Know Your Customer’s Need

17 Apr 2017
Billal Farhat

The Issue

Open any publicly traded company’s annual report and what do you find? Right near the top will be a statement to the effect of “the needs and preferences of consumers evolve and change over time.” Each company realizes that we have to understand our customers‘ changing preferences—and create products that meet those needs.

There is significant investment made in the research and development of any new product. If we do not understand consumer needs, we risk losing the initial investment.

Brands now seek a marketing platform and technology that helps identify those needs to reduce the risk of producing the wrong product. Brands used to seek marketing and advertising that generated needs, or brought needs to life—but today things are different.

The most important, and I mean THE most important mission, for any business is to know what consumers want to buy next.

The questions that brands want to resolve:

  • What makes a customer?
  • What makes a repeat customer?
  • What makes a loyal customer?
  • What makes a happy customer?
  • What can turn a passive consumer into a customer?
  • What can turn a customer into a fan?

Needs vs. Wants vs. Desires

What you need, what you want, and what you desire: We can place any purchase into one of these three categories.

For example, I like the new Caterpillar work boots. They are stylish, rugged enough to be worn every day, and they go well with several pairs of jeans I own. How would you classify this purchase? It is a want. I may not really need to make the purchase because I do not work in construction; however, I want the boots.

The boots and shoes I have in the closet work well enough. So new work boots are not a need. But what is the difference between a want and a desire?

Work boots are not a desire for me simply because I can afford them right now. I can pick them up at will.

desire has a longer time frame: I long for something that is out of reach—usually because it has a cost that is out of my economic range.

I desire to have a 1968 Mustang Fastback, but for several reasons it is not on the short-term agenda; it is a desire of mine.

However, if I am a construction worker who needs a boot that protects, fits well, and is going to last, then the same purchase is a need rather than a want.

Regardless of the purchase type—need or want or desire—the customer has criteria that must be met.

A brand may have initially set itself up to service the needs of construction workers but now find itself with the opportunity of a new type of consumer and a new market (with wants or desires—or simply different needs). However, the brand must:

  1. notice this by listening to its existing customers and its potential customers about needs, wants, and desires; and
  2. respond to those new needs, wants, and desires quickly.

The Difference

How does the brand know how the product is being used? In our example, clothing and fashion, consumer use changes often and quickly. In the case of a work boot for construction workers, it must be created with current technology and be durable, flexible, and protective—these are the needs of the original market. Technology supersedes fashion statement.

If the brand can then repurpose the materials for fashion as consumers’ wants and desires arise, they’ve got a new market to expand into.

However, what these customers want today is not what they are going to want in six months—or six weeks, in some industries!

Communication Goes Two Ways

How do you keep up with consumers’ changing preferences? In the B2B world, businesses have regular meetings with their customers to keep communication channels open and to stay receptive to requests. In the B2C world, customers are scattered and more obviously prone to leave for the next best thing. (In the case of fashion and many other industries, trends and influencers can play havoc with the changing wants and desires of consumers.)

In some ways, the same is true with B2B. Brands must keep an open channel of communication and be receptive—and communicate back to the consumer that they are listening and what they are doing about it.

This second part is important: Customers need to know that brands are actively listening, not just passively eavesdropping. Social listening tools don’t offer enough responsiveness in real time with recognition of customers’ individual and aggregate changing preferences. There are more cost-effective (and relationship-effective!) ways to communicate.

Brands must also be aware that a consumer’s needs and preferences in New England are not the same as those in Arizona, Florida, or France. Build flexibility into your plan to keep up with the consumer.

Be Available to Align

Accessibility is the reason we love mobile devices. Whichever way your brand tackles the opportunity of communicating with the consumer, it should be accessible from many angles. On the other end, from the your internal stakeholders’ point of view, the result—the message—should be in a single location and accessible to everyone in the brand. That data should also be easily shareable across teams.

Good information across the brand will help align resources to meet the consumers’ need. That is really what it is all about: aligning resources in order to create products that meet the needs, wants, and desires of the consumer.

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