- Social media profiles (and reputation). Check!
- Laws and regulations. Check!
- Porter and his forces; suppliers, buyers, and the competition. Check, check, check!
This, however, is just the beginning and there is still work to do, before quitting your day job, my friend. What you now need to do is crucial: focus on what you’re selling.
You may be thinking, “What the heck is she smoking? Of course, I know what I’m selling!” But do you? When you have your own skin in the game, it’s not always easy to see things in a clear light, and so many small businesses have suffered because of this. They don’t know what they’re selling, and, as a result, who they need to be selling it to to actually sell it.
Let’s break it down a bit. Your goal is to sell a good or service to a customer. Customers are humans. Humans, moreover, buy three types of goods and services—at the base level of which are needs. Humans are needy—that’s all there is to it. Needs are not something any one person (or organization) creates or invents; they are just there, and they are required for our survival.
We need food and water to stay alive; these are basic physical needs. It doesn’t stop there, though; human needs are much more complicated. Abraham Maslow, a US psychologist, claimed that we all act how we do (or buy what we buy) because of a hierarchy of priorities we intrinsically have—a checklist if you will. His human motivation theory allows us to break these priorities up into categories, to see where our new business venture and products fits in. Don’t forget, we’re trying to sell them!
1) Physical: Obviously, oxygen, food, water, and shelter come first as physical needs. But we need to be more creative than that. Physical needs also include procreation and death. Companies that manufacture pregnancy tests—or coffins—know this and they all capitalize on these physical needs. The reason is simple; these needs will never stop existing, and the company will (fingers crossed) never go out of business, so long as they make the right moves.
Yet most Westerners don’t even want to discuss these things with friends and family, let alone advertise goods or services relating to these needs. So does your market offer fall somewhere along the ‘birth-to-death’ timeline in any way, shape, or form? Take your time thinking about this. On the one hand, you’ll have to get comfortable talking about—and marketing—goods and services considered either unpleasant or awkward to discuss. On the other hand, you’re in luck—you’ll never go out of style!
2) Safety: Once our bellies are full and we have a roof over our head, most of us tend to prioritize safety. That is, we try to ensure our bellies remain full and that the roof over our head doesn’t (somehow) disappear or cave in. Think about this from a bird’s eye perspective. “Safety” doesn’t by default imply or refer to armoured trucks and fortified castles—although it certainly does if you’re a fan of Dwayne Johnson! Personal protection goods and services, such as weapons or PPE, fall under this category, but so do medical alarms and safety trackers for children and the elderly, and various insurance coverages for our homes, vehicles, businesses, and lives. Yet, it’s not just about getting physical. If your good or service has to do with any form of job security, health and wellbeing, or environmental concerns, you fall under this umbrella too. Safety-related categories include:
- Physical safety, including that of the mind, body, and overall quality of life.
- Shelter safety, such as interior and exterior security systems in our homes, occupational health and safety measures in the workplace, and safe municipal evacuation measures.
- Secondary safety measures, such as security features on the gazillions of smart gadgets we all now own, or the ones our vehicles are equipped with.
- Security services, there to keep us safe both in the event of a national disaster as well as through private services, such as bodyguards and security agencies.
You get the idea. If your wares fall under any of these categories, you make sure that everyone stays safe!
3) Love: As the saying goes, “Why can’t we all just get along?” All humans want to, somehow, belong somewhere: a group, a club, a unit, somewhere. We have social needs, required for our psychological and perceptual survival, no matter how introverted you think you are.
If you don’t believe me, just look at what happened to Tom Hanks and his volleyball, Wilson. Wanting to belong to a ‘group’ or ‘club’ doesn’t translate to the need to belong to a soccer team, a debate club, or an elite exclusive private club for the affluent. It means we want to fit in somewhere—anywhere. This could be the longing to be part of a family unit, a group of friends, a team of coworkers, heck, even a street gang! So how do you cater to ‘belongingness’? Any good or service related to social activities, will do. Think of family get-togethers; in-person and/or social networking events; products and services that promote togetherness, such as matrimonial services; religious gatherings; and so on. The market offerings really are endless once you get the idea and start brainstorming.
4) Esteem: Maslow’s esteem needs are divided into two camps. One camp relates to the need for respect from others, while the other camp relates to the need for respecting ourselves. Respect from others often takes multiple forms; status, recognition, fame, and attention all fall under this category. The other ‘esteem camp’—self-respect—can include a need for competence, mastery, self-confidence, independence, and so on. So, how do goods and services cater to our search for esteem?
Some people seek status, fame, and recognition through their lifestyles. Think luxury vehicles, expensive jewelry, lavish homes, and the latest fashions. Others seek esteem through professional or academic recognition and accolades. Yet, still others prefer more subtle methods. AU students, for example, may try to fulfill the need for esteem through mastery of a subject, or attainment of a certificate or degree. Let’s all be honest; we just want to feel good about ourselves. If you and your product cater to this human need, figure out ways to make your customer feel better about themselves than the competition does.
5) Self-actualization: This one’s a tough one. The Oxford English Dictionary defines self-actualization as “Realization or fulfilment of one’s true nature or ideal self, esp. regarded as a human need.” In fear of sounding like a Gillette commercial, this one has to do with our need to be the best that we can be.
We may not all aspire to reach Gautam Buddha’s level of enlightenment, however we do all have a form of internal motivation in at least one area of our lives. This might be an area we haven’t considered, may think of as trivial, or just go through the motions of as part of our everyday. We want to be the best parent we can be, the best student we can be, the best pianist we can be, and so on.
And don’t forget about serving others. We all know how Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., for example, achieved their best selves by trying to create a better society. Therefore, any good or service that caters to helping others fulfill their goals, improve their skills, or motivates them along their journey towards personal growth, belongs in this bucket.
These products or services don’t have to be motivational or enlightening themselves. Self-actualization manifests for some through the arts, for example; people seek their ‘ideal selves’ through creative mediums, such as dance, music, and creating works of art. As such, your product may simply be a paintbrush or a piece of coal, or you may offer dance classes during the weekend. Thus, the question lies in how your dance classes or your lumps of coal help others be better versions of themselves.
As is apparent, needs aren’t simple at all. We usually know that what we need doesn’t always coincide with what we want. Adults are also great at distinguishing between what we need to buy versus what we don’t—regardless of the choices we make.
But, when it comes to recognizing a pure need, things are a little bit more complicated. Thankfully, Abraham Maslow simplified this for us and already did the homework. It does, of course, get more complicated than this. If you want to find out more about Mr. Maslow, MKTG 396 and MKTG 406 both do a swell job at prepping you for that corporate gig. In the meantime, your homework assignment for now is to determine what need your business is truthfully catering to, rather than what you thought it was, and how to make your customers needier!