December 30, 2007

All I Want For Christmas

As I wrote in my most recent post, this down-time over Christmas is proving hugely productive in terms of some of the ideas it's prompting for work on my return to the office in early January.

(I know I should be switching off completely but it's extraordinary the thoughts that come unbidden to my head when I'm settling down to tackle the second layer in the chocolate box).

Watching the response of my children to Santa's presents in particular has sharply reminded me of the crucial difference between 'need' and 'want'. As marketers, we're often tempted to ask what our customer needs in much the same way as the conscientious parent wants what's best for the child. The child (and the customer) are quick to recognise how this lofty attitude leaves everyone feeling beyond reproach and it's not uncommon for the child to tell us what they 'need' (when they're really describing what they 'want'): 'I need those expensive trainers so that I can play well for the team'.

U2's Bono nails it when he sings: You say you'll give me a treasure just to look upon it...a river in a time of dryness...when all I want is you.

Meanwhile, there's a clever Bank of Ireland ad that suggests that the bank knows how to play this game too with students looking for a loan.

It's terribly important, of course, that we make offer to others with a keen eye on what they need but we mustn't forget that the market makes its choices based on what it wants rather than on what it needs. Naturally, when both 'want' and 'need' stand happily together, we have the makings of a marriage made in a blessed space but when the two fall out, it's 'want' that usually comes out ahead in any post-nuptial settlement.

As both marketers and parents, our first instinct is to go to the more rational place occupied by 'need' and this can only be a good thing in a world where 'want' is more inclined to the one-night stand than it is to the long-term relationship. But we'll find ourselves jilted fairly sharply if we don't ensure that 'want' is catered for too.

It's not only the parent knows the loneliness of the hollow victory that's achieved when 'need' wins out over 'want'.

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