Marketing to Wants – Selling to Needs

want or needWhen your teenage kid “needs” those $200 jeans… is it true? There’s a world of difference between wanting and needing. In this commercial-riddled world of ours, knowing the distinction helps you be a better business person and a more savvy consumer – and perhaps a better parent(?).

I said there is a world of difference, so what is the difference between needs and wants?

At the most basic level, people who “need” something are facing some kind of void or lack of something that is a necessity.

A need can be highly compelling and urgent, like when you have a broken transmission or a flat tire. The car simply will not go. A repair or replacement is a necessity. An easy sell for the local garage.

But did you spot the “or” in sentence – a repair or replacement? That’s where the “want” comes in. The moment there is a choice of some kind, both the purchaser and the seller have more work to do.

The job of the seller here is to make the choice easy for the consumer. In other words, the seller’s job is to market a solution to the consumer.

Many a business dealing in necessities is successful with little or no marketing budget. A good placement on Google local search will usually do the trick.  Someone has a need, locates the solution and buys it.

But if the seller has competition, we flip to needing marketing again, because the seller’s job is now to guide the consumer’s choice toward his or her option. it must be “better” in some way: faster, cheaper, higher quality, simpler, more accessible, or even delivered with a bigger smile.

If you are one of the lucky few who have the only offering around of something people need, you don’t need to read further.

The rest of us have no option but to market what we offer. That means we have to position our products and services to serve the “wants” of our customers and, in most cases, we have to do this in a way that sets us apart from the competition.

To do that effectively, we have to first know a few things. Two basics are:

Who your customer is.

Budweiser was losing sales among the younger beer drinking segment. Their advertising featuring the Clydesdale horses and highlighting the time-honored tradition of the brand just wasn’t cutting it with the younger generation.

  • During the 2001 Superbowl, Budweiser launched its completely irreverent “Whaasup!” campaign. The ad they aired featured a family pet being beamed up to a spaceship and then taking off his dogsuit to reveal he is an alien himself.
  • To reassure the staunch following of its traditional customer base, it also ran a typical Clydesdale ad.

The moral of the story is that you have to know your audience because you talk differently to different people if you want to motivate them.

What their want is.

The really important thing here is to know what THEY think their want is and how THEY express it. Saying you’ll make the homely look more attractive is hardly likely to win you customers, even if it is what you do.
If they think their need is to look more professional, you would use a different marketing line than if they see their need as being to get more dates!

  • BMW doesn’t just offer you a nicely engineered luxury car, it markets “the ultimate driving experience”.
  • Years ago, I did focus groups with drivers of 54 different makes and models of cars. In the introductory warmup conversations in all the groups, we asked people to tell us about themselves and what they enjoyed doing.
  • Every single 3 , 5, or 7 Series BMW driver mentioned “going for a drive” as something they enjoyed.This rarely came up among Toyota, Nissan, VW and even Mercedes drivers.

Moral of the story is that they will choose you if you speak to their wants.

Are you selling when you should be marketing?

What exactly are you marketing?

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  1. IkechiIkechi04-21-2015

    Hi Sue

    You really nailed it with this post. There is a huge difference between wants and needs. I agree that when you know who you customer is and what there needs are, then selling becomes easy.

    It is strange that most sales people still don’t understand this concept. Thanks for sharing.

    • Sue HinesSue Hines04-22-2015

      Great that you noticed! Glad the post resonated with you, Ikechi.

  2. Susan CooperSusan Cooper10-21-2014

    There is a huge difference between wanting and needing and if you are trying to influence a purchase based simply on a want, than you better make sure your marketing plan is in line with that. And it’s not just teenagers it pertains to. Do I need that $300 roasting pan or would my dinner taste just as good cooked in a $30 pan? I think we know the answer. So, They need to be able to sell me on why I want it. Unfortunately, they usually do. I’m pretty sure it’s something along the lines of ” it’s the ultimate cooking experience.” Lol
    Susan Cooper recently posted…Uncommon Goods: #Product #ReviewMy Profile

    • Sue HinesSue Hines10-22-2014

      Love your thoughts, Susan. Perhaps the most important is to be aware when your clients are ‘wanting’ vs. ‘needing’. That way you are able to serve them best – and give them the ultimate experience if that’s what they want!

  3. LenieLenie10-17-2014

    I have always shopped separating my needs from my wants but I’ve never thought about it in reverse – selling in terms of needs and wants. Selling to the needs would be much easier – it definitely requires more time and effort to sell to the wants. Great post.
    Lenie recently posted…Mammogram – Do You Know The Facts?My Profile

    • Sue HinesSue Hines10-17-2014

      Thanks, Lenie. It does put a new spin on things, doesn’t it? Sounds like you are a savvy shopper, though!

  4. Jacqueline GumJacqueline Gum10-16-2014

    While I have always found this to be the case in my sales career, I’m still amazed how many folks don’t really “listen” to the wants of their customers. This is so spot on Sue….know your customer first, then address what they want next. There is no such thin as one size fits all, right?
    Jacqueline Gum recently posted…Free To Be Me… Where’s The Justice?My Profile

    • Sue HinesSue Hines10-16-2014

      Right, one size fits all fits no-one well.

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