In marketing, it is critical to understand the difference between the needs and wants of the target audience. Consumer needs are essential for business sustainability, while consumer wants provide important marketplace differentiation for the business itself.
Understanding needs vs. wants in marketing
Many businesses sell products or services that satisfy basic human requirements. Cars are one such example since most consumers have a fundamental need for transportation. Companies that sell food, drink, safety, or shelter-based needs also fall under this umbrella. What’s more, they have become highly skilled at extolling the rational and logical benefits of their products to drive sales.
For the most part however, consumers tend to purchase on emotion. In other words, they purchase according to wants. The consumer looking for a new car might want a five-star safety rating, metallic paint, and an automatic transmission. What they need are four wheels and an engine. In a market where every new car satisfies these needs, consumer wants provide an important point of difference in marketing strategies.
For businesses and their marketing teams, understanding the difference between needs and wants is important. Needs represent basic requirements, functions, or features consumers expect to be satisfied. Wants, as we have already discussed, are points of differentiation and are generally not essential to human survival. If used correctly, however, they can turn a satisfied customer into a loyal and devoted follower.
Determining consumer wants
Marketing to consumer wants means first determining what they are.
Businesses with existing products can simply ask their customers why they purchase from them. Why do they want the product? What does it do for them beyond functionality?
When determining wants, emotional triggers are a good place to start.
The car buyer looking for an automatic transmission may want a simpler way to drive in peak hour traffic. Their emotional trigger might stem from feelings of relief and comfort.
The car buyer looking for a five-star safety rating may want peace of mind for their young family. Here, the emotional triggers may be security, contentment, or even fear.
The car buyer looking for metallic paint may want a modern look that does not fade as quickly as other types of paint. They want to feel satisfied, proud, and happy.
A sometimes overlooked aspect of needs and wants in marketing are demands.
Essentially, wants turn into demands when a consumer has the financial means to purchase a want. Many consumers want a luxury 100-foot yacht, but few could afford the asking price. Nevertheless, yacht companies have responded to the demands of the ultra-rich and made them available for sale.
Demands, like needs and wants, will vary according to the target audience. Demands will also be influenced by societal and cultural norms and market conditions. As a result, marketing teams must craft campaigns that reflect an understanding of who the customer is and what they are willing (or able) to pay for.
- In marketing, consumer needs are basic functions or features they expect to be satisfied. Purchases based on consumer needs tend to be logical and rational and represent elements critical to human survival or functioning.
- Consumer wants are features non-essential to product function that provide businesses with market differentiation. These purchases tend to be based on positive or negative emotions.
- Consumer demands are wants a consumer has the financial means to purchase. Effective marketing campaigns must consider the wants of an individual buyer and whether they can afford to pay for them. Ultimately, this has important implications for product viability.