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Thinking Beyond Customer Needs

The couple at the cafe order two teas and one cake with two forks. The story the woman has told herself is that they are sharing the cake she ordered. Halving the damage. The guy quietly sips his tea as she slices the cake into squares and begins eating the smaller pieces, picking around the edges of the rest until she’s eaten the lot. The cafe owner might be happy of course, because he’s made a profit by catering to a need. But I don’t think the customer got what she really wanted.

Everyone who ever bought two, (or maybe five) pairs of glasses from Warby Parker knows that they only need one pair every two years, when their prescription runs out. They’re buying more glasses, more often because of the story they can tell themselves about co-ordinating looks.

And the 40% of customer who bought McDonalds milkshakes for breakfast weren’t just satisfying their unmet need, they were fulfilling an unspoken desire for a one-handed snack, that made their commute less boring and tided them over until lunchtime.

What your customer does, not what she thinks, or says she does leaves clues about what she really wants from you. Steve Jobs famously said, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” Maybe the real truth is that people know what they want, they’re just not very good at articulating it.

The most successful brands don’t create products and services just for customer needs. They create for wants, desires, beliefs, behaviours and unexpressed worldviews. The same opportunity is open to you.

Image by Earle Hatsumi.

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