Imagine walking through an area filled with mountains and your goal is to try to find the highest mountain and climb to the top. As you might envision, it is difficult from the ground to see the highest mountain. You think you have the tallest one and you climb up it. Likely, you can see it’s tall enough but you wouldn’t know if it’s the tallest. Think about the tallest mountain as your biggest opportunity area of needs to solve for consumers. By flying above the ranges, you might better spot the high points, actually see, and compare which range has the tallest mountains. This is the same as identifying the need states (the mountain ranges) and determining the right mountain range or ranges where you should spend your time hunting for the best opportunities (underlying unmet needs – the highest individual mountains for your company or brand).
Uncovering the Underlying Factors Behind Consumer Purchasing Decisions
So what is a need state? A need state is something that motivates a consumer to purchase; it is the primary purpose for which a consumer is purchasing a product or solution – the driver. While people purchase for multiple reasons, we have to sift through data and identify primary drivers to identify need states; methods we use to complete qualitatively and quantitatively. A need state transcends the behavioral vs. psychographic/attitudinal divide, the functional vs. emotional hierarchy, etc. to identify the common underlying unmet needs or wants that sum up to a need state or that a need state defines.
Think again about the mountain range analogy. This analogy is a common example to describe the ambiguity found in predictive data analysis models that have multiple optimal solutions making it very hard to find the “best” answer. This ambiguity might be felt when asked to identify winning concepts with conducting merely a small research study to identify unmet needs. It’s the same reason we don’t start with ideation and move to concept development without unmet needs insight research; we might miss the most promising opportunity areas so why skip learning the big picture? The solution is a map that defines the landscape of needs; a Need State Map to analyze and determine where we will focus our unmet needs insight research and concept identification work. The development of this map requires mixing methods from consumer insight of unmet needs with strategy methods to organize and logically find the best solutions for a particular client problem or situation. With this logic in hand we can determine what unmet needs seem the most valuable and also to consider which unmet needs or need state (e.g. unmet need areas) might we focus our insight research and concept development efforts.
How do we identify and profile need states? We utilize a need state segmentation to quantify need states and learn more about the need segments. However, in many situations, a simpler quantitative method within a study similar to an attitude and usage study to profile segments may be sufficient avoiding the cost of a survey of thousands of consumers with factor or cluster analysis done in segmentation work. Either way we want to understand who fits within the need state, what the most important underlying unmet needs are, and understand how well competitive brands are satisfying those needs. We value unmet needs by utilizing a technique we call a market opportunity analysis that finds the most important needs and needs with the most dissatisfaction. We want to also understand which competitive solutions or brands fit which needs. If looking at brand extendibility for example, we will want to understand the brand equity or positioning to create some judgment as to which brands would most likely fit which future solutions.
Please keep in mind, we agree that a quantitative method may not be necessary and we may identify need states strictly from a qualitative process. In addition, need states may not be a good fit for certain objectives outlined such as projects where it is predetermined that there is a “big enough mountain to explore,” concepts are predetermined with a focus on validation or where time for competitive reaction or first to market scenarios do not allow it. However, when the charge is to find the highest probability of success new products or new business model for the company or brand, we best not skip this step.
It is necessary for someone with experience to manage how much effort and time to spend determining need states that best fit your direction for growth and how much to spend in identifying unmet needs utilized to drive concept development. Need states are opportunity areas or market segments where we can learn more about whom, what, when, where… Managing the early part of the process to identify needs states shouldn’t take focus away from understanding underlying unmet needs, in fact, by focusing on unmet needs research but staying broad enough to organize need states and check against core trends, we can ensure we aren’t missing any significant unmet need areas (e.g. need states). From this in-depth work, we will be better prepared to identify high probability areas for us to develop new solutions rather than just walking around mountains wondering, “Which is the best one to climb?”
Strategic Note: Making Wise Choices
Make choices where there is a sustainable competitive advantage whether looking at need states, unmet needs or developing a concept or solution. This means identifying need states and underlying unmet needs with most promise and identifying solutions that are unique, valuable to target consumers/customers and to the company in hitting growth/profit targets and something which, of course, can be executed. Do not forget to look at related industry segments up, down and across (substitutes) to understand needs and save time by finding analogous solutions that might apply or jumpstart a great idea. Bagged salad first found in the back kitchens of restaurants that save labor changed the retail grocers’ produce aisle when marketed to fill an unmet consumer need at home. Tissue companies are realizing the dispenser solutions found in commercial building bathrooms can be a solution for the home – design fashion neutral low cost cardboard dispensers for the bathroom or kitchen sink at home to fit a significant unmet need with the many home décor conscious consumers.