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  Jean-Claude Saade Needs Well Met
by Jean-Claude Saade
August 14, 2006

Like any discipline, marketing has revisited and focused its core concepts over time for more relevance. But for those who still believe that one of the roles of marketing disciplines is to “create needs,” let me tell you about an interesting marketing phenomenon.

The Myth of Creating Needs
Many years back at university, we learned that the key role of marketing and marketing disciplines is to identify consumers’ needs and then to satisfy them in the most profitable way. This is still probably one of the clearest definitions of the role of marketing.

Another concept that has tried to infiltrate into marketing teaching is the ability of marketing disciplines to “create new needs,” once marketers come to believe that they are done with the existing ones.

The more we understand the dynamics of brands and their relationship with people, the more this idea looks unreal. On another level, who do we think we are to interfere in people’s lives to create needs to make them buy products and services? And is this possible at all?

The answer to this bogus preaching is that all companies and brands should be able to do is to offer the most relevant possible solution to an existing need and try to answer it in the best possible way. Certain brands would come up with a small or big “plus” or “addition to,” answering specific needs; therefore they will gain a certain competitive edge over the competition.


Needs Well Answered
The best answer to the myth of “creating needs” is to shed the light on a marketing phenomenon that we will call Needs Well Met.

We can witness this remarkable marketing phenomenon whenever we have a deep and intense consumer (human) need that is answered in a relevant and engaging way by a brand or a category. Needs Well Met can build categories and big brands in a considerable way and in a relatively short period of time.

A familiar example that illustrates the Needs Well Met phenomenon can be found in mobile telecommunications.

Those old enough to remember the world before mobile telephony proliferation (just 15 years back) will agree with me that the mobile telecommunications industry is the most visible example of an industry that has had a great impact on people’s lives and the way they communicate with each other.

Watch passengers leaving a plane: everybody switches on their mobile phones then calls or sends an SMS. Look at people in the streets, in shopping malls, in business meetings and casual gatherings. Mobile communication has changed the way people look and behave. With their full mobility gear, including Bluetooth earphones, it appears some of us have landed from a science fiction movie and will be flying back in the next second.

How can we explain the phenomenal success of the mobile communication category and the brands active in it?

In 1992, when GSM started, less than one percent of people globally used a mobile phone. Fifteen years later more than two billion people (or one-third of the world’s population) communicate with mobile devices; these numbers are growing everyday.

Through this relatively short period of time, the meaning and value of mobile communications in people’s minds has constantly grown. At the same time, mobile solutions have deeply influenced people’s qualities of life and business efficiency in both developing and developed countries.

But marketing effort cannot by itself explain the phenomenal acceptance and buy-in that mobile telecommunications enjoys from all people around the world.

With all due respect to technical innovations and the business acumen of the companies, brands and people working in the mobile communication industry, the deep underlying explanation of this big phenomenon is inside the consumer mind alone. This phenomenal success and growth of the mobile telecom sector is a typical Need Well Met case.

This particular need, which is to “stay connected to other people,” is probably one of the most intense that we can come across in life and marketing; but the response from the marketing side through mobile telecommunication was inspired and clever in transforming companies, economies and societies.

Having said that, our key learning from the relationship between needs and marketing is the following: Whenever insightful and proactive marketing comes across deep existing human needs and answers them well, we can experience a phenomenal success of categories and brands.

The example of mobile telecommunication will help us to refresh and confirm our understanding of the role of marketing. Yes, it is about understanding consumers’ existing needs and answering them in an inspiring way. All the rest will follow and in abundance. If you have doubts check the financials of mobile telecom companies and their global ranking in terms of market value.

Different Marketing Paradigm
Having refreshed our memory about the core underlying concept when it comes to brands dealing with customers through marketing, we need to admit that in certain “peripheries” of professional marketing there will always be people trying to “create needs,” to push certain services or products on people.

As more big brands take clear and solid commitments toward people and societies at local and global levels, the way they answer customers’ needs and expectations will reveal what values and marketing paradigms they believe in and follow while doing business.

There will be the marketing paradigm that understands and respects people; always offering better solutions to answer needs and make lives better. On the other side, there will be practitioners of “manipulative marketing.” In between is grey area.

Following the Needs Evolution
The core needs that drive a human being are practically the same across time and geography. Need areas like security, belonging, recognition, authority and sociability will still be driving human behavior in years to come. However, the manifestation of these needs and its implication on people’s behavior and expectations will evolve and vary.

The way these evolving deep needs will be answered is subject to social, cultural and economic parameters and would take a different form from one area to another and from one era to another.

Let us look again at the need for human sociability, which is expressed in the need to connect with each other as individuals and as groups. This need has existed since the beginning of humanity but today’s manifestation is taking a totally different dimension. In our times people are more squeezed for time, and they migrate and travel much more. Therefore staying connected all the time is a bigger challenge than ever. The way mobile telecommunication responds to the “sociability” need has created a positive impact on all involved parties.

The same analogy can happen with other needs and other categories and could drive similar marketing phenomenon in media, automotive, imaging and many others. The core needs remain the same, but their manifestations take an ever-evolving form that reflects the spirit and style of a certain specific culture and era. At the same time, these dynamics will create an ongoing challenge for existing and new businesses and brands to respond to people’s needs in a manner that will be more relevant, more creative and more inspiring every day.

Companies and brands that are planning to be around 10, 20 or 50 years from now have to be aware of the evolving nature of needs and how people and brands can connect together around answering the same evolving human needs. The ability to see through this evolution and keep finding innovative and inspiring consumer offerings will command the success or failure of businesses. In most cases, it will also mean the rise of new brands and new categories that will take need response to a new level and create the next global marketing phenomenon.

   Jean-Claude Saade is a brand strategist living and working in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

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