A reader asks: Does marketing create needs or does it just satisfy needs?
No, marketing does not create needs. Your clients have needs. It’s your job to identify what needs are currently not being satisfied and craft a solution that will meet those needs.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
Psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed a hierarchy of needs back in the 1950s and 60s. Humans are motivated by one or more of the following needs classifications.
- Physiological needs – These needs are fundamental to our survival and include things like food, water, air, shelter, and sleep. We seek out these basic needs above all else. For instance, if we haven’t eaten or slept in days, those basic actions take priority over everything else we might do.
- Safety needs – We need to feel that our lives are not in danger. Here we are concerned with things like staying safe from physical harm, sickness, and having enough money to live.
- Belonging/love needs – This is our desire to feel loved by others. We want to fit in and belong to certain groups so we seek out companionship. If we can’t fulfill such needs, we experience loneliness, depression, and other mental health problems.
- Esteem needs – We need to feel both that others respect us and that we respect ourselves.
- Self-actualization needs – Here, we want to become better than we currently are so we seek ways of growing on a personal or spiritual level. These needs are about harnessing our talents and making the most of the opportunities they provide.
How These Needs Apply To Business
In one way or another, all our products and services address such needs. Entrepreneurs may seek out ways to grow their business because
- They want to achieve economic security
- They fear failure
- They want to gain the respect of peers
- Succeeding in business makes them feel good about themselves
- They want to see what they’re capable of accomplishing
- They want to grow as a person
- They want to use their knowledge/skills to help others succeed
- They want to be true to themselves and their desires and interests
On the other hand, a mid-level manager may be looking to
- Impress his boss
- Gain the respect of his colleagues
- Fix a mistake he made
- Demonstrate his managerial skills in overseeing a project
- Show that he has a lot of creative ideas that can benefit the company
- Cut costs so the company gains financial stability
- Make his job more interesting
- Gain new skills that will make him more marketable in the job hunt
- Pitch his boss for a raise
- Deal with personal problems, so work isn’t a priority right now.
As you can see, many of the needs classifications overlap. And, if someone’s basic needs aren’t met – they can’t make their rent this month or they’re having marital problems or a loved one just died – they may have difficulties focusing on work. People are often juggling their personal and professional needs, so this can be a major problem if it leads to the company’s goals not being met.
On the other hand, if you are offering a complex solution, that usually means that a number of people are involved in the decision making process. For each person involved, it’s up to you to determine which of these needs are motivating them to consider your product or service – Are they enthusiastic about it? Do they even believe the problem is large enough that it merits implementing a solution? Do they feel slighted that their project was labeled a low priority so this project could be pursued?
What About Computers And Fax Machines?
When the first computers hit the market, most companies didn’t buy. They already were doing business a specific way, and these new machines were expensive and difficult to use. Besides, businesses were already used to the paper process. They didn’t see how using a computer could make their lives easier. As computers have become cheaper, easier to use, and more powerful, they’ve become essential to doing business. This doesn’t mean that computers created a new need. They simply addressed the old needs by making processes simpler and faster. Eventually, the marketplace adapted.
Fax machines are similar. When they first came out, no one bought them. No one else had a fax machine, so what was the point in buying one? Over time, as more and more businesses started buying them, fax machines became one essential way to communicate. Did this create a new need? No, but it got documents from one company to another a heck of a lot faster than going through the post office. There are other services – like expedited shipping and email – which also address that need, thus offering people a number of choices.
Marketing’s role in all of this is to look for places where there is a gap between what people need and the types of products and services available. Marketers must experiment with creative solutions that address these needs. Then they must educate prospects about how their products and services will meet these needs better/faster/cheaper than what businesses are currently doing.