Henry Ford famously said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said ‘faster horses’.”
Ford was thinking about meeting customer needs with a horseless carriage but if he had stopped to ask his customers what they needed, their best answer would have been a modification of something that already existed.
Henry Ford’s comment is funny but it illustrates a very serious problem that many businesses face: There is a difference between customers’ real needs and perceived needs. This is a problem for businesses because people buy things based on their needs. So if they are buying based on perceived needs, they might buy the wrong thing.
As a marketer, how do you address perceived needs versus real needs?
- Sell to the perceived problem. Instead of trying to fight the current and bend the prospect to the marketer’s will, flow with the current by building marketing content around the problem your prospects and customers THINK they have. It will take some creativity to achieve and you need to make sure you can do this ethically but it can be done and it’s a way to position your product or service attractively.
- Position both problems together. In your marketing, try to handle both problems together, linking them in your content to link them in your prospect’s mind. This is sort-of educational and it’s sort-of a branding effort. You want your prospect to think of their perceived problem and the real problem as being closely associated. This can be hard if the perceived problem and the real problem are quite far apart. However, the advantage to this method is that you’ll increase the sense of how dire the situation is and that increases the urgency to buy.
- Position the real problem as being an even bigger threat. Show your prospects how the problem they think they are facing could potentially be eclipsed by an even more serious problem (the real one).
- Educate buyers about the perceived versus real need. Show your prospects that the perceived need they have is not really the need that must be solved. Show them that the real need is the need to be addressed and then connect that real need to the product or service you sell. This option is very challenging for marketers to do because you could run the risk of insulting your prospects. That will annoy prospects and send them off to your competitor who will be all too willing to take their money. Avoid insulting your customers by taking a very neutral, educational tone. Bring in respected experts. Treat both as actual problems but simply highlight the one problem that most people address with your product or service.
(Image credit: Curufin)