The 11 Consumer Needs You Should Be Focusing On

When asked for his three wishes, Aladdin had his priorities straight. One: Get out of the cave. Two: Get the girl. Only after the girl and safety came the altruistic wish to set the genie free.

Most people aren't forced to prioritize their needs like that. When you feel like a Coke, you don't philosophize about whether it's a deep need or just an urge stirred by a passing billboard.

But for a business such a deep understanding of consumer needs does pay off. It allows product development to prioritize the right features, marketing to craft the right messages, and sales and support to use the right words.

Maslow's Pyramid

Maslow's hierarchy of needs theory ranks human needs in a layered pyramid. The base starts with basic needs, which grow more sophisticated with each added layer.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs pyramid.

This framework was developed for generic human needs, but we can use it to understand consumer needs as well.

1
Physiological

In Maslow's original version, this concerned the most basic human –or animal– needs. Food, water, warmth, sex, rest, etc. When it comes to consumer needs, you should consider it as the core functionality of your product or service.

The core functionality of a car, for example, is to drive. The functionality of our live chat software is to chat with your web visitors. Ask yourself, what's the core value around which your product or service is built?

2
Safety

This is about the need to feel safe. Of your body, of resources, employment, health, the safety of your family, etc.

Userlike's secured cloud service.

In a consumer scenario, it's about the need to feel safe when using your product. With a car, that includes safety features like airbags, but also return policies, customer service, and reimbursements in case of product failures.

In software it concerns issues like data privacy, customer support, as well as service uptimes.

3
Love/Belonging

Humans are group animals. We value relationships and feelings of love and belonging. Features can make a product more 'social' as well.

Some products or services allow you to make social connections with other users, or connect with social media platforms outside.

Tesla, for example, nurtures an online community of car enthusiasts, while Moz's search engine tool has built up a community with users sharing tips and best practices.

Screenshot of Moz community.
At the Moz community, you can ask and get answers on deep SEO questions.

4
Esteem

This is about the need for prestige and feelings of accomplishment. In a product/service scenario, you could think of features that allow you to share your accomplishments.

A car like Tesla is an object of prestige in and of itself. In the context of our live chat software, you could think of a feature that allows you to share your average customer service rating on social media.

5
Self actualization

The final step of consumer needs is about reaching your full potential. In life, this is about finding your calling, developing yourself, attaining enlightenment in ethics, etc.

Applied to consumers, this is about growing together with the product. When you get started with photoshop, you have access to all the functions, but you don't know how to use them yet. As you learn to get to know the tool, you have more fun with it as well.

Screenshot of Adobe photoshop website.
Adobe's photoshop is a product that grows on you.

This also breeds loyalty. When another program comes along, the fact that you have to learn it and –worse– unlearn photoshop, makes you unlikely to switch.

Amazon Smile is a different type of incentive that speaks to your self-actualization needs. Knowing that a certain percentage of your purchase is going through your favorite charity makes people feel better about themselves.

Nain's Pyramid

This framework was developed as an alternative to Maslow's. Its original application was for office employees, but it can be tweaked to consumer needs as well.

At Userlike we use this pyramid to prioritize our users' feature requests. If someone asks for a new feature, we ask ourselves: is this a need, a want, a whim...?

Nain's alternative pyramid of needs.

1
Survival needs

This one is similar to Maslow's Physiological dimension. For consumer needs, this is about the core functionality of your product or service.

2
Wants

These are what used to be desires, but through the passage of time and changes in lifestyle have turned into essentials.

In our car example, air conditioning was not a necessity a few decades ago. But now it has become one, especially in hotter countries.

With live chat it has become essential to offer a mobile optimized user experience, due to this persistent trend in consumer behavior.

3
Office/Practical survival needs

Originally termed 'Office Survival Needs', these are the bare necessities to be productive in an office. A sales team, for instance, needs an effective CRM system.

From a consumer needs perspective, these are the features that make your power users much more efficient with the core functionality of your product or service.

Take a car's navigation system, which makes driving much more efficient. Or take Userlike's chat macros. These canned messages that make it so much easier to answer frequently asked questions.

4
Desires

While not essential for happiness, these needs still add to the value of life. My mother drives around with her own car for her work, but she'd definitely appreciate having a company car for this purpose.

For consumer needs, it concerns product/service features that aren't essential to the core functionality, but that still offer considerable value.

Parking assistance would be an example for personal cars. Useful, it does not diminish performance for most drivers.

An example at Userlike would be our analytics feature. You can be successful with chat without it, but it does allow you to better make decisions about your staffing.

5
Wishes

These are needs that aren't required on a daily basis, and the customer would still be happy if she lacked them.

Car seat heating strikes me as a typical example. Sure it can be nice for the first few minutes on a cold morning, but how much does it really add?

A Userlike example for consumer needs would be the addition of video chat, which we've decided against. Live chat works fine without it –even better, we think– but some people ask for it.

6
Whims

These are only aired during wild flights of thoughts. You might daydream about, say, being promoted to CEO overnight. Mostly people let go of whims soon after their thought arises.

For consumer needs, a whim would be a feature that is totally unrelated to the product's core function. For the average guy, James Bond's car gadgets fall in this category.

Sure I've fantasized about a passenger ejection seat at times that the criticism on my driving style became too intense, but this fantasy disappeared just as quickly.

At Userlike we receive great, but also crazy requests. A user might come up with the idea of adding a project management function to our backend. We like project management tools, but that's just not what we are.

Considerations

These categorizations of consumer needs should help you make better judgments about how to serve them.

At Userlike we use Nain's Pyramid to determine which features to offer in which plan. We put desires and wishes in higher premium plans, and survival needs, wants, and practical survival needs already in Free and Team.

But what constitutes a need and what whim isn't carved out in stone. Here a few considerations.

Core functionality. A feature might make sense for one company, but not for the other. Userlike is a live chat tool for web support, so a task assigning feature is simply too far removed from our core functionality. When you're a project management tool like Asana, however, it would fall under Survival Needs.

Strategy & Competition. On which category of needs you should focus also depends on your strategy and place in the market. If you have a niche focus on spy cars, for example, it might make sense to focus on 'whims' like ejector seats. In fact for spies, ejector seats might fall in the 'practical survival needs' category.

What's more, competitiveness forces players to increasingly focus on less urgent matters.

What you see is all there is (WYSIATI). Daniel Kahneman introduced this concept in Thinking Fast, and Thinking Slow. It's the notion that we can only base our decisions on the information that is in front of us.

In product design, this means that people might have needs that they're not aware of. We do all know our physiological or survival needs, but nobody had the want for an AC before it was invented.

The success of Apple largely resulted out of a focus on satisfying needs that consumers didn't know they had.

Get closer than ever to your customers. So close, in fact, that you tell them what they need well before they realize it themselves.

Steve Jobs

We recently developed Chat Butler, a chatbot who welcomes your web visitors and asks for their question while notifying human support that a chat is waiting.

No customers specifically asked for this feature, but now we see it falls within the Practical Survival Needs category.

When you understand your customers better than they do, you can keep surprising them.