I try not to use the "M" word on this blog because I think it confuses more than it helps. The best definition of marketing that I have seen is: "the acquisition and retention of the customer". I like this simple definition because it focuses on the customer--get the customer and keep them. To get the customer you have to understand the customer needs.
Gerald Zaltman, an emeritus professor at HBS, has just published a new book Marketing Metaphoria. While this book focuses on developing product innovation, Professor Zaltman's research interests are in the area of understanding customer behavior. Zaltman believes that there are seven metaphors, at the subconscious level, that explain 70 percent of human behavior (as quoted from HBS Working Knowledge):
- balance (equilibrium)
- transformation (changing states or status)
- journey (as in life)
- container (keeping things in and keeping things out)
- connection (feelings of belonging or exclusion)
- resource (providing survival)
While at first glance this list may look like Maslow's hierarchy of needs I think it formulates a better way to understand customer needs, as opposed to human needs. (Yes--I know the distinction may be subtle but this is not a biology blog). Given that defining the customer need is the first step in formulating a new business, it may be appropriate to pay attention.
Zaltman believes that 80 percent of new product introductions fail because they do not satisfy one of these seven needs. Simple interviewing only probes the conscious level and never reaches the real needs at the sub-conscious level, which is why customers do not behave the way they say they will. By probing at the sub-concious level one finds the metaphors that truly explain human behavior and define customer segments.
Examples of metaphors applied to successful product introductions might be hybrid cars (transformation), social networks (connection) and Crocs (balance). There are many techniques to identify customer needs. I like this technique because it requires deeper thinking to identify the metaphor (need).