Discovering Needs: The First Challenge for Research


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There is clear continuum that consumer research must address in order to be effective.

Consumers buy products because they need them, e.g., an inexpensive Chevy simply to go back and forth. Because they want them, e.g., a Ford Mini-Van for the space it gives the family. Because they wish for them, e.g., a Porsche which they consider a symbol of automobile perfection. Because they desire them, e.g., a Mercedes-Benz that makes a strong statement about success. Because of emotion, a PT Cruiser that harkens to the youthfulness associated with just cruising around.

What marketers must first address in order for their research to have meaning is how they perform in the area of needs. By not performing in an acceptable manner on the basics of their business, it’s a waste of money to make promises in the other areas.

Ask yourself if your products or services satisfy the needs of quality, variety, service and the prices you change versus the value that you give ? If you don’t know or aren’t sure, don’t blast ahead making statements in areas of wants, wishes, desires and emotions. While you might initially attract business, you would quickly lose that business because you aren’t performing well at the basics.

Unless you like losing money, there is no point spending on getting customers if you can’t keep them? And clearly, if you aren’t keeping the customers you’re getting beyond one purchase, you’re probably not focusing enough on satisfying the basics of the business that you’re in.

Conduct research that uncovers the essential needs customers expect when doing business with you and then measure how you perform. If you can measure yourself against competition, all the better. Once you’re at acceptable levels, we can talk wants, wishes, desires and emotions that attract incremental business and keep it.

Bob Kaden
The Kaden Co.
Bob Kaden is the author of Guerrilla Marketing Research and president of The Kaden Company, a marketing research consultancy that works with clients in planning and applying research to make more money. He is a frequent lecturer and trainer in the areas of creativity and marketing research processes.


  1. Bob

    I spent a many years teaching marketing and for the first twenty I claimed that marketers don’t create needs. I believed that we create wants or desires. Needs, I said, are biogenic or psychogenic, and they pre-exist marketing influence. There are several lists or hierarchies of needs, the best known to Westerners being being Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy. But the more I read and thought, the less sense this made. When you or I claim that we cannot create needs we are basing that assertion on a psychological frame of reference for our definition of need. Clearly, as psychologists tell us, needs pre-exist marketing influence.

    But wait. What if we locate the term ‘need’ in a different discourse? What if we give it an anthropological or sociological frame-of-reference? We can then define ‘need’ differently. A need becomes a requirement for a particular cultural or social life. Adam Smith, the founder of economics, recognised this in 1776 when he wrote that shoes were a necessity in England for both men and women, but that in Scotland only men needed them.

    When you define needs as the requirements of a particular cultural or social life, then it becomes clear that marketers do indeed create needs. I need a mobile phone to conduct business, my son needs a skateboard, my daughter needs a bicycle and my wife needs chickens in the yard. By these goods we demonstrate that we are authentically engaged in a particular social or cultural life.

    I was wrong for 20 years. Marketers do create needs.

    Francis Buttle


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