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Identifying Consumer 'Wants'

October 1, 2002

4 Min Read
Identifying Consumer 'Wants'

GOOD MARKETING, AS EVERYONE KNOWS, IS ABOUT IDENTIFYING CUSTOMER NEEDS AND WANTS. However, if we examine this notion a little more closely, we begin to see that recognizing a need may be a whole lot simpler than distinguishing a want. Identifying wants is often what gives a business a leadership position in the marketplace as well as permits it to sustain higher gross profit margins. It is certainly an enviable position.

A recent experience is a case in point. I decided to go to the movies and arrived at the theatre a half-hour early. Since I had time to kill, I went into the Starbucks next to the theatre. I ordered my usual: a medium latté. The extremely polite server asked, "Oh, you mean a grande?" I said yes, I wanted a latté grande (which, I can proudly report, I pronounced correctly).

Interestingly, when I used spell-check to confirm the spelling of the word for this article, it stopped at "latte" and indicated the correct spelling was latté, with an accent mark over the "e." My point is, would latté have been in my spell-checker if it weren't for Starbucks? The whole experience reinforced just how important and financially rewarding it can be for a business to correctly identify a consumer want that had previously gone undetected.

Most of us have occasional need for a good cup of coffee, and any restaurant or fast-food establishment can easily recognize and fulfill that need. But how many knew, years ago, that consumers also had a need for a caffé latté, caffé mocha, espresso, café au lait, cappuccino, and probably 10 other teas or coffee drinks? Better yet, how many consumers knew they would willingly part with $3 or more for a cup of coffee?

Imagine you were a potential investor and Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks, explained in terms of needs, not wants, why you should invest in his company. I think your proposal would sound something like this: "Look, I've got this great idea. I mean a really great idea. I want to sell coffee and coffee concoctions nobody has ever heard of for $3 a cup. I want to open up stores nationally. In fact, I'd really like to open a couple thousand of them and maybe even more. So what do you think? Any chance of getting some money here?"

I think we all know what the answer would be--if, in fact, an answer was ever given before the guy was shown the door or nearest psychiatric hospital. So why is Starbucks so wildly successful? The answer is simple as well as profound: The company identified consumer wants that existed but no other business was perceptive enough to see or understand. What were those wants? People wanted a neighborhood place with attractive surroundings where they could go to talk. They wanted a place where they didn't feel pressured to eat and leave. Starbucks knew, too, that the general population was becoming better educated and well-travelled, believing itself to be more sophisticated and, therefore, willing and anxious to try a $3 caffe latté.

Guess what? The public liked the latté and, with more discretionary income available, saw nothing unreasonable about paying $3. I wince a little when I do, but my two sons don't bat an eye. To them, that's just what it costs. There's no doubt I've oversimplified Starbucks' success. Howard, please accept my apology. I am one of your biggest fans, especially because of your marketing genius!

Well, what does this have to do with the self-storage industry? A lot really. If you are in business and only identify customer needs, you're basically in the commodity business. You may not know this, but as competition increases, you soon will. Using the Starbucks scenario as an example, what consumer wants can you identify in your market? What are the wants of the pharmaceutical rep, businessperson or "soccer mom"--your prospective customers? Remember a want is not necessarily the actual product or service, but rather the benefit obtained from that service. In other words, it's not coffee, it's a nice place to sit and talk.

What do your storage customers want? They may want convenience; therefore, offering package-shipping services makes sense. They want security, so a more profitable disk lock is the thing to promote. Does the "soccer mom" want peace of mind when she enters her storage area? If so, advertise that you have extensive windows or lighting. Your customers' wants go on and on if you take the time to identify them.

Once you've identified these wants, you'll need to market them by creating unique products and services, and then telling your current and potential customers all about them. That's what good marketing and communication is all about. If done successfully, your facility will stand out from the crowd.

Roy Katz is president of Supply Side, which distributes packaging as well as moving and storage supplies. The company has developed merchandising programs for many leading companies including Storage USA, the U.S. Postal Service, Kinko's and Mail Boxes Etc. For more information, call 800.284.7357 or 216.738.1200.

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