Successful Marketing Requires Understanding Your Customer’s Wants and Needs
At the end of the day, the basic customer’s wants and needs are the primary driving force for taking action to engage with your brand and buy your products or services. Whenever a need goes unsatisfied, there exists a gap between what a customer desires and what they currently have – whether on a physical or psychological level. This is important to remember for global mass-market organizations, mid-market companies, and small-to-medium-sized businesses because the impact is the same. If a need in a market is unmet, the competition will have an opportunity to gain an advantage when contending for the same customers.
This is where human psychology and behavior come into play, which focuses on the premise that every human has a need. Needs can be a basic physical need critical to our survival, such as food, drink, shelter, and sleep. People also have social and emotional needs that are critical to one’s happiness and mental health, such as belonging, security, esteem, love, and self-fulfillment. Needs are what motivates the behavior of people to make a decision to find a solution, which in many cases is “consumption behavior”. Having needs fulfilled do not come from marketers or social forces; they come from the basic biological and psychological aspects of human existence.
Similar to customers, businesses also have needs that must be satisfied to assure survival and well-being. The driving force behind the needs of an organization is determined by the strategic objectives and the resources required to achieve the objectives, such as capital, equipment, inventory, supplies, or services.
A consumer’s wants usually reflect the desired preferences for specific ways of satisfying a need. Thus, people usually want particular products, brands, or services that satisfy their needs in a specific way. A person is thirsty but wants something sweet, so perhaps they choose a Coke. Someone may need a new car, but they want a pickup truck because they live on a farm (a truck will best fit their needs) but they want Ford because “they’re tough” or perceived a dependable. When considering a B2B organization, a company may need office space, but they want an office with a prestigious address in midtown Manhattan.
Usually, needs are relatively few, but wants are shaped by social influences (celebrity or influencer endorsements), past history (recalls or awesome charitable work), and consumption behavior (the product or service is practical, functional, and effectively solves a problem). It’s important to remember that different people have different wants to satisfy the same need. Everyone needs to keep warm on a cold winter night, but some people want to use a down comforter while some people want to crank up the heat, and others may even want to use an electric blanket.
These differences between the customer’s wants and needs help to shed light on whether or not marketing campaigns and advertising can actually meet people’s wants and needs. Neither a marketing agency nor any other social force can create the physical and emotional aspects of being human. However, marketing and social forces can influence and customer’s wants and needs. A major role of a marketing agency is to help develop and promote products or services by simulating a customer’s specific want for a specific brand that helps them better satisfy one or more of their needs.
Do Customers Always Know What They Want?
Some business owners question whether or not a strong focus on customer needs and wants is always a good thing. It’s been argued that a customer may not always be able to articulate what they need or want. For instance, the smartphone is a good example of how consumers may not know that a product or service is technically possible, however, the need for more convenience always exists.
Akio Morita (late CEO of Sony) once said:
Our plan is to lead the public with new products rather than ask them what kind of products they want. The public does not know what is possible, but we do. So instead of doing a lot of marketing research, we refine our thinking on a product and its use and try to create a market for it by educating and communicating with the public. (1)
In fact, the Chrysler Minivan was developed with little or no market research. (You’re welcome, Karen.) In comparison, the Ford Edsel, New Coke, and McDonald’s Mclean low-fat burger, were all flops that were developed with a lot of customer feedback. (2)
When you think about it, the laws of probability dictate that some new products will succeed and even more will fail, regardless of how much money is invested into market research. Although, we should point out that without fault, critics of customer market research argue that paying too much attention to needs and wants can suppress innovation, leading companies to produce only marginal improvements, or even settling for producing line extensions of products and services that already exist, wrapped up with brand messaging as something different. How then, should business owners and marketers find a balance in this dilemma?
Conduct Market Research
While end-consumers may not always be able to accurately describe what they want, the same usually is not the same for business-to-business customers. In fact, the customer’s wants and needs of a B2B business are generally very clear and easy to understand. Oftentimes, B2B products are developed by the urging of customers and are designed in partnership between vendor and customer.
In contrast, gaining an understanding of consumer markets through research and opportunity analysis should be approached from an R&D perspective. This can be achieved by a conversation (conducted via focus groups, surveys, etc.) about technical concepts that can then be turned into salable products or services. The following is a great example of how we utilized social media to conduct market research for our client, Well Played Board Game Cafe.
A customer focus is critical for business development. It’s important to utilize analytical insights, market experience, and customer inputs to decide what products or services to make, what benefits they will offer to customers, and whether customers will value the benefits – at least enough to make it commercially viable.
The success factor of focusing on the customer often becomes clear when businesses attempt to develop a variety of new product offerings from an already well-established and successful product or technology. (i.e. Crystal Pepsi). In the case of new innovative technology like Augmented Reality, the tech must first be developed into a prototype or product concept before consumers can react and the commercial potential can be determined. In other cases, customers are able to describe the specific benefits they need or want without knowing what is technically feasible.
Customers usually find it easier to express what they don’t like or want about a product or service and what additional benefits they would like from something new. For example, before Apple introduced the iPod (yes, even before the iPhone), very view people knew about the convenience the product provided or were unaware of the possibilities of digital technology. At the time, if you asked a customer if they would buy a product smaller than a Sony Walkman that could store 10,000 songs they could import from their computer without messing with changing CDs and the songs won’t skip we all would say “YES PLEASE!”
Although a strong focus on customers is necessary for developing new innovative products, it also shouldn’t hinder business owners from focusing on satisfying the wants and needs customers are able to articulate by improving current products or services. More importantly, even though organizations can succeed in the short run by ignoring customer desires, incorporating a strong customer focus pays off over time in terms of market share and profit. (3)
1. Quoted in Gary Hamel and C.K. Prahalad, Competing for the Future (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business School Press. 1994)
2. Justin Martin, “Ignore Your Customer”, Fortune, 5/1/1995/ P121-126
3. “The Effect of Market Orientation on Business Profitability,” Journal of Marketing 54 (4/90) p1-18