hierarchy of needs - core needs - content marketing

What Your Customers Need from Your Content Now: Meeting Their Core Human Needs


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We’ve got COVID. We’ve got injustice. We’ve got people standing up all over the world to inequity. We’ve got the American election. We’ve got the British Columbia election. We’ve got struggling businesses. We’ve got people struggling with mental health. 

It isn’t ideal. 

Like so many, I’m not sure how to make sense of it all but when I saw this study from KR&I, something in me felt calmer. Something clicked. I had a better understanding of something I think I already knew. 

The researchers began with a year-long study of fans and fandom (known as “The Power of Fandom”) for entertainment industry clients, including over a year of social listening among dozens of online communities as well as surveys of more than 8,000 participants.

The study then turned into Understanding the Relationship Between Core Human Needs and Consumer Behavior.

In their research, the team at KR&I came to understand fandom as the following:

“A love relationship, one that inspires devotion and active investment because it effectively meets a set of core human needs surrounding self-care, social connection, and identity.”


It boiled down to this: what makes people fans also applies to what binds people to groups, too. To brands. It also might influence social media and consumer behaviour.

To me it feels like a kind of simplified version of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, for our times. 

“We don’t actually ‘think’ in terms of these needs; rather, we intuitively respond to them. 

Throughout any given day, our needs rise to consciousness through feelings of discomfort, vulnerability, dissatisfaction, longing, and desire, among others. 

We respond by eating, drinking, planning, buying, structuring, resting, watching, playing, connecting, and a whole array of other behaviors that quell need-signaling emotions.”


Then, the fabulous folks at Think With Google recently used the study to look at how people are watching YouTube during the pandemic. It came down to these three needs being met: identity. Self care. Social connection. 

Ding, right? It makes sense


“When the pandemic upended life as we knew it, many of the ways we were used to meeting our needs became untenable. So people are learning new techniques to soothe their anxious minds.”


On YouTube and social media, I—er, people, started looking for ways to handle stress, sleep disruption and anxiety. This was evident in viewership of videos related to “nature sounds,” for example, which increased as people looked for something to help calm them. This one video alone from Dream Sounds was viewed 2 million times since March 15.

And brands all over the world found themselves responding instinctively—and wisely—to this core need. The lovely folks at Saje Wellness, for example, posted mindful reminders to stay grounded, and to prioritize self-care, featuring quotes from friends (a good tactic). 

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Travel sites like Airbnb, meanwhile, told the story of self-care to save a flagging rental market.

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Brands like Arcteryx also shifted their traditional narrative from adventure to self-care, bringing more gentleness into their brand storytelling.

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What about your own brand? I’m going to guess that if you’re a self-care service or brand, you’ve been telling this story already (if not, go! start now!) 

If you’re not, how might you shift your narrative to show more care? To remind your audiences to go easy right now? Or, finally, how might you tell a story about how you as an organization have slowed down?

Social Connection

According to the KR&I study, social connection needs arise from humans’ deeply social nature.

“We’re an ultrasocial species whose survival rests on our ability to maintain social connection through close, interpersonal relationships, and a broader sense of belonging in society.”

Susan Kresnicka, KR&I

As we social distance, of course, it’s tricky to connect with each other in person—but technology has helped in many ways to bridge the gap at least a little. 

I personally love the emergence of something called the “With Me” genre: in videos and content like this, the viewer—you—get to vicariously participate in an activity performed by a creator. Hang out, if you will, as someone else studies or cooks, or whatever they’re doing to feel a little less alone. 

Gymshark—a retailer selling athletic wear—is one of many brands that’s created a unique TikTok strategy to bring people together and create a sense of social connection. Through its #StandUpChallenge, influencers complete physical challenges, share their content around it, and encourage others to do the same. It’s a nice chance for regular folks to get involved and really feel part of something at a time when we can’t exactly head to the gym for a workout with friends.  

Humans got to know humans all around the globe this year. Tanqueray was one such human: her story, told on the popular Humans of New York blog and social channels, took hold of many people’s lives during the pandemic, ultimately raising $2.65 million to date in her trust—plus nearly 100 thousand new followers for the HONY social channels. Telling stories in original ways still matters. 

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HONY’s Brandon Stanton has mastered the art of bringing people together through compelling storytelling. His approach is simple and so compelling: tell great stories, sometimes in instalments. 


This need is all about expressing who you are and informing others about who they might become. And it’s especially important at a time when our world and ways of relating to one another have dramatically changed. 

Video and social trends around learning to perform specialized skills, like cutting hair, are a perfect example — global viewership of haircutting tutorials peaked in April — this creator’s explainer for cutting your own hair has been viewed almost 2 million times. 

Screenshot of the Explainer video of how to cut your own hair

Belief systems are also important to identity. There’s religion of course. There’s meditation and mindfulness, too — kind of a religion on its own? According to a report from app store intelligence firm Sensor Tower, the world’s largest English-language mental wellness apps saw a combined 2 million more downloads in April than in January 2020, reaching close to 10 million total downloads for the month. I was one.

Screenshot of a Facebook post from Headspace

Brands are also gaining strength by unabashedly owning their values. Local gym Tight Club Athletics committed financial support to the Black in BC Community Support Fund in a time when their own business was suffering—because it was the right thing to do. Tight Club was one of the first Vancouver gyms to voluntarily close after the COVID-19 outbreak in North America. Founder Keighty Gallagher set an example for the city’s fitness industry in the name of community safety.

And of course as an individual consultant, there’s a lot you can do to give your audience what it needs right now. Networking group DreamersDoers highlighted member Kristy Runzer and shared the story of how she started her business. Endearing, inspiring, honest, engaging—these are all emotions we want to evoke when we tell our story—we want people to recognize themselves in us, or something good about us, as brands, in them. 

Picture of Kristy RunzerScreenshot of an Instagram post from Dreamers Doers of a quote

How Does Your Brand Speak to Core Human Needs? 

Graphic with the phrase "What's one story you might effectively tell your audience on social media right now?"

Consider your existing audiences, and the ones you wish you had. Consider the humans behind the personas and the audience demographics. 

How can you help to ease their anxiety or stress? How might you reach out to make them feel less isolated or alone? Could you teach them something? Or help them to express themselves individually? Could you tell them a story that will ease their anxiety or invite them to participate in a virtual event or challenge that will help to them feel more connected. 

You might not always feel that marketing matters. But reaching out to help always does. 

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