For business to win in the coronavirus crisis, head to the bottom of the pyramid

coronavirus crisis

The only discussion in business circles these days is, “how do we survive in this coronavirus crisis?”

Understandably, this is a confusing and unprecedented time. But the answer to the question is actually fairly straight-forward (not to be confused with easy!). Let’s use my blog as a very simple example of a coronavirus pivot.

I put a ton of work into my blog. Every week I create content that is timely, relevant, and entertaining. Here is a list of the posts I had scheduled to publish in the coming weeks:

  • The best way to jump-start your speaking career
  • An updated formula for content that stands out
  • Top 5 reasons why marketing leaders won’t change with the times
  • Social media essentials for your next event

These are really interesting and helpful posts. My audience will love them.

Someday. But not now.

This content is no longer as relevant as it once was due to the consumer psychology of the coronavirus crisis.

Let’s look at what’s happening, and what you and I need to do about it.

Upside-down psychology

You’re probably familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Some psychologists suggest we need to tweak this model, but for today, let’s use the tried-and-true Pyramid for our discussion:

coronavirus crisis

Think about your own business in the context of this model. Where would you place the type of products you’re trying to sell right now? Are they at the top of the Pyramid?

But where is the psychology of our world right now? At the bottom.

Everybody I know is locked-in at home and concerned about running out of food or essential living supplies. Many have had a dramatic loss of income — millions are without employment. Many others are sick, or fearful of getting sick. I have friends who are isolated, bored, and lonely.

This is where most of the world is psychologically residing today. We’re trying to attend to our basic human needs.

Unless you’re David Geffen. Then all bets are off …

coronavirus crisis


So if you’re still in the business of yachts and caviar, you’re good with David Geffen.

Me? I’m locked-down with illness and I’ve run out of fresh fruit and vegetables. Like most people all over the world, I’m dwelling at the bottom of the Maslow Pyramid.

The psychology of marketing now

I see a disconnect among my marketing friends right now. They seem to be in stubborn denial about our current situation. An actual quote:

“People are still buying like always. Content and social media marketing is more important than ever.”

Buying like always?

Obviously this is a quote from somebody who SELLS content and social media marketing services!  And of course, in some circumstances, that might be true. But in general, in this moment, people are trying to STAY SANE after the 150th game of Chutes and Ladders with the kids.

Is your social media and content marketing relevant right now?

This is an easy question to answer. If you’re marketing products that serve the top of the Maslow Pyramid, the answer is probably no.

If you’re marketing products for the bottom of the Pyramid, the answer is probably yes. In fact, double down on your marketing.

The content pivot

So let’s get back to my problem. What do I do with all this content I had prepared to publish on my blog?

Again, a simple answer. Becoming a better leader or event manager is important, but probably not right now. I applied the brakes and I shifted to topics relevant to the bottom of the Pyramid.

For example, here are five recent bottom-of-the-Pyramid posts that I published:

I’ve also been creating a series of Facebook posts called Embracing the Chaos (also on YouTube) where I try to provide sympathetic, rational advice that is relevant to this moment in time.

On one level, you might be wondering … why would I do this? I don’t sell psychological consulting services. I’m not selling courses in motivational speaking.

Right now, the long-term relevance of the brand is more important than short-term sales. Read that again, please.

Almost every business needs to send their social media and content marketing to the bottom of the Pyramid … immediately.

I made a pivot to my content because my mission is to teach, and the subject matter I need to teach about has suddenly changed in a dramatic fashion. I need to be relevant at the bottom.

The good news

Watch what the biggest brands are doing with their marketing and messaging. With breathtaking speed, all the best-managed companies have stopped in their tracks, ended the “normal” selling, and re-directed their advertising to the bottom of the Pyramid.

coronavirus crisis

We’re seeing this pivot occur with almost every television and digital ad. This is especially impressive since almost all advertising production shoots have been canceled due to the coronavirus crisis. Nevertheless, the best brands are using simple stock images or words over music to tell people that they care and they’re relevant at this moment.

Burger King CMO Fernando Machado said that brand positioning has taken a back seat to relevant response: “The first thing we did was to find ways to help in whatever way we can. Not with ads but with doing things. We’ve been making donations to hospitals to health care workers, offering free food for volunteers and first responders. We have a wide range of examples of our brands jumping in to help people. So, step one for us was really taking action.”

Why are we seeing this dramatic change? You guessed it.

The long-term relevance of the brand is more important than short-term sales.

I could have kept on publishing my blog posts as planned. That would have been the easy thing to do!

But when I adjusted the theme of my content to focus on my near-term customer needs, the traffic on my site increased by 50 percent over the normal level. How will that impact me in the long-term? Who knows. All I can do right now is be relevant and helpful. We are in uncharted territory.

I totally understand why some small businesses are desperate right now and might feel compelled to sell, sell, sell … even if it’s not relevant. Our dreams have been dashed by an invisible enemy.

But no amount of advertising, discounting, or content marketing will matter if your audience is at the bottom of the Pyramid and you’re still selling at the top. You’re irrelevant. You need to stop.

coronavirus crisis

Winning in the coronavirus crisis

I have a friend who has a real estate company. Buying a house right now is a top-of-the-pyramid aspirational activity when you’re locked-in and laid-off. Sales are way down. There is no Sunday open house right now.

During this time, she has started an effort to rally people in the community to sew masks to meet hospital shortages. Her coronavirus mask group now numbers 800 people.

Now, when we get to the other side of this coronavirus crisis, nobody is going to remember her for any house she sold. But nobody will ever forget her (and her brand) for what she doing for our community right now.

A local cattle rancher who provides steaks to high-end restaurants is offering to deliver his meat to our homes. He is moving from the top of the pyramid to serving the un-met needs at the bottom of the pyramid.

There are probably hundreds of examples like this in your community, too.

One other observation: Several marketing gurus have pointed out that the explosive increase in web traffic is evidence that this is the very best time to pump up the content marketing jams on whatever product you’re selling. Again, this advice is wrong and misleading.

What are people using the Internet for right now? Bottom of the Pyramid activities. And Netflix, of course!

This crisis will pass. The world will come back. But for now, tune your marketing to the power of the Pyramid. Head to the bottom to survive.

Note: I’ve prepared an inspirational, 30-minute virtual presentation designed for weekly team meetings. Filled with inspirational case studies and real-world solutions, it’s called “Fighting to The Other Side”. To learn more, or to bring this to your next meeting, send me a message here.

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

All posts

The Marketing Companion Podcast

Why not tune into the world’s most entertaining marketing podcast!

View details

Let's plot a strategy together

Want to solve big marketing problems for a little bit of money? Sign up for an hour of Mark’s time and put your business on the fast-track.

View details

Share via