Do you know that children start to recognize the subtle difference between a ‘need’ and a ‘want’ right when they figure out how ‘think’ differs from ‘know’?
It’s around 4-5 years old, and might I add that the logic says, just when you develop a sense of ‘I’―that is, a personal ego―you also start to understand what a need and a want stand for.
Now, these two little mono-syllabic words, viz. needs and wants, are amazingly hairy to get our mind across. Multiple papers and articles have been written on them. The semantic of these two words are discussed from social, economic and philosophical perspectives at length. So I was going through one of such research papers today. An interesting read. (Want to read it? Click here.)
While Jean Baudrillard, with his neo-Marxist, semiotic theory of consumption, says that commodities possess meaning attached to them, Pierre Bourdieu and Thorstein Veblen thought that commodities were more concerned with the accumulation of power, domination and submission, and creation of social relationships.
The Puritan-inspired, utilitarian tradition focused more on basic, universal needs while the Romantic Movement advocates held pleasure (wants) in higher regards. The Bourgeoise ranked comfort (devoid of pain and discomfort) over pleasure while Bohemians went the opposite way.
‘Need’ is often used interchangeably with ‘requirement’, ‘necessity’, ‘lack of’ and ‘deficiency’. ‘Want’, on the other hand, comes with its set of synonyms―’desire’, ‘fancy’, ‘love’, ‘attracted to’, and ‘fond of’.
It can also be argued that one’s wants could be another’s needs. Maslow would say every element in the hierarchy is a need, following a universal-to-individual order as we go up. Galbraith was of the view that wants could be “synthesized by advertising, catalyzed by salesmanship, and shaped by the discreet manipulations of the persuaders”. Needs are more general and influenceable in nature. For example, if someone is hungry, he is hungry. You don’t need advertising to make him aware of that.
Sometimes, needs can even be moulded to take the superficial form of wants yet retaining the deeper nature of urgency and universality.
In essence, whereas a need is satisfied with logic, a want is satisfied with EMOTION. Sometimes, a “desperate” want can take the form of a need too. Wants are, essentially, desires ignited with a spark of strong emotional craving. As a matter of fact, you might not have to sell to a person in need but you surely have to be able to sell to a person in “want”. You cannot create desires (or wants). You have to amplify it instead and lead your prospect to your solution in unique and compelling ways.
When you say “I want it”, you are stating that you desire a particular outcome. When you say “I need it”, you might not desire the outcome but it is what is essential to your survival.
I was reading another article where the concept of “candy, vitamins and painkillers”―a term probably first coined by Kevin Fong―talked about the different category of products.
Here’s what he wrote: “We divide business plans into three categories: candy, vitamins, and painkillers. We throw away the candy. We look at vitamins. We really like painkillers. We especially like addictive painkillers!”
Candies which is used sporadically and only for the short term are mainly for pleasure,
Vitamins make people’s lives better and while they are not absolutely necessary, they are still important purchases.
Painkillers are, as the name suggests, are expected to solve a BURNING pain. You just can’t stay without painkiller. Painkillers are best when they are required at regular intervals resulting in repeated purchases.
You might go for vitamins if you have extra resources but you would also search through hundreds of reviews and think a thousand times, before making the purchase. However, vitamins can become painkiller at times.
For example, Twitter, a vitamin providing you with a way to connect with and follow your favourite people, suddenly became a painkiller in 2020.
Then again, what if I told you that the Candy Crush game, essentially a candy, generated 1.5 million dollars of revenue a day in 2015?
In essence, painkillers are “a need” while candies and vitamins are “a want”.
To conclude, it does not really matter whether your product is a need or a want. All that matters is whether there is a HUNGRY MARKET waiting for it.