For marketers, this remains an interesting question. Do consumers really know what they want? Below, we address the question from two perspectives.

First, look at these past articles:


Two Perspectives: Do Consumers Really Know What They Want?


The Naysayers Camp

This viewpoint is best exemplified by the late Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple. As summarized by Dave Smith for Business Insider:

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs has a lot of famous quotes. One of them is a counter to the popular phrase, “The customer is always right.” Here’s the full quote from Jobs on why companies shouldn’t rely on market research:

Some people say give the customers what they want, but that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, ‘If I’d ask customers what they wanted, they would’ve told me a faster horse.’ People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.

I asked Katie Dill about this quote recently. Dill was named one of Business Insider’s 10 people changing the world of consumer technology and made our list of 100 people transforming the world of business. Dill believes people get the wrong idea from this famous Jobs quote. “I agree with that quote, but I think it is often misinterpreted, I agree with the sentiment that we can’t just ask for what customers want; they don’t always know how to articulate it. But I am a firm believer in the power of understanding our community. I’m a firm believer in the power of user research and qualitative insight gathering.”

For more from Smith, click the image of Jobs.

Do Consumers Really Know What They Want?


The Yeasayers Camp

To gain insights on that viewpoint, we turn to observations from MarketingProfs founder Allen Weiss:

Maybe you’ve heard something like this from colleagues or friends: Assuming that people know what they want and need for a product is a mistake, because they simply don’t — just like nobody knew that we needed an iPhone before the first iPhone was launched. Just like nobody knew they wanted Alexa until Alexa was born. Or Ring Doorbells until it was launched. Or PowerPoint until Microsoft came up with it, etc. The list goes on and on and always has the same point: People don’t know what they want until someone makes it first. 

Yet, customers know what benefits they want vs. features or attributes. As an example, before Uber came around, there were taxis. Uber (and the others like them) offered more control. “I can order an Uber on my phone and see where it is on the road—and ease of payment. Did Uber create the benefit of wanting to have more control in your life? Do people want payment to be difficult? The point is that people cannot tell you specific features and attributes, but they can tell you what benefits they are seeking. So, ask customers what problems and challenges (both large and small) they have or what resources (time, money, physical, psychological) they are trying to conserve.

Therefore, know your customers’ needs and desires, and you’ll know what they want. Here are some suggestions to get you started. First, listen to customers—even unhappy ones. Second, watch customers in real situations. You can also use focus groups and social media, but pay attention to the benefits customers are looking for (not the products). Finally, you can let customers develop new or ideal concepts for your products.

Now, click the image to read more from Weiss.

Do Consumers Know What They Want?
Image created by WingedWolf. 


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