Brand Experience

Mental health and market research: Creating more empathetic brand experiences

Mental health affects every aspect of our lives and how we behave, whether it’s as employees, consumers, parents, or community members. Find out how to measure mental health and factor it into your experience management program to better support your customers during trying times.

According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, to be effective in any walk of life, people need a baseline level of psychological well-being. Conditions like anxiety and depression, even on a moderate scale, have an impact on consumer behavior, brand perception, and product choices — not to mention the impact they have on our experiences at work.

While emotional distress is nothing new, the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a global mental health crisis, with increases in reported rates of anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts.

It’s important therefore that brands are able to factor this into their decision making, ensuring that as they plan their business strategies and look to find a way forward, they do it in a way that is sensitive to how people feel.

How to measure mental well-being

A simple and proven way of assessing psychological distress is the K6 scale — developed and validated as a screener for serious mental illness.

It acts as a good, all-purpose indicator of whether a person or population is experiencing debilitating psychological distress or is relatively resilient, and can be easily incorporated into your existing research.

It’s a short, six-item scale that can be relatively easily added to any survey instrument, and is freely available for public use. It’s been translated into multiple languages and replicated in local, national and international health studies, providing plenty of benchmarks for understanding consumer and community insights.

The key initial question in the K6 asks respondents to report on a 5-point Likert scale how often in the past 30 days they have experienced one of the following 6 feelings:

  • Depressed
  • Hopeless
  • Restless or fidgety
  • So depressed that nothing could cheer you up
  • That everything was an effort
  • Worthless

That initial question is followed by others that ask:

  • If any of these feelings were felt more often, less often, or about the same as usual
  • Whether the feelings impaired normal work hours or activities
  • The number of days where normal productivity was reduced
  • How often the respondent saw a doctor for these feelings
  • Whether the feelings were caused by physical conditions

Adding even just the first two questions of the K6 scale can provide a basic understanding of consumers’ mental health status to factor into your decision making.

You can add them to ongoing brand trackers, attitudes and usage studies, concept tests, and advertising or message tests with minimal additional burden on your respondents.

How to turn mental health data into action

Previous disasters like the 2004 tsunami, the 9/11 attacks, and the 2008 global recession were all associated with declines in mental health in affected populations.

By evaluating the mental well-being of target market populations, you can better position your brand to care for your customers and boost brand trust in the process.

Timely information on the psychological distress of your customers can help answer both strategic and tactical questions, such as:

  • Do your products resonate in times of increased anxiety?
  • Is your market in the right mental state to absorb your messaging or to buy the products or solutions your company offers?
  • Should your advertising prioritize lower-order needs (security) or higher-order needs (ego/status, self-actualization)?
  • Does brand trustworthiness trump product convenience right now?
  • Should your brand signal “self-care” to consumers and help ease emotional unrest?

Understanding the short- and long-term mental health impact of COVID-19 will help you better understand and care for your customers and potential customers. Taking periodic mental health measures like the K6 will help customize messaging, outreach, and support, and help you understand how long to continue supportive advertising campaigns even after the immediate crisis period has passed.

With these precisely tailored tactics, you can build stronger relationships with your customers.

If you have questions about incorporating mental health assessments into your research programs, our Research Services team can help. You can also find more information on how we’re helping organizations navigate and respond to the unfolding COVID-19 situation at

Upcoming webinar: COVID-19 resilience in market research

Elizabeth Dean // Senior XM Scientist

Elizabeth Dean is a senior experience management (XM) scientist with 20+ years of designing and leading research for commercial, academic, and government customers. Her expertise is in survey and market research design, UX research, brand health, technology adoption and cross-cultural research. She is passionate about designing questionnaires, contact strategies, and experience management tools that reduce respondent burden and simplify the data capture process. Liz has published research in the International Journal of Social Research Methodology, Military Psychology, and Social Science Computer Review, and co-edited the book Social Media, Sociality and Survey research, published in 2013 by Wiley Press.

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