Understanding customers’ needs and desires

Businesses exist to offer products or services that solve customers’ problems, needs, and desires.

Some basic human needs are obvious: every person on the planet needs food, water, clothing, and shelter, for example.

Beyond these basic, urgent needs, humans have many other needs and desires that, while they may not be life-or-death matters, still very much exist. And people are often willing to pay for products and services that will satisfy these needs and desires.

For example, how do we explain the fact that some businesses provide products like movies or video games? What kind of a “need” or “problem” are these kinds of products addressing? Well, in these cases, we can say that people have the need to relax, the need to be entertained, or the need to have things to do to keep them from being bored. And movies and video games are things that some people choose to buy to help satisfy those needs.

Keep in mind that for any particular need or desire or problem, there may be a very wide range of solutions that could satisfy it. Take the problem of needing food, for instance. Some people may either only be able to afford very simple staple foods, or they may be quite content with them. But other people will be able to afford and will have tastes for more elaborate, exotic, and expensive cuisine. And food could be purchased in a store and prepared at home, or food could be consumed at a restaurant. Likewise, for clothing, housing, entertainment, transportation, getting the news, and so on, there are similarly very wide ranges of options.

Generally all of those needs and desires can or must be satisfied through products and services which businesses (such as yours) deliver. And in virtually any marketplace you look at, there is room for innovation or differentiation to appeal to the different segments of the market (such as for high-end or low-end food).

One popular framework for understanding the different types of human needs and motivations is Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, often taught in psychology and business management classes.

The framework includes several levels or classifications of needs, with the first level, physiological needs, being the most fundamental, and with each subsequent level building upon the previous levels. There is some debate as to whether this is an accurate or complete model. However, simply looking at this framework and pondering the levels might help give you some ideas for human needs, problems, and desires that your business could help serve.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:

1.  Physiological

  • food, water, air
  • clothing
  • shelter

2.  Safety

  • personal physical safety
  • economic stability and financial security (e.g., getting and keeping a job or otherwise earning an income)
  • health and well-being

3.  “Belongingness and love”

  • Friendship
  • Love (to love and to be loved by others)
  • Intimacy
  • Family
  • Belonging and being accepted in social groups

4.  Esteem

  • Self-esteem
  • Self-respect
  • Self-confidence
  • Earning respect and recognition from others
  • Status, prestige
  • Fame, attention

5.  Self-actualization

  • Achieving and accomplishing one’s full potential
  • Self-improvement; becoming the best person one can be

6.  Self-transcendence

  • Spirituality, enlightenment
  • Altruism, helping others

Products and services as pain relief for customers

Rather than try to brainstorm completely novel business ideas out of thin air, and then hope that customers would buy, it’s usually more productive to work the other way around, and try to find problems that customers (people or businesses) are struggling with, and which they would be willing to pay to have solved. Then you can design and market products or services to solve those problems.

Customers will buy a product or service in order to fulfill some specific need.

Think of it this way: Imagine a customer has some kind of pain. If the pain is urgent enough, the customer will gladly spend money on a product or service to make that pain go away, as long as the pain of parting with the money is more than counterbalanced by the relief of the pain that the product or service is able to achieve.

For example, if a customer is hungry, she will probably be willing to pay for food or a restaurant meal to relieve the hunger. If she is bored, a book, a movie, an amusement park ride, or some other entertainment option could solve the pain of boredom. If a customer is feeling pain from the perception that she does not appear successful or cool enough to others, then fancier clothing or an expensive car might relieve her perceived pain.

It is important to understand what the customers’ needs are — what exactly the pain is — so the product or service can be designed to specifically address those needs and relieve the pain.

Similarly, all marketing of a product or service should center around demonstrating how the product or service will fulfill the customer’s needs and relieve the customer’s pain.