What do consumers really need?

I mean, what do they really, really need at the absolute root of it all?

Soap or clean skin?

Cars or personal transportation?

Cellphones or anytime-communication?

Power drills or holes-in-the-wall?

The answer seems obvious: people need solutions, not products. If a given product is the best possible solution, then people will buy it.

Streetcar, which provides an interesting personal transport solution as an alternative to owning a car, is a good example of this approach to innovation.However, by and large, firms that have an established product business and are invested in the process of making and selling a product do not have much interest in thinking about innovative solutions to the consumer’s fundamental need. Much of their effort is spent in making improved versions of their product. Meanwhile, other smaller firms create and bring to market “disruptive innovations” that can put the incumbent firms out of business.

Professor Clayton Christensen described this concept in his book “The Innovator’s Dilemma” and he offered a solution in his book “The Innovator’s Solution“.

The other big barrier is that people like to own products. Especially the ones with “badge value“, like cars or mobile phones, which signal our personal image to other people. Invisible solutions like services have to find ways to provide this kind of value for most people to consider adopting them. Alex Steffen at WorldChanging offers a perspective on how firms might do this by creating “service envy” – “a way to display or even flaunt” the invisible solutions that we use. Another useful perspective is in Harry Beckwith’s book “Selling the Invisible” which offers some very good ideas on the marketing of services.


  1. PoliTech said

    “service envy – a way to display or even flaunt the invisible solutions that we use.”

    This concept is already being used as a marketing device to a certain extent…

    For example there is a Cell phone service ad campaign which features an army of support personnel following the user of their service around, while the poor slob who happens to use another carrier has a few clownish service and support people who just don’t seem to measure up.

  2. Reynold said

    This is true. Cell phone services are in the lead on creating service envy – from personalized ring tones to the classic “The future’s bright. The future’s Orange” campaign.

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