Wanting Needs

No marketing person has ever created a “need.”

It is an enduring myth that marketing creates needs, which in a moment you will see is simply impossible. Many marketers have found other careers after beating their heads against the wall that separates “need” from “want”, and marketing products in exactly the wrong way. This flat forehead syndrome exists because of myth alone, and it is time to slay it.

wants-needsNeeds are preexisting conditions. As Maslow so painfully noted, there is a stacked list of needs. Yet Maslow was mistaken about the definition of “need” himself, for as you ascend his pyramid, his “needs” become aspirations. Maslow may have maladjusted marketers by creating a false sense of what a need is. Food, water, shelter are personal needs. Accounting and inventory are corporate needs.

“Wants” are a different subject. When new products are created, they are never “needs” at first and thus should not be marketed as such. Take the case of some new enterprise software that adds a plus-one advantage for businesses. At introduction nobody needs this software because the basic needs of enterprises are currently being fulfilled. Yet if the software gives one business an advantage in the market, soon their competitors will develop a need for a similar solution just to remain competitive. For the early adopter there is a want and for the late adopter there is need. Over time, just as vices become habits, all wants evolve into needs – nobody “needed” a television when Farnsworth first foisted his invention on an unsuspecting public, yet everybody now needs a 70” flat screen.

Because needs exist, they must be promoted by marketers with comparative advantages to alternatives. Yet when buyers do not know they want something new, marketers must make people develop desire. Marketing of needs is more mechanical while dealing desires is an art. The former leans more toward the practical while the latter is almost completely devoted to emotional response.

Knowing if you are selling needs or wants is primal and will shape your go-to-market strategy better than your PR firm, ad agency and boss’s dicta combined.


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