid power during Covid-19

I am currently teaching a university marketing communications course online. I first created the course well over 10 years ago for them, but had only taught it as recently as 6 years ago. Revising the content, and then turning it into a completely online offering was certainly more than I bargained for when first accepting the contract pre-Covid days, but the process of making it current, especially during the dynamic business period we now find ourselves in, plus experiencing such positive feedback from the students has been invigorating.

To say marketing communications is a living petri dish of change right now, would be an understatement.

In preparing this week’s content I re-acquainted myself with good old Maslow and his Hierarchy of Needs, a likely familiar triangle for anyone who took a Psych 101 course. It’s often used to theorize consumer behavior, and it’s a great model normally. But right now it has been turned on its ear. Or should I say, we’ve all reverted to the bottom of the triangle.

A quick 101 catch up on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:

Maslow theorized that we must fulfilled needs at each level starting at the bottom before we can move up to the next level. The resulting motivation at those levels is often tied to marketing communications.

Right now the businesses that are thriving are the ones delivering on basic needs of food, shelter and safety. Grocery stores, the food supply chain, pharmacies, medical, personal protection equipment, sanitization would be placed here.

The other businesses that are thriving are the ones that “tilted” or made a full on “pivot” to apply a core competency they already had towards one of these areas. These are clothing manufacturers now making personal safety gowns and masks, or beer and spirits distillers now making alcohol hand sanitizer. There are micro tilts too, just doing more of what they were doing before, for an expanded demand and market. Here, online portals like Amazon, or companies carrying in demand products with a well-established online presence, and delivery companies like FedEx or UPS making the distribution process possible are excelling.

Our challenge right now is at the top and in the middle

Companies dealing with motivations in the middle and the top of the hierarchy are the ones having challenges. Travel was punched in the nose, grounded and told to stay home. As if that wasn’t bad enough, travel has also been traditionally positioned at the top of the triangle – altruistic, status driven, and a reward. Businesses that foster connection and celebration, like restaurants, clubs, and live performing arts has also faced challenges with physical distancing rules, and stay at home orders. Those businesses function mid triangle.

How to adjust and tilt a core competency has been a tough nut to crack for those mid to top tier of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and the challenge has been complicated by the incredible speed at which this all came at us.

I wrote about reframing relevancy a couple weeks back, but looking at it from Maslow’s perspective gives it a whole new twist: Is there a way to channel a core competency and deliver on something relevant, ideally towards the bottom of the pyramid right now? (safety and physiological needs)

And then as we enter the recovery phase (let’s hope sooner than later), is there a way to reframe your marketing communications messages into the mid-range of the pyramid, focused on love and belonging – through connection, family, and friends, rather towards the top (esteem, self-actualization), if that is where you used to play?

Take a moment and think about what I’ve just proposed and let it sink in. Then grab a blank sheet of paper and start brainstorming. These are unusual times, but I think this insight may help ensure that your communications and marketing are relevant and resonate with customers.

Let me flush through an example

And since I like challenges, let’s use the travel sector.

&Beyond (also known as is a company that promote African safaris. Up until early March, their offering and marketing communications definitely functioned in the top two tiers of Maslow’s Hierarchy.

But since April 3, they have been doing things differently. With no face to face tours possible, they are now livestreaming with their guides solo. Wild Watch LIVE is live streamed twice per day, with a 3-hour morning and 3 hours evening broadcast until the end of the month.

Their offering is now meeting needs on the bottom two tiers, providing entertainment and education for families with kids at home, and also an escape from Netflix, with a refreshing version of “reality TV” so far from Joe Exotica and Tiger King, it will make your take out all the empty wine bottles you were forced to consume, just to get through that piece of Americana which is all the rage these days.

What makes &Beyond live streaming captivating?

  • You get to know the guides, personalities and the various animals
  • It encourages repeat viewing through ongoing narrative and storytelling
  • It’s “edutainment” (both educational and entertainment)
  • It’s interactive encouraging on air engagement through Twitter and YouTube as well as email question exchanges


Why it works as a piece of content marketing – even when travel isn’t being sold

  • Because it’s interactive, they capture data, and they’ve earned permission to connect in the future
  • It positions them as content creators, and utilizes multiple social media distribution platforms
  • They are not selling at all, in fact they are “giving away the virtual experience”
  • But they know that once travel is possible, they will be well positioned. The next phase could be to plan a trip, and personalize it with a selected guide you’ve gotten to know, or to plan a “family trip together” and experience a safari in real life
  • All of this allows their marketing to move into the mid-range of the pyramid, not the top. Instead of it being “Look at me I’m in Africa” on Instagram, it becomes “This is something we wanted to do together as a family” and create a lifetime memory, anchored in the initial experience during Covid days watching online together.

This example show how they were providing content that was “relevant in the moment”

(educate and entertain kid and families stuck at home together) as part of survival at the bottom of the triangle, and in sharing that content, they positioned their brand for the long-term sale, a little further up with love, belonging and connection, but not at the top as they traditionally have.

The nuance of relevance, and how to communicate right now could be well served by revisiting Maslow with a new-found appreciation these days. Might there be something in here to consider for your business?

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Mary Charleson


  1. […] Let’s first understand that Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs dictates that consumers right now are being driven by safety and security-based choices. They are unlikely to travel, a choice typically driven by needs further up the pyramid such as love and belonging, and self-esteem, until safety needs are realized first. Read more about this here. […]

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