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Why Understanding Consumer Motivation Is So Important in 2021

Posted On  January 14, 2021

One of the most remarkable aspects of the coronavirus pandemic is the degree to which people across the globe participated in a shared experience. While local outbreaks, political response, and personal impacts varied, the emotional impact of the pandemic was similar for just about all of us, and these impacts have shifted our behaviors and preferences.

Though much of this period has been largely unpredictable, our behavioral response was not. The ways that humans respond and adapt to immediate and long term threats is well documented by decades of psychology research. We can draw on this knowledge to help us understand what we just went through (stress and trauma), what we’re going through (coping), and what we hope to get to (recovery, resilience).

By understanding how emotions, motivations, and less-conscious aspects of psychology impact behavior of key customer segments, brands can help shape a better future.

The Behavioral Science of Stress and Coping

How has 2020 shaped the way we think? Throughout the year, each of us has experienced acute stress (an unmasked stranger walking toward you in the grocery store) and chronic stress (worrying if your family members are being safe) to varying degrees.

We know through a robust body of biological and psychological research that stress and the associated state of fear are highly influential in the way we think, act, and feel. Our brains have evolved to have a specific reaction to threats. Immediate threats typically cause us to freeze, and our brains direct our bodies to divert resources toward responding with fight or flight. Our heart rate and pulse increases, our digestion slows, and our minds are vigilant for any clues.

However, chronic threats tend to cause low-level constant stress, like anxiety. Instead of freezing, we’re primed to act. We feel jumpy. We’re constantly scanning for signs that we need to bring up the full blown fear response. Though these emotions initially evolved to help us avoid predators, they are still very relevant today to help us avoid getting hurt in new, modern ways, like recoiling when someone invades our social distancing bubble.

In order to counteract stress, we often engage in coping, a form of emotional regulation where we seek out things that help us feel more positively. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve sought out experiences that help us feel safe and secure, help us feel more like ourselves, and we’ve tried to focus on the positive. For instance, traditional “comfort foods” like canned soups flew off the shelves early in the pandemic, because it provided a culinary safety blanket that transported us to better times.

Using Consumer Psychology to Serve Basic Human Needs

As we look forward, it’s hard to make long term predictions based on temporary behaviors that helped us make it through a demanding episode. Instead, we should focus on the coping behaviors that have the potential to stick around – those that satisfy fundamental needs that have been suppressed and underserved during the stressful episode – to create communications, products, and experiences that resonate with consumers.

Many have moved from a place of panic and coping to a new sort of normalcy. When we can’t engage in the behaviors we’ve become accustomed to, we have to find new ways to satisfy our fundamental needs of Belonging, Appeal, Security and Exploration, what we call our BASE human needs.

The big challenge with behaviors that have been suppressed during the pandemic is trying to address the needs those old behaviors once satisfied in new, pandemic-friendly ways.

For tips on how to address each BASE need, check out our free e-book, A Brand’s Guide to Consumer Psychology in 2021.

Uncovering Unmet Needs and White Space Innovation Opportunities

As humans, we’re very bad at predicting how we’ll feel in the future, a concept known as affective forecasting. Asking people what they think they will do will nearly always result in a more emotional, and more favorable, view of our predicted future.

Fortunately, we have access to a massive database of consumer interests, opinions, preferences, and behaviors on the internet and can tap into it using smart tech-driven solutions. Online Anthropology, a method of advanced social analytics, is an excellent tool for identifying blind spots, as well as finding white space opportunities for innovation.

For more on how Online Anthropology helps brands uncover unmet needs and new innovation opportunities, check out our free e-book, A Brand’s Guide to Consumer Psychology in 2021.

The insights generated by Online Anthropology are applicable across a wide range of business objectives, from helping banks better serve their customers by identifying where they get lost in the debt cycle to uncovering new product positionings and emerging trends by identifying early interest in Keto-friendly foods.

Brands that shift their positioning, messaging, and innovation strategies to meet the current and emerging consumer needs stand to gain a sustainable competitive advantage when we all reach the mythical “new normal” in 2021.

Please reach out to the team at our Pragmatic Brain Science Institute to discuss how we can help you better understand your consumers in 2021. Contact Us at


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