Wants Needs Desires Fears


Traditional marketing advises you to "Find a need and fill it." Using that approach to create your marketing strategy is too limiting and can even guide you into a disastrous plan. To design a well-focused marketing and advertising plan, you must first understand some basic facts about marketing psychology and buyer behavior.

Here is the most important fact you should understand: People do not want your product or service. They want answers to problems, solutions to needs, pathways to wants, a secret door to their heart's desires. They don't want to give you their money. If your advertising message assumes that they do, you aren't getting the full impact for your advertising dollar.

Gillette doesn't sell blades. It sells a clean shave. Revlon doesn't sell nail polish. It sells romance. Betty Crocker doesn't sell cake mix. It sells, "Gee, mom, this cake is great!" If these buyers could satisfy these needs, wants and desires without giving you their money, they would do it in a heartbeat. Understanding the real motivations of your buyers is the first step in creating a successful marketing strategy.

Each consumer has slightly different motivations. But groups of consumers share some common motivations. For example, one common motivation of parents is to help their children have a better life. Bowlers are motivated to have a perfect game. Many homeowners are motivated to create a house they are proud to show off to friends. It is those inner psychological motivations common to your target buyers that you must ferret out and use.


There are four types of motivators which you should seek to discover in each segment of your customer base -- their Needs, Wants, Fears and Desires.

NEEDS are simply things that we think we must have. If we're hungry, we need some food. If we are sick, we need some medicine. If you must go to work, you need a car -- but you don't need a Lexus, any reliable car will satisfy this need. A Lexus would satisfy a different type of motivation, as described below. Buyers often unconsciously wrap up different motivations into one general motivating statement: "I've got to get a car." If you don't bother to unwrap this statement into its different, specific motivations, you will miss a golden opportunity to target your appeals.

WANTS are things which we would like, but which aren't really necessary. Wants are things which we can get along without. You may want an ice cream cone or the new Tom Clancy book, but you don't need them. You may want a new dress or tie, but you have a dozen perfectly good dresses or ties in your closet now. We sometimes convince ourselves that we "need" something, when it is really just a "want." Many purchases are made to satisfy this type of motivation. It is important to recognize the difference between a buyer's "needs" and "wants" because the resulting psychological stimulators used in your advertising are different.

DESIRES are like daydreams. They are things you hope for. Sally may wear a sexy perfume with the desire that a handsome man may ask her to dance and sweep her off her feet. John may buy a Corvette with the desire of feeling special and attracting admiring looks from beautiful women. Winning the lottery is a desire, as is making every traffic light on the drive to work. Desires are seldom met, but they are powerful motivators, which are usually kept to oneself. Taping into a potent desire is a vein of pure gold, as Chanel has shown for decades.

FEARS are things which we do not want to happen. There are two classes of Fears for the marketer: The fear of not doing anything, and the fear of making a choice. If a company is losing money, the boss fears the status quo, but also fears that he may select the wrong remedy and be even worse off.

Fears help us to make wise decisions by considering negative possibilities. But fears also hold us back from making decisions which could meet our needs, wants or desires. Sally wants to meet a new man, so she considers buying a new miniskirt and a halter top. She sees the outfit as a stimulus which could create the response she desires: "Hi, I'm Bob and you're gorgeous." But she also fears that her outfit could stimulate an unwanted response: "That woman looks like a tramp!" Like weights on two ends of a teeter-totter, her desires and fears compete to dominate Sally's final decision.


Consumers mentally weigh their fears against their needs, wants and desires. Take shoes, for example. If a pair of shoes are just a little tight, but they exactly match a dress you're wearing to a party tonight, your NEED for those shoes will likely outweigh your fears, and you will buy them. If you just like the shoes, the fear of pain may be more in balance with your desire for them, leading you to think hard about both options. On the other hand, if the shoes are just plain tight, the fear of pain will likely outweigh everything else, and you'll put them back.

The key to a successful marketing plan lies in matching up your buyers' strongest needs, wants, desires and fears with your product's strongest attributes that can satisfy those motivations. Your advertising and other marketing media should stimulate those motivations in the buyer's mind, then promise that your product or service will satisfy them, no matter how minor or loosely related to your product they may seem to you.

Automotive engineers have never understood why the drivetrain specs don't sell more cars than the soft leather seats. But the Michelin tire people understand that family safety sells more tires that tread wear ratings. Advertising which sells the satisfaction instead of the product will pull customers in like a magnet.