Friday, October 14, 2005

Client needs, and product features

Product features are really “what that little thingy you’re trying to sell does”, while a customer’s benefit is what he/she gets if he/she buys it. The customer’s needs (something often ignored) are why those benefits are actually appreciated. Now, any educational psychologist (or market researcher) understands these needs will be broadly classified somewhere under Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

The needs are broadly under five simple categories:
5. Self Actualization/Fulfillment
4. Esteem/Ego/Self-respect
3. Social/Love/Belonging
2. Security/Safety
1. Biological/Physiological

Now, when you sell any product, you try to figure out what need in that pyramid actually is served by it.

Additionally, when you plan out a product, you start thinking of the ideal customer. Some one who is logical, analytical, objective and looking at measurable traits of your product.

Unfortunately, a majority of the customers are likely to be subjective, emotional and invariably choose your product for reasons completely unrelated to it’s quality alone. This is because what often matters is “Which of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs are satisfied?”

Like frequenting a restaurant for example. If someone asks you what a restaurant needs in order for you to go to it, you’ll most likely say that the price a critical factor. The other factor is the quality/value of the food you get. A third might or might not be ambiance.

But when you look at the restaurants you actually go to, you decide based on a whole bunch of other factors that are not based on value or quality. Like for example, the availability of parking, or the accessibility of the restaurant, or the “kid friendliness” of the place, or the music that they play there, or the quality of the waiters. But these were NOT the reasons you said were most important for you. It’s the emotional pull that takes you there, since it satisfies almost ALL of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Still, some products do very well only by focusing on quality features and benefits, because they implicitly understand that Maslow’s needs will be satisfied if the emphasis is on quality features and benefits.

Where is this all going, you ask? Has “Balancing life” lost perspective on life? No, this is NOT the first chapter of my new book ”Count your ducklings before the eggs are laid” (though perhaps it should be). This just summarizes something I learnt at a course in a real business school, which is really ranked, with faculty who really publish research, and taught by a real lecturer.
The blogsphere has been abuzz with the actions of an institute, IIPM, some Imaginary Institute of Planned Mismanagement.

Clearly, their original image was built fortuitously to satisfy Maslow’s needs. In a country where there are droves of unemployed graduates, a school claiming to offer a no-holds barred MBA would have takers. It clamed to provide the “security or safety” need, by promising jobs and the sky. It did provide a sense of belonging (to IIPM), and self-respect. But it didn’t really provide self-actualization or fulfillment.

Yet, any product promising to do some thing, but not really doing so, only has “features” without satisfying customer needs or providing him/her with a benefit. It remains vulnerable, and so, in order to succeed it needs to camouflage its vulnerability. Unfortunately, IIPM chose threats as its means of camouflage.

Now, it’s success, built purely by satisfying needs, is falling apart, since all those needs are under threat. It doesn’t seem to have features or benefits to fall back upon.

Perhaps I can become a self-styled management guru, and write a self-help book called ”How not to run poultry farms……uh….management institutes”.

(This was a lunch break well spent. Have a good weekend y’all).


arzan said...

Nice one Sunil !!

BTW...did your management give u a free laptop ;)

have a nice weekend u 2.

Suhail said...

nice one Sunil! However I request that let's keep our unwavering focus on just the chickens. Don't get distracted into ducklings. That's a whole new bird-game :-)

Sunil said...

Arzan....nope, no such luck. NO "freebies" :-(

Suhail..... I didn't think this was distracting the focus from the chicken. But it's a good suggestion. That way we'll avoid more foul play.

Captain Haddock said...

Hi Sunil

A good write-up. "It did provide a sense of belonging (to IIPM), and self-respect. But it didn’t really provide self-actualization or fulfillment." U hit the nail on its head right there.

Is the blogsphere doing something about the entire issue?

Sunil said...

yes......there is an effort to counter the IIPM threats and claims. Lets see how it goes.

Niket said...

did you mean "fowl play" instead?


Maslow---is he also on the faculty of "THE" institute?

Incidentally, check out the press statement they issued.

Sunil said...

niket...yes indeed.....i did mean fowl play, but misspelt it when i typed quickly :-)

Arnab....i read the press statement. It's only marginally less funny than your posts.

Lahar said...

Nice take on this unholy mess. Is this the same SL I went to school with, many moons back?

Sakshi said...

Really good post.

I think you will make a much better 'management guru' than that 'ponytail dude'. :)

charu said...

Sunil, "Unfortunately, a majority of the customers are likely to be subjective, emotional and invariably choose your product for reasons completely unrelated to it’s quality alone" - I would say, it is more like, "fortunately" - if consumers were all rational analytical people, marketers would have a much tougher time selling anything to them - management guru types included!

Iyer the Great said...

Nice post Sunil.

Unfortunately, IIPM chose threats as its means of camouflage.

When an uncouth person or organization realizes their vulnerability, rationality goes out through the door (we assume rationality existed in the first place). It is very rare that we seem them accept defeat graciously.


Sunil said...

LA old pal........delighted to see you here!

Sakshi, thanks. Unfortunately, i don't have any intentions of being a "management guru".......i just took that class for a lark.

Charu......yes, it's very fortunate for products and companies that people aren't objective and analytical. I on the other hand am a renegade customer, with no brand loyalty, looking for the best product for the best price........:-)

Rahul......yes, that is absolutely true indeed!

Srikanth said...

You write a complete post in just the lunch break? Goodness gracious!

Lahar said...

Hey, Sunil...I've just started the blog thingy, but both my posts have been on cricket....coincidence or divine fate?

Gamesmaster G9 said...

Hey, can I use your 55 word story for this compilation?

Sunil said...

sure gamesmaster......

i have a bunch of 55 word stories (all linked back from the previous one......
The first one is here, some more here and here.

I'm planning to have one of these every couple of weeks....

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