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Australians are grieving – understanding motivational needs is key to your COVID-19 Brand & CX Strategy

Technology & Data

Australians are grieving – understanding motivational needs is key to your COVID-19 Brand & CX Strategy


Elisa Adams explains why correctly understanding implicit motivational needs and designing your messaging and customer experience accordingly is critical to strengthening emotional connections with Australians during this crisis.

Being a brand manager or CX leader is a tough gig at the best of times – you are constantly trying to gain a deep understanding of customer needs and behaviours to design relevant strategies that create lasting bonds.

But what happens when a global pandemic upends everything? How can we understand the changing needs of Australians in this unprecedented context?

The grief model provides a relevant starting point

As the COVID-19 situation unfolded it was clear that our personal and work lives and the way business itself was being conducted was being radically disrupted from entrenched habits and behaviours.

At Sprout, our research into the mood of Australians revealed a deep sense of loss that Australians were experiencing. This was a loss of normality and security. The human grief cycle model developed by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross seems a true reflection of what we are collectively experiencing. Essentially, we as Australians are moving through the 5 stages of grief, from denial through to acceptance. Some of us will arrive at the ‘end’ or acceptance stage quicker than others, depending on the extent to which we have been personally impacted by the pandemic. In addition to the grief cycle, our research also identified the potential to ‘yo-yo’ within the cycle – we called this the ‘Hopeful to Hopelessness YoYo’. This yo-yo effect can be triggered by a personal or societal event. Witness the Victorian crisis as a case in point. When this occurs, Australians will ‘yo-yo’ back to an earlier stage on the grief cycle such as depression or anxiety.


Figure: The Kubler-Ross Grief Model with Hopeful to Hopelessness Yoyo by Sprout


But what to do about a ‘grieving’ Australia?

How is this relevant for a brand or CX manager?

Enter motivational needs: these core human needs are the basis for our behaviour and decision making – why someone chooses your brand over another brand, engages with a new product or experience, recalls communication etc. They are not feelings, which can be fleeting in nature, but deep-seated and enduring.

A person who seeks more security in their life will value a brand or experience that delivers a feeling of reassurance and safety. Our Governments have been a key deliverer of this motivational need during the first wave of COVID-19. If we want to feel more empowered, we respond to messaging and offerings that help us feel liberated and not trapped or restricted. Apple’s most recent campaign ‘Creativity goes on’ delivers beautifully on this.

The tricky thing is that we cannot always detect these motivational needs by asking direct questions – they are non-conscious and difficult to articulate for everyday people. Consequently, they are best uncovered using Implicit or ‘System 1’ techniques. Using MindSight® and the Unified Model of Motivation developed by Dr David Forbes, we can identify and understand the motivational needs at play.


Figure: Unified Model of Motivation developed by Dr David Forbes by Sprout


The grief model meets motivational needs

The real magic in COVID-19 brand and CX management then occurs when we map implicit motivational needs to the grief cycle stages leading to a framework for Australians COVID-19 ‘journey’.

When we understand motivational needs, we unlock a rich supply of opportunity to manage brands and experiences in a way that aligns with Australians emotional needs, ensuring your brands and experiences are tapping into exactly where your customers are at. It is easy in today’s environment to be misaligned, threatening the brand’s relevance, as evidenced by Domino’s recent attempt to use ‘Karen’s’ on social media.

Figure: Sprout’s COVID-19 Motivational Journey


We’ve undertaken extensive research in April and June and can reveal that the majority of Australians right now have moved onto the bargaining and acceptance phases of the grief cycle, and that their dominant motivational need is to feel more empowered. This means they want to feel able to operate in the new normal. We also acknowledge that for those who may be at an earlier stage of this journey or have experienced the ‘yo-yo’ back, other motivational needs may be relatively more important in their hierarchy, such as the need for belonging (feeling part of something) and engagement (feeling excited and energised).

Who’s doing well at serving these motivational needs?

Let’s take a look at a couple of examples. The recent success of Zoom is well documented – people today use ‘Zoom’ as a generic term for a videoconference in the same way they say ‘Google’ when they mean to search online. We can argue delivering on the most relevant motivational needs from a brand and CX viewpoint is a key component to their success.

Empowerment – is literally written into Zoom’s vision statement. Zoom has enabled millions of workers, friends and families to take control, stay connected and avoid being restricted in the shadow of lockdowns, home office and schooling. Thought has also been put into CX design, especially considering a large inflow of new less experienced users during this period. For example, you are not forced to download the software or sign up to participate in a meeting.

Belonging – for those motivated by the need to feel Belonging on their COVID-19 Journey and needing more emotional support. Zoom obviously delivers on the desire to reconnect groups of Australians, however simple belonging features within the application itself – the ‘Brady Bunch view’ further delivers on this need.

We see other current examples that tap into delivering on empowerment. The recent Good to Go campaign by the Queensland Government gives an implied permission to break the shackles and avoid feeling trapped and restricted. American Express recognises the significant financial concerns of customers, especially small businesses, and is redirecting advertising expenditures to customer service and digital experiences that can be considered empowerment tools.

Deliveroo has been a prominent enabler of fast-tracking restaurant providers with limited or no online delivery competencies into this essential space through coaching, tips and financial incentives. Again, empowerment in action.

These emotional needs also need to infuse CX activity. It is vitally important that brand messaging is supported by the actual customer experience delivered. The airline sector is rallying themselves to empower Australians to break their shackles and travel again with well-considered messaging and incentives (including no fee flexible changes), however, we need to feel ‘safe’ in our flying experience. Qantas, among others, is addressing this through ‘Fly Well Packs’, containing sanitiser and face masks. In a recent email to customers entitled ‘Our Europe with confidence pledge’, EasyJet has promised to look after customer wellbeing within the flying experience.

The net result of these alignments of brand messaging and experiences with customers motivational needs is a boost in emotional connections that reinforces the value of the brand or organisation providing them, and this is likely to endure after the pandemic crisis abates.

Australians are grieving right now and by understanding where they are in this process and what are the dominant motivational needs for that stage, we can design Brand and CX Strategies that truly build bonds with our customers.

Elisa Adams is the CEO of Sprout.

Photo by Jude Beck on Unsplash.


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