My 8 year-old daughter came to me recently with an urgent request …
“Dad,” she said, “I need an iPad mini.”
While I would usually dismiss this request as the cravings of a child who watches too much TV (see: is exposed to too much advertising), my interest was piqued and I asked her to explain.
She made a case for the myriad educational applications available to her on this magical device.
She argued for the convenience that would allow her to learn at all times of the day, and at different locations.
But it was her closing argument that tipped my decision in her favor.
“Dad,” she coyly stated, “don’t you want me to be a good student?”
It was through this — albeit expensive — exercise, that I started to wonder, how is it that an 8 year-old had mastered the art of persuasion, when so many professional marketers fail?
The answer, it turns out, is that she’d already figured out what people (in other words me) actually want to buy.
Need versus want
Back in college, my marketing professor walked us through Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The professor’s point was that the role of marketing was to fulfill these needs.
There’s no question that humans need things like water, food, security, and friends.
But the choices that we make are often driven more by what we want than by true unmet needs.
Put another way, most of us have everything that we need to live. But what we want is a much more powerful motivation.
And, in my estimation, what we want boils down to just five basic things …
Life can be hard, or at the least, inconvenient. When a product or service is offered that makes things easier, we’re often quick to respond.
Ideals like simplicity, a convenient location, and time-saving tap into our desire to make the travails of life a little simpler.
Sure, I can walk to work, but I want a car.
Of course I could cook dinner, but I don’t have the time and I want to eat out.
Ease is a powerful want, and while we can rationalize it as a need, the simple fact is that we crave things that make life easier.
2. Physical comfort
Sometimes we just want to feel good.
A warm towel after a shower or a plush pair of house slippers is sometimes the perfect solution when the body wants comfort.
In reality, the human body is perfectly capable of handling very tough environmental conditions. But try rationalizing that to your brain after a long day at the computer — a most strenuous exercise to be sure.
Physical comfort manifests itself as a perceived “need” as a way of indulging our ego.
A hotel’s marketing copy that highlights the comfort from the new bedding in each room pushes your want button for physical comfort. It’s a way to reward yourself. You can sleep almost anywhere, but don’t you deserve to feel comfortable?
When you promote physical comfort in your marketing message, you tap into the subconscious reward system we all have that says we “deserve” comfort in response to hard work.
3. Mental stimulation
The brain is a wonderful organ. And we feed our brains on entertainment, games, art shows, and countless hours of Sudoku.
We want things like this so that we can enjoy the wonders of this marvelous world and live life to its fullest.
If this sounds like marketing gobbly-gook, it is. You don’t need any of this to live.
In reality, what you want is something that breaks the monotony of existence — the day-in, day-out struggles that seem redundant and boring.
Can you live sitting in a 6′ by 6′ cell each day? Yes. Would you enjoy it? Probably not.
When we justify mental stimulations as needs, what we’re really saying is that we’re bored and want something, anything, that engages us.
The next time your friend tells you that you “need” to see a certain movie or read a certain book, your desire to engage in these activities has more to do with your general level of boredom than with the merits of your friend’s argument.
4. Identity reinforcement
Don’t you love New Year’s resolutions? That annual fantasy fest where we manifest our inadequacies into a myriad of tangible wishes that we seem so woefully unprepared to fulfill?
Don’t worry — you are not the only one who has broken a resolution made in a drunken stupor on Times Square. (That wasn’t just me, right?)
But the reason you made your resolution in the first place has everything to do with your desired public image.
Think about it this way: why do you wear the clothes you have on? Why are you driving that car, or using that computer, or maintaining ten recycling bins in your house?
You need to wear something … but what you really want is to reinforce the image you have of yourself.
Almost all forms of marketing that involve fashion, cars, and even “green” products are focused on the underlying ideal that if you are person X then product Y is what you “need.”
These products are a status symbol. A statement of our identity — who we are.
Are you an athlete? Well, Nike is worn by the pros. Are you rich? Well, then a Mercedes is what you drive. Are you the CEO of the next killer technology company? We have a hoodie just for you.
Make no mistake, the way we perceive our identity is so powerful that we will buy products even when reality is contrary to that perception. Anyone that has ever gone into deep debt to buy a fancy car will attest to this — subconsciously of course.
5. Social acknowledgement
Of course, our perceived image does not live in a vacuum — we also desperately want others to acknowledge it.
One of my favorite sayings goes like this, “I am not what I think I am. I am not what you think I am. I am what I think you think I am.”
In other words, our perception of self is based on our perception of how others perceive us.
How do I know this? Well, I’m smart. Want to know why? I have a piece of paper from a college that says so … it’s called a diploma. They don’t give that to dumb people (or so I told myself after racking up more than $80,000 in college debt).
And besides, I look great. How do I know? My trainer tells me I look like I’m making progress.
So you see, I’m smart and good-looking — and this is why I needed to go to college and get a trainer.
Circular logic? Of course it is, and that’s the point.
Our need to actualize our perceived self is based on the acknowledgement of others … and as consumers, we will spend a lot of time, money, and resources to chase that acknowledgement.
So the next time you look at your CV on LinkedIn or the About Page on your blog, realize that all of that effort was spent so that others would acknowledge your accomplishments designed to re-enforce your own self-image.
Forget what I need and sell me what I want
Regardless of how we rationalize a purchase, the truth is that we’re buying goods and services to fulfill something that we want.
You often hear the advice to “sell the benefits, not the features.” And while this is true, it’s a good idea to make sure some of those benefits meet one or more of the five wants I’ve listed above.
Do you need a better blog? Then buy a theme from StudioPress — more than 86,000 of the smartest and most successful bloggers use it.
Do you need a better way to convert visitors? Then buy Premise — it takes the pain and inconvenience out of digital sales and lead generation.
Starting to see a pattern?
Focusing more on what people want and less on what they need is about giving your customers what they’re actually interested in. And you need (and want) to do that before they’ll part with their time and money.
And this was how my daughter was able to persuade me into buying her a $300 device — something she clearly didn’t need when generations of students before her have survived (and thrived) without one.
How about you?
Is your marketing based on customer needs or wants? Let us know about it in the comments.