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How Can You Understand Human Behavior in a Disrupted World?


June 3, 2021

“The only thing you can count on is change.” ― Patti Smith

As researchers, frameworks are integral tools in helping us better organize information with an eye toward solving the business issues at hand. The right framework can make all the difference; ensuring your research is asking the right questions — and considering all possible influences. When COVID-19 first hit, we were all forced to change our behaviors — consumers and companies alike — and reposition our perspective to accommodate new and emergent obstacles as they arose.

At InsightsNow, our curiosity about this unprecedented and compelling shift in consumption avenues drove us to research and write our eBook, “What Has COVID-19 Taught Us About Consumer Behavior?” To get a handle on how to get to the truths of consumer sentiment, we used a behavioral framework we call the Emotions Insight Wheel™ which we then applied to help us predict what human behavior might look like after the crises has abated. The Emotions Insight Wheel framework allows you to categorize human behavioral motivators into four categories:

  • Functional: Functional motivators are best understood as basic human needs such as health and safety. Behaviors borne of functional motivation are basically done out of self-preservation.

  • Social: Social motivators affect relationships with family and peers, and feelings about self. While functional motivators are done out of some primal physical need, social motivators speak to the need for human contact and interaction and our beliefs on what will please others or ourselves.

  • Sensory: Sensory motivators, in relation to COVID-19 and other events, help people cope with the disruption created by the virus and the societal response to it. These can best be understood, for example, as impacting choices to enhance our comfort while managing through the fear.

  • Psychological: Psychological motivators help people to achieve balance in their lives. Psychological motivators are closely tied to mood, for example, making choices which help alleviate boredom which arises from extended time at home and limited interactions in today’s world.

So what did we discover? During the pandemic, and amidst the associated social upheaval, humans were most focused on functional motivators with brands working to highlight the health and wellness aspects of their products. As the virus started to spread and the public started to learn more about it, roughly a third of our Clean Label Enthusiasts (CLE) research community reported a change in buying behavior. After the initial shock response of the pandemic began to dissipate, we saw a behavioral shift to focus on purchases based on sensory motivators, where consumers sought products that were comfortable and familiar. While consumers may not be quite ready to shift to a new brand, they do express an openness for a variation on a familiar product — a great predictive starting point for where marketers should be positioning themselves down the line. For a deeper dive on the impact of motivators on consumer behavior, check out the eBook, “What Has COVID-19 Taught Us About Consumer Behavior?

In the United States we’ve been presently experiencing behavioral changes related to the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination efforts. This has presented yet another dramatic shift in behaviors and more aspects of human behavior to be curious about. Once again using the behavioral framework of the Emotions Insight Wheel, we looked at motivators while studying what American behaviors were affected by the vaccine rollout. By and large we discovered that, whether Americans decide to get the vaccine or not, feeling safe is the primary concern — and no matter what their stance, the vaccine is dramatically affecting attitudes and behaviors. You can see what we discovered by checking out this infographic, “The COVID-19 Vaccine is Changing our Behavior.

Behavioral frameworks, like these can be used to explore human behavioral change, but they can also be used in application to a variety of business challenges. While we use COVID-19 studies here as an example, these approaches can be used to study purchasing behavior and consumer sentiment for any vertical or application. By thinking about applying frameworks to your next insights project—no matter the topic—you may be able to get closer to human truths that can help you or your clients affect development or marketing changes that will result in success.

About the Author


InsightsNow, an award-winning behavioral research firm, partners with companies across a wide array of industry verticals to accelerate marketing, branding and product development decisions for disruptive innovations achieving a cleaner, healthier world. Insights are provided via custom solutions and assisted DIY tools based on proprietary behavioral frameworks to help find answers faster, improving your speed-to and success-in market.

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