Guest author: Mark Ingwer, PhD, is a consumer psychologist and the managing partner of Insight Consulting Group, a global marketing and strategy consultancy specializing in market research and consumer insights. He has 25 years experience applying his blend of psychology, marketing, and industry acumen to helping companies optimize their brand and marketing strategy based on an in-depth understanding of their customers. He is the author of the book “Empathetic Marketing” published by Palgrave, May 2012.
In consumer business strategy –branding, advertising, public relations, or product development and design– understanding and addressing the emotional human needs continuum is not as simple as choosing a need and force-fitting it to your product and message. Businesses that seek to create superior products and experiences need to learn how to do a better job of empathizing with consumer needs.
Years ago, our firm conducted research at Universal Studios Florida and Walt Disney World, both in Orlando. At the time, Universal was searching for new ways to
distinguish itself from its giant competitor. We conducted consumer deep-dive research with 14 families with children of varying ages, selected to provide a diverse participant mix representing the typical park visitor population. We followed these families around the park observing their moods and behaviors, and discussed with them their thoughts and impressions as they experienced the parks. Essentially, we wanted to know what was really at play during a family vacation.
- We all take vacations to escape daily life or to reconnect with loved ones. To experience thrills different from everyday life. To provide children new experiences that they’ll take with them into adulthood. To leave our routines behind. Some people find it hard to detach from the world of work (smartphone addicts, raise your hands) but we tell ourselves, if only for a few days or weeks, we have to.
Vacations satisfy our need for pleasure, which is a commodity in a culture that refuses to slow down and smile every once in awhile. Just look at Americans’ attitudes toward downtime. Vacation days in America are miniscule compared to our European friends.
So what happens in these few weeks when we supposedly escape and let work pile up in our inbox? In the context of emotional needs, a destination theme park can mean a lot more to its patrons than they can readily articulate. It’s not about the fun theyexpe rience, but rather the function of the fun for the family’s growth and sustenance.
- One might think that the two parks are locked in a win-lose competition for Sunshine State vacationers and their children, but that’s not necessarily true.
- Many families, especially with children of different ages, go to both parks. At one time, however, the theme parks offered discernibly different atmospheres. One of our interview subjects put it best: “Disney is like sitting by a stream. Universal is like going rock climbing.
Both are enjoyable, both are nature, but with one, you’ve got more of that nervous adrenaline rush. Our researchers and I spent days observing how this participant’s analogy was on the money. The polarity of experiences is perhaps why some vacationers visit both parks.
Who doesn’t enjoy a little relaxation mixed in with action on their vacations? At the time, Universal and Disney mirrored the needs continuum. However, this has changed. They aren’t merely high-end amusement resorts that offer different sets of thrills for families. They’re helping families satisfy polar psychological needs for their children.
Remember, young people, from toddlers to teens, have conflicting sentiments, with a desire for the security of connectedness pulling them in one direction and a desire for the adventure of independence pulling in another. At the time of our research, the Walt Disney World experience appealed to their desires for security, safety, and closeness.
It is a child’s and a family’s rite of passage. It has always offered an undeniably fantastic experience that feeds children’s imaginations. But generally speaking, its essence nurtures a younger child’s connection in a safe and fantastic world. Disney is the quintessential “mother” archetype.
- We found that Universal Studios, on the other hand, appealed to older children and their families’ desire to explore, to be curious, and to interact with the world around them, through which they gain a sense of mastery and accomplishment. By developing and solidifying this sense of autonomy, children develop self-esteem and understanding of personal agency. Universal Studios was perceived as edgier and more adventurous—generally more stimulating and intellectually challenging. No longer was Universal just the more exciting cousin of Disney. Instead, it was an amusementpark that satisfied its visitors’ needs for individuality and independence in ways Disney wasn’t designed to do.
Recognizing this fundamental difference between itself and Disney, Universal changedits marketing efforts from promoting what it wanted consumers to experience to a testimonial to what the experience was already providing. No longer focusing on their longstanding marketing platform – “ride the movies”– they built a new strategy –“Experience an extraordinary escape at Universal. Slowly and steadily, Universal made gains in gate entries. Of course, this dynamic has changed in recent years. The Disney of decades past is not the Disney we find today. Their parks are now much more “Universal” in their feel, entertainment offerings, rides, and attractions. That said, the dynamic illustrates the profound opportunities that arise when a needs-based approach is applied to existing business models.The process, however, is not simply one of a business matching its product to a customer’s psychological needs. A single product category can potentially satisfy different emotional needs for different people. To harness the value of human needs, one must understand where people are located in their life cycle. Some emotional needs are more relevant at different ages and milestones, and for different genders and personality types.
Take cell phones. Beyond placing calls, sending texts, and checking emails, what is the emotional value of the twenty-first century’s most pervasive device? A cell phone can simultaneously satisfy a person’s need for control, security, connection,growth, and expression. To be sure, the device can’t do all things for all people, and cell-phone providers would be mistaken to try to persuade people otherwise. A company’s promoting access to 100,000 apps will appeal to the individual addicted to customization and control, while alienating an older audience intimidated by the concept of a smartphone.
For many segments of the population (nontexters and Tweeters), a phone is still primarily used to talk to people! Parents like the peace of mind that comes from always being connected to their children, but the child may just be after the status or unlimited contact with his or her tightest social circles. These issues raise important questions and challenges for marketers, who must decide where and to whom to direct their resources, what needs are most relevant for a specific segment and audience, and importantly, what communication tone and style work best to appeal to and satisfy a need.
It’s important to note that we see the push and pull between connectedness and individuality at each point on the continuum. In other words, not one of the needs is owned entirely by the individuality or the connectedness side of the continuum.
For instance, consider the need for belonging, essentially connectedness within acommunity. So much of our daily routine consists of participating in groups. We join groups for closeness, and sometimes, just to “fit in.” To a great extent, though, the need for belonging is not wholly consumed by the connectedness space. What we belong to is a stamp on our individual identity.
Consider how we routinely categorize informal acquaintances. It’s not Dave, the guy with a unique perspective on financial markets, but rather it’s Dave, the guy from Rutgers, the big Mets fan, the one who volunteers with Habitat for Humanity. Certainly,we are not the church, synagogue, or mosque to which we belong. We are not the political party we vote for (and on behalf of which we argue with friends and family). We are not the company we work for. Or the brand of shoes we wear and the grocery store we frequent. But each group we ”belong” to is a distinct piece of our identity.
The Needs Continuum can only be put into action when matched with a psychological perspective that helps businesses identify their consumers’ unmet needs. With the right focus, meeting unmet emotional needs can be much more than a token statement issued in press releases.
This is a modified excerpt from “Empathetic Marketing, How to Satisfy the 6 Core Emotional Needs of Your Customers.”