Understanding Customer Needs and Wants

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Why do people buy things? What needs do customers seek to fulfill by buying products and services?

People’s purchasing decisions are underpinned by a wide range of factors. However, they all ultimately boil down to basic, fundamental customer needs and wants: 1) to feel good about themselves, 2) to connect with others, 3) to grow and learn, 4) to feel safe, and 5) to avoid effort.

Keep reading to learn about the five basic customer needs.

People Want to Fulfill Their Basic Needs

While people appear to want many different things, Kaufman argues that they all make purchases in an attempt to fulfill five basic needs:

  1. To feel good about themselves: This includes enhancing their well-being, appearance, and status and satisfying sensory desires.
  2. To connect with others: This includes engaging in romantic, platonic, and professional interactions, both online and offline.
  3. To grow and learn: This includes increasing academic or professional knowledge and pursuing interests and hobbies.
  4. To feel safe: This includes protecting themselves, their loved ones, and their possessions from potential threats.
  5. To avoid effort: This includes eliminating tasks that take up too much time and energy or those that require specialized knowledge or resources.

Schools of Thought on What Motivates Us to Want Things

Kaufman’s discussion of customer needs and wants doesn’t explain how we prioritize fulfilling them. According to psychologists and marketing specialists, this is essential to understanding the motivations and timing of underlying consumer decisions. Combined with Kaufman’s list of needs, the following four theories will help you understand two things: why we want the things we do and how we prioritize those needs and desires. 

Alderfer’s ERG Theory
This theory groups our basic needs into three categories and prioritizes them as follows:
Existence—physiological requirements, such as food and shelter, and safety-related requirements, such as health and employment
Relatedness—social connection, the desire to belong, and the need to feel loved
Growth—personal development, satisfaction, and the feeling of success

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
This theory suggests that our needs fall into one of five levels and prioritizes them as follows:
Physiological: food, sex, sleep
Safety: health, employment, family, property
Love and belonging: friendship, family, intimacy
Esteem: confidence, achievement, mutual respect
Self-actualization: morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem-solving

Murray’s Psychogenic Needs
This theory divides basic needs into two categories:
Primary needs concern our survival requirements and biological demands, such as the need for food and water.
Secondary needs concern our psychological well-being—they fall into five categories: ambition, materialism, power, affection, and information.

Self-Determination Theory
This theory claims that there are three core needs underlying our desires: autonomy—the need to feel like we’re in control, competence—the need to feel like we’re doing well, and relatedness—the need to experience meaningful relationships with others.

Understanding Customer Needs and Wants

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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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