Corona accelerates people’s search for meaning

A year after we started writing our latest trend report ‘The Search for Meaning’, we live in a world that has drastically changed. Although we’re not sure if we can already use the saying ‘the dust has settled’, living in a world of social distancing and working from home for more than two months has at least led to some clearness in the corona overload. With this headspace arose the question whether the corona crisis would have an impact on people’s need for meaning.

As it turns out, the disruption of the virus and the lockdown are strongly affecting the behavior and needs we identified in the trend report (mental well-being, social ties and transcendence). We will explain why we expect that corona will accelerate the need for meaning and how brands might have a chance to be relevant while people are unlocking.

Mental well-being enables people to live a meaningful life. But already before the corona virus, mental well-being was under pressure and therefore a hot topic. More and more people are aware of the importance of mental well-being, but the corona crisis has reinforced this development. The uncertainty, social isolation and restrictions on our everyday life that are the effect of the corona crisis, have a negative effect on people’s mental health condition. The number of people struggling with mental health issues such as a depression or anxiety has significantly increased as a result of the corona virus. So although the virus is especially known for its direct effect on people’s physical health, it also has a huge impact on people’s mental health.

Luckily, some organizations and brands are already acknowledging the importance of mental well-being and are helping to improve the mental state of their customers. Magazine i-D for example has set its mind to boosting optimism with its “Coronavirus Good News Bulletin”. Social media such as WhatsApp and Twitter are tackling the negativity bias by preventing the spread of misinformation and Spotify is helping people to look after their mind by offering a personalized playlist – ‘Daily Wellness’ – that can help people to find positivity, mindfulness, or peace throughout the day.

Despite the fact that the world is starting to unlock, we don’t expect that this will already lead to a relief of people’s mental pressure. The need for mental well-being will only become more important. Unlocking wil bring a long  a lot of uncertainties, second corona waves are a very lively risk and it is expected that the economy has not hit rock bottom yet. So the the need for mental well-being is accelerating and is putting an increasing pressure on brands to step up.  Requiring them to come with ways to improve the mental well-being of their customers and to provide mental resilience in these uncertain times.

Sticker of a sign telling customer to practice social distancing

It is crucial for a meaningful life that you, as an individual, feel connected to others. It gives you the feeling that you belong and that you are of meaning. But although most people are aware of the importance of this fundamental need, some developments make it difficult to find and strengthen social connections (such as individualization and polarization). And corona has raised the bar. It has become a real challenge, in times of social distancing, to stay connected to family, friends and colleagues. Luckily there are plenty of digital tools that enable social behaviour, but the question remains for how long they can replace face to face contact and a real hug.

One thing we do know, is that there are opportunities (and expectations) for brands to add meaning to their customer’s life by facilitating social connections. For example by  exploring possibilities to create online quality time (like Netflix viewing parties and online shopping consultants). Or, when physical places are slowly starting to open again, by  facilitating real-life connections while keeping the new rules of social distancing in consideration (like the German Burger King does in a playful way with its ‘distance crowns’).

So, now we are starting to unlock, brands might have the chance to strengthen their relationship with its customers if they find ways  to create a sense of belonging. Especially when they are able to tap into the the combination of both online and offline connections, since the ‘unlocking’ leads to new challenges and opportunities. By balancing between the safety guidelines, fundamental need for social connection ánd your brand’s proposition,  brands could accelerate their ambitions.

Last, but definitely not least is the need for transcendence. During a transcendent experience, you feel a connection to something bigger or to others, which enables you to experience meaning. The need for transcendence is growing in today’s crazy times. People experience uncertainty and worry about their finance, their jobs, their health etc. As a result, people want to transcend their concerns more than ever. Unfortunately, they aren’t able to do so like they used to. Festivals are cancelled and musea were closed. But the absence of these sources of transcendence doesn’t mean that people don’t look for new ways to experience transcendence. We see for example and increase in the need for spirituality and religion. Also, the flourishing creativity during the corona crisis leads to new possibilities. For example, cultural organizations are opening their doors online (thanks to virtual tours of e.g. Disneyland and The Louvre) and designers are spreading their work to boost optimism.

The longer the lockdown, the stronger the need for transcendence. So, while everyone is exploring the next phase in the corona crisis characterized by more freedom, now is definitely the time to think about how your brand could facilitate transcendent experiences. For example by using the power of aesthetics and amazements, online and offline.

 “The need for transcendence is growing in today’s crazy times.”

The need for mental well-being, social connections and transcendence are needs many people can relate to during the corona crisis. And since these needs give us an insight in the need for meaning, they show us how present this need for a meaningful life is in the current times of uncertainty.

We too are curious how this need will evolve. Will we go back to the short-term need for happiness as soon as we can to compensate the hours we have spend inside without friends and family? Or have we experienced renewed values that remind us of what is really important in life? The truth will probably be in the middle.

Although we don’t exactly know the long-term effect of the corona crisis on human behaviour, we do know that the need for mental well-being, social ties and transcendence are intrinsic and fundamental needs that seem to be amplified. Find a way to work with these insights in a way that fits with your brand and increase your relevance while people are unlocking from corona.

Picture of the author, Pauline Taks