Maslow’s Coronavirus Hierarchy Of Needs

Marketing in optical has evolved considerably over the last 75 years. Where eye exams and eyeglasses were once strictly a medical need, marketed as a medical exam and a medical device, we have taken the exam experience and more specifically the purchasing of eyewear a fashion experience with a medical foundation.

In the middle of a world-wide pandemic, where millions of our fellow countrymen and women have lost their jobs, where millions more will in the coming weeks ahead, and where almost every one of us is or should be concerned about reassessing our finances, so too will our customers and patients be reassessing their priorities as well.

It’s time as optical marketers to be looking once again back at our college textbooks at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Abraham Maslow proposed this theory in 1943 in a paper for Psychological Review and in his 1954 book, Motivation and Personality, where he divided human needs and desires into a pyramid, where the first level must be met to move on to the next level.

Being able to focus on an object is a basic safety need. Once one has a roof over their head and food in their stomach, they need a way of continuing those necessities of life which means getting and keeping a job. Being able to see on the job is pretty important. You most certainly don’t want to schedule a surgery with a surgeon who just lost their only pair of eyeglasses. What we provide people on the simplest level is meeting that need for safety. If we can refract accurately and provide our customers with a pair of eyeglasses or contact lenses that allow them to function independently, we’ve met that need. I am not speaking of safety glasses per se, though those too fall in the Safety category. I am speaking on any eyewear that enables the wearer to see and function.

Over the latter part of the 20th century and into the 21st century, most of us have moved our marketing into the Esteem category of needs. We have added colors. We have added shapes. We have added brand names that often reflect that need to belong to a certain group or perceived level of status. Does anyone need XYZ brand of eyeglasses or sunglasses? No. As we all know, however, sometimes peer pressure creates a need. Someone won’t be a part of a group unless they are wearing the right sneakers or the right brand od whatever.

At the same time, we’ve created stories of brands no one has heard of outside of our industry. We say a brand name and our peers all ooooh and aaah. Are those brands any better than the no-name common brands needed to meet the Safety category? No. They are however made of more than likely better materials, more exotic materials, more colorful materials, requiring more work and craftsmanship. These eyeglasses and sunglasses also fall into that Esteem category for those reasons. Both these eyeglasses and sunglasses, as well as those with the in-group brand name, carry a higher price tag. The marketing of these products requires a different approach than the marketing of products that meet the Safety category.

When we emerge from our coronavirus cocoons, whenever we do, whether that is in the next few weeks or even a month from now, we need to relook at how we start marketing again. It would be a mistake to go back to marketing as usual. It would be a mistake to assume everyone is looking for products that fit their need for esteem as we have over the past few decades.

Millions have lost jobs. Most anyone self-employed made little or no money. Even if things get back to what we called normal, which is a HUGE if, over the summer, we will all be reaccessing necessities over esteem, for the time being. Most of us probably won’t be going out and buying a new BMW or a luxury cruise. Like our patients and customers, we will be paying off bills incurred over this time and trying to adapt to a new normal.

This summer will be a time for meeting the safety needs of our patients and customers. Sure, some will have no problem buying those awesome, colorful, handmade eyeglasses resting on your best shelf. Others will want nothing more than the most basic eyeglass or sunglass. We need to keep this in mind when we market. We need to provide what the customer needs and not be in a rush to push our most expensive eyewear to everyone who walks through our doors.

Approach each customer who does with empathy. Many of your customers will have their own Covid-19 experience. Some will have gotten sick. Some will have lost loved ones. At the very least, most will have been impacted economically if nothing else. Market with a light touch. Market with empathy. Market with sympathy. Tread lightly and earn the trust of a timid consumer and the sales that come with that trust.


  1. Totally agree, but consumers will focus even more on the way they consume, what they buy and why? Does it really make sense, is it sustainable, what is it made off and the where? The planet has imposed a pause because of the way we have treated her…it’s time to give back and think twice about what we buy and why? Sustainability is key in our sector! Let’s all be part of the change. Be safe. Francois

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