Effective Positioning Requires Identifying Customer Needs. Be Sure To Address The Two Different Types
As marketers, we are keenly aware that satisfying customer needs is central to our success. By doing a better job of identifying and fulfilling customer needs, we are poised to grow faster than our competition. Before doing your needs analysis research, be aware that there are actually two types of needs – conscious and subconscious.
In a groundbreaking 1943 paper, Abraham Maslow introduced his classic “Hierarchy of Needs”. This concept is almost universally accepted and is often cited in many discussions on human motivation. Many of us are familiar with Maslow’s pyramid of needs that begins with food/water and culminates with the need for self-actualization (fulfillment).
Maslow’s premise is based on needs that are known to the individual. People know whether they have proper shelter, safety, and personal satisfaction. In other words these are needs that you are well aware of and actively pursue.
Far less known but perhaps more relevant is the concept of “unconscious needs” identified by Clotaire Rapaille. Rapaille argued that the strongest needs of all are driven by the oldest, most primitive parts of the brain. He called it “The Reptilian Brain”. According to Rapaille, this is far more powerful a driver of behavior than conscious needs.
Rapaille has advised myriad large firms (he claims half of the Fortune 100 ) and even governments on the importance of understanding the Reptilian Brain. His approach is pretty far out of reach for most of us. Featured on the PBS show Frontline, one of his tactics is to bring his largest clients (some paying hundreds of thousands of dollars) to his mansion to conduct an intense needs assessment. Through this exercise, Rapaille is striving to identify the emotional connection customers have to their brand of choice.
Implications for Marketers
Customer needs identification is far from an exact science. Many different factors make it challenging. In fact, we may not even be able to trust what customers tell us their needs are. Stated needs are often biased by a number of factors, including the desire to “tell us what we want to hear”. (See related post on Ethnography-Based research).
Given that we can’t always rely on what customers tell us their conscious needs are, how are we supposed to understand the unconscious needs? Certainly it’s not easy to accomplish. Here are a few tactics you may consider to discover unconscious customer needs:
- Broaden your perspective. Purchase choices/behavior on unrelated products or services can provide useful insights. You can ask your customers which cars they drive, clothing brand preferences, entertainment choices, etc. These “companion purchases” can shed light on deep customer needs that they may not perceive as existing. Unfortunately you can’t expect to uncover latent (unconscious) customer needs if you flat out ask them directly.
- Seek to understand the “why behind the what”. You are striving to identify the emotional connection to the brand. One way is to ask key customers why they choose certain brands. A guy who drives a Ford pickup truck so he can use it for hunting/fishing on the weekends has revealed a lot to you about his personality. A different Ford loyalist may say she chose a Ford pickup because her dad worked at a Ford plant for 35 years. Two different people, choosing the exact same brand for entirely different reasons.
- Utilize an “Unfocused-Group” – Sophisticated marketers often shy away from conventional focus groups. Justifiably so, since focus group research is often tainted by participants “telling us what we want to hear“. So flip it around. Instead of asking which product they like, A or B, think of it like a Rorschach (ink blot) test to peer deep into their motivations.
You can ask questions unrelated to your product or service. Questions can be structured like: If you had the opportunity to vacation anywhere without time or expense limitations, where would you go? What would you expect to experience there? If you could have a one on one conversation with any person, living or dead, who would it be? What would you talk about? What would you like to takeaway from the conversation?
The answers to these types of questions can reveal volumes about the personality traits that covertly motivate buying behavior.