Wants vs. Needs

I probably shouldn’t admit this, but my most profound marketing insight came in one of the most peculiar and unexpected of circumstances. I just laughed with a client this week about how college is about learning, but most of it is outside of the classroom. There’s much truth to that, and while I learned a plethora about the industry in college, my most insightful learning happened during my first grocery shopping trip with my husband. Yes, in the middle of the boxed snacks isle, I had a marketing aha moment that changed how I look at everything. Seriously. No joke.

To best understand that experience, I need to invite you back a few years prior to that unique moment that many newlyweds face. Upon graduating college, I was ready to experience the world and jump start my career! I was close to a freshly printed diploma and it felt like the opportunities awaited. But, after a few job interviews, I found that my pie-in-the-sky dream was available … at a cost. I secured a job. Amazing. But the salary was horrific, especially for a gal who was living on her own.

I sat down with my dad, who always seems to know the right answers to any of my financial questions, and talked about a budget. It was a depressing conversation, really, but I walked away with a focused budget, outlining exactly what I could spend where each month to ensure that I could still pay my mortgage.

Stephanie, why are you telling me about your budget? Seriously?

Good question! I’m not a financial planner and definitely not a budget coach. But I am a marketer and I promise, this story is critically important in the marketing space.

Back to my budget. I don’t remember much around it except when it came to the food category because, for me to live on my own, I had budgeted only $70 to eat for an entire month. Yes, you read that right … $70. That’s it. If I overspent, it would have to come from another budget line item, and honestly, I didn’t have the flexibility for that to even happen.

It’s important to note a few things here. I am a vegetarian, so no meat needed to be purchased. And this was a time before organic foods were a priority or gluten-free options existed. So, I lived on boxed, processed meals for years, and I stayed within my budget. Somehow, someway I did. That is, until my first shopping trip with my husband.

Alright, back to the marketing insights that happened in the isle of my local grocery store.  

We just got back from Jamaica — all tanned and ready to start our new life together — but we needed food so grocery shopping we went. I pushed the cart through the isles rather quickly, focusing on the foods I knew we needed and trying to not be swayed to purchase something I typically wouldn’t.

Then, he threw in the box of brownies. Brownies. BROWNIES. How do you say no to brownies? Now-a-days, I don’t! But you have to remember that back then (over a decade ago now!) I was still in my tight budget mindset. Sure, now we had two incomes to work from, but I had been conditioned to be focused and purposeful. Brownies felt … well … like we were going rogue!

I stopped the cart, to his surprise, and picked up the box, asking him a question that now we truly laugh over.

“Cory,” I began. “Brownies? Seriously? Is this a WANT or a NEED?”

He looked at me like I had sprouted a new head and was probably questioning our recent nuptials. I proceeded to reinforce that if it’s a NEED, then that’s a different story. But merely a WANT, well that would require us to take something from another NEED we had to be able to keep our shopping trip within our budget.

To my surprise, he said so matter-of-factly that brownies were very much a need in our household. That they give us a pick-me-up when a bad day ensues. That there is nothing like the deliciousness of the chocolate melting in your mouth right after pulling them out of the oven. To Cory, my new husband, brownies were totally a need. I may have seen them as a want or a “nice-to-have,” but as with most things in a marriage, it’s important to give and take.

So, how is your business like a box of brownies?

That day at the grocery, a light bulb went off. First, I realized that I needed to chill out some and learn flexibility! Now, after adding three kids to our family, it pains me to admit that I can’t even look at the grocery bill anymore because it will give me heart palpitations. But I also realized that much of how we choose to spend is like that simple ole grocery trip. And knowing that is what can make all the difference.

You see, many people live in a world of wants and needs. Typically, when you think about what you are going to invest your income toward each month — how you will budget, per se — you likely think in two buckets (even if that thinking is subconscious).

You have the bucket of needs, which typically is the first bucket you fill up. I’m talking about basic needs that you must have to get by. For most, it’s things like food, shelter, clothing. For some, it includes internet and a car payment. For others, their gym membership is a necessity. Not everyone’s needs are the same, but everyone does have a set of needs that, to them, are their non-negotiables.

Then you have the bucket of wants; these are the “nice-to-haves.” Now, dabbling into this bucket every now and again is expected, but many times, this is the bucket that people will ponder before investing in. Do I really need to go on that vacation? For some, the answer to that is a resounding yes — so much so that it’s really a need in their lives. For others, they may opt to do less frequent vacays. Do I really need to purchase that outfit? For some, that’s an absolutely, and for others, it’s a “maybe it can be a Christmas gift” kind of outfit. Do I really need to snatch a copy of that book? For avid readers like myself, I never question buying a book, but for others, it may have to be a topic that can really move the marble in their lives for them to justify it.

Have you ever considered how your business or your book is a need for someone?

When you consider how to market your business — whether you sell a product, a service or a book — it’s important to understand your target audience’s needs and figure out how you meet a need of theirs. While they may still purchase your product if it’s a want in their lives, know that they are more likely to purchase your product if it is a need that they can’t live without. Let me share an example.

When I wrote my own book, Color Today Pretty: An Inspirational Guide to Living a Life in Perspective, I knew it had the power to make a difference in the lives of many. And while it has, one thing that I initially started to hear when the book released was things like: “Oh I love it! It’s one of those that I pick up whenever I need a pick-me-up.” or “What a great book for my next vacation read!” Both were lovely compliments, but I knew that it was proof that they saw the book as a “nice-to-have” and not a “need-to-have.” If I wanted it to make a difference in the lives of those who needed it most, I needed them to NEED the book, whether they knew they needed it or not.

I tried many unique marketing strategies, and many have been successful! However, there was one in particular that blew things out of the water. I decided to do some reflection on what my target audience needed, and that’s when I opted to partner with a friend of mine who was a virtual fitness coach. Together, we created a month-long offering where we focused on the full body — a body, mind and soul experience — where people could learn how to care for themselves from the inside out! And, interestingly enough, while we didn’t charge anyone to participate or require that they purchase a book or her fitness programs, it was my largest book sales month to date!

Why, you ask? Because for people to eat right and exercise regularly, they have to have the right mindset. For those who were motivated to care for their bodies already, they knew the importance of caring for their mental space. And for those who wanted to exercise and eat right but were having troubles doing so, they knew that they had to work through their mental barriers. I was a NEED for them, and so what my book.

If you want to be relevant, you have to meet a need.

How does your product meet a need of your target audience? How is it a solution to a problem that they are experiencing? How does your service alleviate a pain point of theirs? How does your book change the way they see the world, see their careers, see their lives?

When you focus on meeting a need rather than a want, then maybe, just maybe, you become that delicious box of brownies in their proverbial shopping cart!

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