I don’t know about you, but this is the pattern I’ve seen in recent months:

  • March: People went into shock because we haven’t faced a global pandemic like this in our lifetime. We copywriters were kept busy dealing with lots of urgent requests for crisis comms
  • April: People started to adjust. Clients decided there was no point in spending money on marketing when their customers have lost their jobs or been furloughed or can’t go out to spend money during lockdown. Ongoing copywriting projects were therefore postponed or cancelled
  • May: Clients got strategic again. They realised that we’re in this for the long-term, decided that they still need professional help, and new enquiries started coming in

If you’re going to thrive during (and after) the pandemic, it’s worth thinking about what you sell and who you sell it to.

When budgets are tight, you have to follow the money.

As an aside, do you remember the “show me the money” scene in the film Jerry Maguire? Here it is, just for fun. (Bad language alert.)

As a starting point, think about where your customers are at the moment. Let’s go back to Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs (also mentioned in my recent article: Copywriting in a crisis).


At the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, many of us became primarily concerned with our basic needs at the bottom of the pyramid. For example, people stockpiled essential supplies such as pasta, tomato sauce, milk, flour and toilet paper.

It explains why, if you or your clients are part of the food supply chain, you’ll be doing extraordinarily good business at the moment. And, if you want a job, you’ve got every chance of finding one as a fruit-picker, shelf-stacker or delivery driver.

Our safety needs are also threatened by the present risk to our health and jobs. As a result, people in the financial services industry are being kept busy.

The next level up is about our human need for connection. We’re told to keep at least 2m (6ft) apart – so-called ‘social distancing’ (an oxymoron that first appeared around 2003).

Thanks to video calling, we can stay connected even while we’re apart. Can you imagine how isolating self-isolation would be without today’s technology?! We’re totally dependent on broadband, wifi, electricity and battery power.

This explains why platforms such as Zoom are currently doing so well, and why all the other providers are running to catch up.

Because we’re all so focused on fulfilling our needs at the lower parts of the pyramid, it’s harder to make money when what you do serves a need towards the top of the pyramid.

For example, if you’re a coach who helps people feel better about themselves, it is likely to be harder to generate income from customers whose income has dropped so they’re saving their money for essential items such as food and household bills.

This is one of the reasons why so many professional entertainers are currently performing for us free, via livestreams on Facebook and YouTube – we can even watch shows by the National Theatre every Thursday which would usually cost a small fortune to attend. It’s not just that venues are shut. Even though mental health and happiness is important, paying for entertainment just isn’t a priority for many of us at the moment.

Singapore’s Sunday Times surveyed people’s perceptions of “essential jobs” during a pandemic. Unsurprisingly, frontline workers topped the list, while artists were top of the list of “non-essential jobs” even though they help to uplift and sustain us. Telemarketers, social media managers/PR specialists and business consultants were also considered to be “non-essential”.

Essential or not

Wait long enough and it will turn around.

Looking back to The Great Depression in the USA in the 1930s, the entertainment industry was thriving because everyone wanted escapism. LA became a boom town with immense wealth, although there was abject poverty too.

People also had a great need for hope, and the evangelical movement started. For example, Aimee Semple McPherson was one of the first TV preachers and had her own radio show – she was a rock star of her time.

Maslow would say we aspire to self-actualisation all the time, and we can all still get fleeting experiences right at the top of the pyramid. They’re those moments when everything seems right with the world and our place in it.

Perhaps it’s when we notice birdsong on our daily walk, because there’s no traffic or aircraft noise. Maybe it’s when we’re drawing rainbows with our children for the NHS. Or it could be when we finally bake a loaf of bread from scratch, and it rises properly and tastes delicious.

These magical moments don’t cost anything (so there’s not much income potential there for suppliers). But they never last. The instant we get hungry or thirsty or need the loo, we drop right back down to the base of the pyramid again.

Here’s some evidence to support my thinking: 100 fastest growing and declining e-commerce categories (Stackline: March 2020 compared with March 2019).

As you’ll see, the top three categories doing well are: disposable gloves, bread machines and cough/cold remedies – all supplies that serve a need at the bottom of the pyramid.

The three categories currently doing worst are luggage, briefcases and cameras. With so many travel restrictions in place causing cancelled events, there’s no surprise there.

What this means to you

Every individual is different, and at a different place on the pyramid at any given time. It’s another reason why one-to-one marketing works better than one-to-many.

  • Where would you place your brand, product or service on the pyramid?
  • What human need do you fulfil?
  • Where are your customers likely to be at the moment?
  • What does that mean for your messaging?

If you need help with any of this, please get in touch.

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