Product Strategy
Discover Unmet Needs and Wants

Are you developing a new product strategy or conducting new business marketing research?

Use focus groups or depth interviews to discover and explore opportunities. Discovery guides direction.

As you start out developing a new product strategy or new business, you want to understand your market, customers, prospects, and competitors.

You can learn a great deal from exploratory focus groups and interviews without asking many questions or without knowing precisely which questions to ask.

You want to know about opportunities.

And opportunities come in the form of unmet needs or wants.

New Product Strategy and Unmet Needs and Wants

Unmet needs or wants are desires that go unfulfilled.

Unmet needs and wants are business opportunities.

Unmet needs are opportunities for differentiation, positioning, and first-mover advantage.

Small things can tell big stories. Just one discovery about an unmet need or want can transform product development and marketing actions. Searching for unmet needs or wants is worthwhile.

The Difference between Wants and Needs

In marketing, there is an important difference between wants and needs.

A want is a desire or wish. When several brands exist in a category, want drives a specific brand selection.

A need is a condition in which something is required or necessary.

We need a product category for life’s basic requirements, but want a specific brand in the category.

Most of us need cars for work, school, or play. We need a car, but want a BMW or Mercedes.

A telecom network engineer needs a network to run. The engineer must buy and run a network. It is a need. His company needs it for business. But, she or he prefers a specific brand – in other words – wants a specific network brand. Because she or he believes it will do the job.

You have to work hard to persuade people to want your brand, once they realize they have a need.

Generally, brand marketing and advertising battles are fought over wants, when brands are abundant.

Introducing new product categories is initially a battle to establish needs, and then wants. Smartphones, netbooks, and Internet social media websites are recent examples of new product categories.

How to Find Unmet Needs and Wants

There are several ways to discover unmet needs and wants.

  • Understand customer problems
  • Get customers’ recommendations
  • Get experts’ opinions

You can ask experts their opinions about unmet needs and wants. But it is better to go direct to the source… product users. Product users have firsthand knowledge about product use.

Problems are Opportunities

Important, unsolved problems are unmet needs and wants.

Problems are business opportunities. Solving problems creates value.

Identify unmet needs and wants by asking product users a series of questions about problems.

Ask a main question about a problem, and then ask related follow-up questions and probes.

Main question,

“What is the biggest problem with brand X (or category)?”

Related and important follow-up questions,

“What causes the problem?”
“What is the impact of the problem?”
“How important is the problem?”
“What have you done about the problem?”
“What are possible solutions?”

Each follow-up question is important. Ask each one to gain full understanding. Don’t omit them.

You want to know the cause, not just the symptoms, because this may help with solutions.

When you examine problems, ask about category problems. Then ask about product or service problems.

Category problems are opportunities for positioning. Solve the category problem and separate yourself from competitors. Differentiate.

Your product or brand problem is one you fix right away. Don’t let important problems fester. They are opportunities for competitors to capture your customers.

Questions about problems are powerful. Discover unsolved, important problems and you discover unmet needs and wants. People pay to solve problems. Problems are valuable.

Solutions and Recommendations

Recommendations point to unmet wants and needs. They may be ideas for solutions for product strategy.

Ask people for specific product or service recommendations. Ask how to improve a product or service. Ask for new product or service ideas.

Ask product users. They are experienced with a product or service. Their direct experience focuses practical thinking.

When you ask for recommendations, ask product users about improving a product or service.

“If you were the product manager, what product improvements would you make to product X?”

Then follow up and ask laddering questions. Try to understand how the improved product satisfies functional, higher, and emotional benefits.

Finally, follow up and probe why people recommend a product or service. Look for the problem.

Talk to Industry Experts

Also talk to industry experts and get their opinions about trends, broad issues, problems, and unmet needs and wants. You may discover new business opportunities to develop product strategy.

And use laddering to discover underlying drivers of needs and wants.

Discover and explore unmet needs and wants. Find problems. Get recommendations. Talk to experts.

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