Start with Needs and Wants


“The purpose of a business is to create a customer.” – Peter Drucker

So many people start with solutions, and then wonder where the customers are.

It’s the proverbial, “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

The truth is, if all you have is a hammer, then get better at finding nails.  And while you are looking for those nails, get better at expanding your toolbox.

If you want to be a better Entrepreneur or a trend hunter or a product manager or a visionary leader, then start with needs and wants.  It will help you quickly cut through the overwhelm and overload of ideas, trends, and insights to get to the ideas that matter.

Some say the most valuable thing in the world is ideas.  Many others say that coming up with ideas is not the problem.  The problem is execution.  The truth here is that so many ideas fail because they didn’t create a customer or raving fans.  They didn’t address relevant pains, needs, and desired outcomes.  Instead, they solve problems that nobody has or create things that nobody wants (unless it’s free), besides the creator, and that’s how you end up in the mad scientist syndrome.  Or, ideas die because they were not presented in a way that speaks to the needs and wants, and so you end up a brilliant, misunderstood genius.

Start Viewing the World Through the Lens of Human Needs and Wants

Here is some good insight and timeless truths on how to find trends that matter and how to create ideas that do, too from the 5 Trends for 2016 report by Trendwatching.com.

Via 5 Trends for 2016:

“Trends emerge as innovators address consumers’ basic needs and wants in novel ways.
As trend watchers, that’s why we look for clusters of innovations which are defining (and redefining) customer expectations.

Start by asking why customers might embrace you using a channel. Next, challenge whether existing channels really satisfy the deep needs and wants of your customers. Could you create any new ones? Finally, imagine entirely new contexts you could leverage (perhaps even those that customers aren’t yet consciously aware of).

As long as the onslaught of technological change continues, we’ll keep shouting this mantra from the rooftops: stop viewing the world through the lens of technology, and start viewing technology through the lens of basic human needs and wants.

Put another way: all those tech trends you’re obsessed with are fine, but can you use them to deliver something people actually want?”

Start with Scenarios to Validate Customer Pains, Needs, and Desired Outcomes

A scenario is simply a story told from the customer’s point of view that explains their situation and what they want to achieve.

They are a great tool for validating ideas, capturing ideas, and sharing ideas.  What makes them so powerful is that they are a story told in the Voice-of-the-Customer (VOC).  The Current State story captures the pains and needs.  The Desired Future State captures the vision of the desired outcomes.  Here is an example:

Current State
As a product manager, I’m struggling to keep up with changing customer behavior and band perception is eroding.  Competition from new market entrants is creating additional challenges as we face new innovations, lower prices, and better overall customer experiences.

Desired Future State
By tapping into the vast amounts of information from social media, we gain deep customer insight.  We find new opportunities to better understand customer preferences and perceptions of the brand.  We combine social data with internal market data to gain deeper insights into brand awareness and profitable customer segments.  Employees are better able to share ideas, connect with each other, connect with customers, and connect with partners to bring new ideas to market.  We are able to pair up with the key influencers in social media to help reshape the story and perception of our brand.

Customer Wants and Needs are the Breeding Ground of Innovation

Makes total sense right?   But how often do you see anybody ever do this?  That’s the real gap.

Instead, we see hammers not even looking for nails, but trying to sell hammers.

But maybe people want drills?  No, they don’t want to by drills or drill-bits.  They want to buy holes.  And when you create that kind of clarity, you start to get resourceful and you can create ideas and solutions in a way that’s connected to what actually counts.

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Comments (1)

  1. Adrian says:

    Maybe people start with the solution because the respective solution addressed first a problem they had, and then they thought how to make money out of it. The invention/creation process starts often like that. Addressing customers’ requests is often a matter of compromising between several characteristics/functionalities, that maybe quite often don’t make sense together.

    What I personally have to impute to many products is the lack of customer focus. Quite often designers focus on what customers might want rather than asking customers what they want. On the other side also this approach isn’t bulletproof, as customers sometimes don’t know what they want until they see it. Probably the process needs to be split into two, first come with a product showing customers what’s possible (part of prototyping phase), then ask customers what would make or not sense for them, and in the end come with a product that it’s more customer-oriented. Software industry kind of started to use this approach, though many other industries just ignore it or have done little in this direction.

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