Fulfilling Customer Needs: The Two-Step Process

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Breakthrough Advertising" by Eugene M. Schwartz. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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How can you fulfill your customers’ needs? Do you know what your customers really want?

Knowing what your customers want is the first step to creating a compelling headline. Lucky for business owners, there are only two steps to fulfilling customers’ needs according to Breakthrough Advertising.

Continue reading for an in-depth look at these two steps.

What Customers Want

To create a compelling headline, you must first understand what customers want. In Breakthrough Advertising, Eugene M. Schwartz argues that it’s not possible to convince customers to want something. Instead, you must understand what they already want and figure out a way to frame your product as the only solution to fulfilling customers’ needs

(Shortform note: Psychologists offer a contrasting opinion: You can convince customers to want something. This is due to the mere exposure effect—the premise that the more often you’re exposed to something, the more you like it. Research suggests that regular exposure makes a product easier to interpret and reduces the uncertainty you feel about it—thus increasing your confidence in it. Your increased confidence influences you to want this item. However, the mere exposure effect doesn’t work for things you initially dislike—it tends to only work if your initial reaction to something is neutral or positive. For example, if you dislike comic books, regular exposure to advertisements is unlikely to make you want to read them.)

Schwartz claims that you can effectively frame your product by following a two-step process: 

  1. Analyze your product.
  2. Align your product with the most dominant customer need.

Let’s explore these two steps in detail.

Step #1: Analyze Your Product

Schwartz argues that the more you know about your product, the easier you’ll find it to create positive associations between what customers want and what your product offers. He suggests that you list the materials used to create the product, the technical specifications, the aesthetic details, and all of the different ways customers might want to use your product. 

For example, say you have a dating app you want to advertise, and you’re analyzing how it functions and what it offers. You note all of the different features the app includes, such as the ability to view other members’ profiles and chat directly with them, the number of members it hosts, the advertisement-free interface, and the subscription price. You also note that members may want to use it to develop friendships as well as romantic relationships.

(Shortform note: Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur (Business Model Generation) suggest that businesses should reverse this approach by defining the customer need they intend to target before developing their products. This way, instead of developing something and hoping they’ll find a way to align their product with a customer need, businesses can intentionally design products with features that cater to a specific customer need. Further, because businesses already know what need they’re targeting, they can devise marketing and sales strategies during the product’s developmental phase—thus accelerating the product’s launch into the market.)

Step #2: Align Your Product With the Predominant Customer Need

Once you’ve noted every detail about your product, group each item on your list against a specific customer need that it satisfies. This will help you understand what motivates customers to purchase products similar to yours. Schwartz notes that, as you connect your product’s attributes to specific customer needs, you should consider that customer needs fall into two categories: 

  1. Primal needs: These are deep-rooted emotional needs that all customers seek to satisfy, such as feeling healthy, happy, accomplished, or loved. For example, customers might subscribe to dating apps because they’re motivated by the need to feel loved.
  2. Shifting needs: These are surface-level needs that fluctuate according to market trends and expectations. For example, customers might choose your dating app because it promises an advertisement-free interface. They only want this feature because most paid apps in the market function this way—thus, leading customers to expect an advertisement-free interface for all paid apps.  

Finally, choose the customer need that applies to the largest potential market for your product and target this need in your headline. For example, your research indicates that the need for love motivates more customers than the need for an advertisement-free interface. Therefore, you choose to frame your app as the best solution for finding love.

(Shortform note: Some marketing experts disagree with this approach: Instead of attempting to target the needs of the largest potential market, they say, businesses should target the needs of the smallest potential market. Businesses that attempt to reach the maximum audience for a product often create generic mass-market advertisements designed to appeal to everyone. However, because these advertisements are often bland and predictable, they fail to impress anyone. On the other hand, focusing on the smallest market need for a product helps businesses clearly define the type of customer they’re targeting and understand how best to appeal to them—which helps them create advertisements that clearly express why their product’s worth buying.)

Primal Needs Motivate All Purchasing Decisions

While Schwartz distinguishes between primal and shifting customer needs, other marketing experts argue that primal needs motivate all purchasing decisions. According to Josh Kaufman (The Personal MBA), people make purchases in an attempt to fulfill five deep-rooted needs: to feel good about themselves, to connect with others, to grow and learn, to feel safe, and to avoid effort. For example, customers don’t want advertisement-free interfaces because they’re influenced by market trends, but rather because they want to avoid the effort of closing irritating advertisements while they search for love. 

Therefore, if you believe your product fulfills a shifting need, consider how this need contributes to fulfilling a deep-rooted need. This will help you frame your product in a way that feels more relevant to customers, regardless of market trends.

Fulfilling Customer Needs: The Two-Step Process

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Here's what you'll find in our full Breakthrough Advertising summary:

  • Why the headline is the most important component of an advertisement
  • Specific techniques you can use to create captivating headlines
  • Persuasive methods you can apply to write compelling copy

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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