Maslow’s Revenge – Innovation Excellence

by Francesco Pagano

maslow’s hierarchy of needs

By David Bruel & Frank Pagano

Spoiler alert. Three (humble) predictions on behavioral change, rediscovering a grand classic: the Maslow’s pyramid. Technology will create better ways to climb up and down the old ladder, post Covid-19.  

A third of the global population is on a coronavirus lockdown, and dramatically re-prioritizing their needs. Here’s our view on what this may mean for the future.

We still remember, while studying in college, the deep sense of enlightenment when we got exposed to the – now outdated – Maslow’s pyramid (for a quick refresh, check:

The idea of a ladder to be climbed up, one need after the other, was so clear and pragmatic that it did not go unnoticed by marketeers and consumer behavior specialists. It was 1943 – war time, indeed; and, we like to think that those dramatic years did contribute to the shaping of Maslow’s ideas.

The theory has been revised several times since then, its biggest criticism revolving around the fact that, according to the original idea, a lower level must be completely satisfied and fulfilled before moving onto a higher one. Today, everyone looks at needs as overlapping and fluid.

A few weeks ago, a large part of the world population was forced into the most dramatic change of habits since World War II, which also implied a complete turnaround of priorities. It almost felt like billions of people were sliding down the pyramid, going back to the two most basic steps: physiological and safety needs. From the ironic and unexpected rush for toilet paper, to the desperate quest for face masks, it looked like the human race had reversed its evolution, giving up the ambition to fully accomplish its own potential.

This framework has never felt more alive. The question now is: looking at the events that are unfolding in front of us, what predictions can we make for the near future? Will behaviors, values and expectations truly change, or will everything go back to ‘life as usual’? 

Here are three predictions – or probably hopes, based on the use of Maslow’s model, and building on the immense power of today’s technology.

Covid-19 will reverse globalization, while consolidating a deep sense of belonging to smaller imagined communities, be it neighborhoods, cities and nations. And, consumers’ hunger for reassurance and traceability will increase exponentially. Basics will change the most, and they will be in the spotlight a lot more vs. the pre Covid-19 era. The fundamental needs of Homo Sapiens, to use Harari’s terminology, will need to be met via the infusion of the most advanced technological standards in the end-to-end supply chain, with clear implications on sustainability and quality. The ultimate ‘basic’ to be on everyone’s agenda is the philosophy per se that companies utilize to process ingredients, create products & services, treat employees and retail to final consumers. Companies who make no shortcuts, are transparent, embrace social responsibility and have a comprehensive internal emergencies’ policy will win. 

So what for Brands? ‘Classic’ advertising, which is aimed at creatively emphasizing product benefits, will ultimately die, in favour of a more transparent and conversational approach, based on high-tech, fully traceable supply chains.

Our Motto: Don’t just advertise what you make, but show me all of your cards; or, I won’t buy from you, pal.

The most welcome surprise, amid the Covid-19 crisis, is a heightened need for relationships and exchange, all fostered by social media and communication platforms. Technology is allowing us to do what could have been unthinkable just ten years ago; it is also showing, contrary to Maslow’s beliefs, that fulfillment of psychological needs, such as love and belonging, doesn’t wait for basic needs to be satisfied. Technology has united people who were locked down in their homes, and offered them plenty of virtual platforms to share, sing, learn and consume relevant details on the damn virus, for the sake of their future as a ‘people’. In the post Covid-19 life, prestige will still be chased, wanted and granted, but not without a broad call for responsibility towards the environment around us. 

So what for Brands? Something that we noticed, during the lockdown days, is the lack of any communication from most Brands. Far from expecting anyone to take advantage of the crisis to sell more, our impression is that most companies don’t have a lot to say (or maybe, they don’t find the courage to expose themselves), besides the hundreds of CEOs’ look-alike letters, reassuring readers on their efforts to protect consumers and employees. Brands who establish a trusted and authentic communication flow with the world will win, but only if they are brave enough to show their vulnerability and progress, and keep communicating about what they are planning to do.

Our Motto: Talk to me about you. Honest communication is stronger, faster, and more viral than … a virus.

  • The Death of the Individualistic Self-actualization

What is getting clearer and clearer is that every disruptive event pushes people down the Maslow’s pyramid, and it forces them to reconsider individual success vs. collective accomplishments. If there is one potential good news out of this crisis, it’s the suppression of the negative connotations of individualistic self-affirmation. We are not naive, and do know that capitalism will still be the driving force of tomorrow. Individuals will continue in their relentless search for self-actualization, to use Maslow’s jargon. The hope is, without wishing for the advent of a ‘Big Brother’ government – who can enforce and guarantee that only the ‘right’ dream is being achieved – that an enhanced social conscience and the awareness that we are all, like or not, connected, will lead to individual and social progress at the same time. 

So what for Brands? There is still room to offer premium, and have people pay for it, in order to maximize their inner self, but Brands have to take care of all externalities and collateral effects. This is a unique opportunity for Brands to adjust supply chains to fulfill anyone’s desires via a circular business model, or to consciously say ‘no’. It is about time to assess whether Brands and ego-s out there really need, for example, to exchange fur clothes or how many trips in & out of Dubai, or if there should be as well space for local, artisanal, equally luxurious and socially conscious alternatives. Our guess is that ego-s will want to earn, more and more, their ‘super’ status via the latter. Brands should get ready to change the whole idea of self-actualization.    

Our Motto: Tell me yes, but it has to be a socially responsible yes. Or, just say no, and why that no is the right thing to say. We will, hopefully and finally, care.

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