When I took an MBA class ten years ago, one of my most respected marketing professors asked a very controversial question, “Is marketing able to create a need for a product?”
My first answer was: Of course, it can. We’ve all had the experience where we see something advertised on TV or our attention is captured by an attractive billboard for a new product, and we decide that we’ve just got to have that product – right now! But before we saw the ad, we didn’t even know that product existed! We didn’t have the desire to buy that thing. All of a sudden, we want it!
But at the end of the marketing course, I changed my mind. The reality is: “You cannot create the need for a product for a person. What you can do is to find out what the customer needs and satisfy that need.”
Why? There was an interesting debate in the classroom that night. Read on and you’ll understand.
To demonstrate his belief, the professor presented a case. The Tamagotchi. Ever hear of it? It is a small electronic game device that was very popular about ten years ago. In this game, there is a small electronic duck or chicken that you need to feed and play with. It “grows” if you take care of it carefully or “dies” if you neglect its needs, like eating or taking exercise regularly. Is it an interesting game? Yes. But what surprised people then was that this small gadget became so popular in countries like Japan and Hong Kong (my home country). Many of us really were curious about the successful factors behind that game.
We debated about the reasons for its success. Some students felt it was because people tend to use and try popular stuff, especially when it’s new to the market. These are the people that are the “trend setters”, who want to be the “first on their block” to try something new. It was trendy to have such a device. Others said it was because people wanted to be part of the “crowd”, part of the “popular” crowd and that’s what created their desire to own one.
And finally our professor raised a point that most of us thought was the ultimate reason that the game had become so popular.
In a crowded city, like New York, London, Hong Kong or Tokyo, many people don’t have time and space to raise little animals. However, we still have strong desire to have one, to have someone or something to care for. This gadget satisfied our strong need for having someone to love and take care (whether it is a baby or a small animal). And city dwellers usually have less resources to have a real one ourselves, so we turn to this little device for an artificial one that does not actually exist. But somehow that satisfies our underlying desire of loving someone or something.
Our professor commented that modern people are lonely. We live in crowded cities without any spiritual life. We dare not love people. We dare not raise our own children. We don’t have the resources to raise small animals. And this device can fill the gap in this empty area.
Bingo! We cannot deny people have this desire. And this gadget, in its own way, can really help satisfy this need.
Marketing is after all the act of finding out what’s missing in our customers’ lives and filling that need. To be a successful marketer, you have to find out what your customers’ needs are before you can satisfy them.
This principle applies to all areas of marketing, whether you are doing it on- or off-line.
Some argue that people like to follow trendy stuff if they know many people have this gadget. They want one for themselves, as well. Is it not a counter-example that need is created by the product itself?
The answer is “No”!
Watch out my next posting for follow up discussion.
Related Topics: Tamagotchi, Number One Marketing Principle, Satisfy Your Customers’ Need, Power of Marketing, Customer Demand, CUHK MBA, Professor Chan Chi-fai
P.S. Interested to know my professor? Here you can find his profile: Professor Andrew Chan Chi-fai.
The MBA programme I took is ranked one of the best in the world. Check out the profile of it here.