A major error many sales and marketing professionals make involves confusing a market need with a market want. In fact, marketers that have been around for a while understand all products and services eventually evolve into non-discriminate commodities over time. Make no mistake; understanding the difference between a market need and a want will decide the long-term success of a firm.
So, what is the difference? Namely, a market want is an immediate response by consumers to a service or product without knowledge of a better solution. In other words, a market want is derived through a quick fix, convenient and affordable means to solving a problem or desire. Market wants exist simply because they temporarily answer consumer’s expectations. An example of a market want would be a pre-industrial revolution candle that was used to light a room … luminescence. There was no knowledge of or accessibility to a better solution, therefore the market want settled on candles for light.
Conversely, a market need addresses a higher ideal wherein innovation and customer-directed service push market wants in perpetual progression. In theory, market needs can never be fulfilled since the market is in a constant state of evolution. Additionally, Market wants are actually a very important element of addressing a market need. In other words, we should view market wants (i.e. products) as incremental steps toward satisfying the demands of the consumer. Referring back to the candle example, gas lamps and eventually the electric light bulb replaced the candle as the primary device for luminescence, therefore eliminating the primary use of a candle as a device for light. Today, the candle is used primarily for ambiance rather than luminescence.
For a more practical application of this theory, let’s say your company is in the business of producing cellular telephones. Four years ago, the market want was to develop the smallest practical handheld device that was affordable and would pick up great reception. Today, with the introduction of GPS technology and devices like the Apple iPhone, the market want has evolved to include worldwide accessibility along with features such as SMS texting, GPS mapping, and Internet browsing. In fact, it could be argued that the market need is affordable instantaneous global communication through telepathic transmission … okay, that’s getting a little Star-Trekish, I know. However, the point being that consumers may not be able to express what their true need is, therefore they settle with wants. To my point; this is where the opportunity exists for your hypothetical cellular phone company; you can assume the role of an innovative customer-oriented firm by pushing your product and service offering toward a new ideal of market satisfaction. For example, what if your company could develop a true vid-phone so you could actually view the party on the other line? It’s only a matter of time and money before this technology becomes commonplace, and the first cellular phone manufacturer to do it will in effect push the market want closer to achieving the market need. Perhaps the market need is not a vid-phone, but the point is the iPhone in all its greatness will eventually be obsolete.
In conclusion, companies that focus on solving market wants will always be in a reactionary state, competing primarily on price. However, companies that focus on solving a market need however will be shaping their products and services toward answering the desires of their customers, helping to differentiate themselves from the competition while justifying a higher price per unit. In the real world, Apple is doing this with the iPhone, Target is doing it with virtually the same products as Wal-Mart, and FedEx is doing it with the same overnight delivery services as UPS and the United States Postal Service. Who’s to say your company can’t be the next Apple, Target, or FedEx?