Marketing’s original mantra is to “ﬁnd needs and ﬁll them.” The company ﬁnds needs by listening to or interviewing customers and then prepares an appropriate solution to each need. Today, however, there are few needs that companies don’t know about or address.
But there is another answer to the “no-need society”—that is, to create new needs. Sony’s Akio Morita, in his Made in Japan, said: “We don’t serve markets. We create markets.” Consumers never thought of videotape recorders, video cameras, fax machines, Palms, and so on, until they were made.
Of course, new needs will emerge even if the old ones are satisfied. Events can create new needs. The tragedy of September 11, 2001, increased the need for greater security in the air, food supply, and transportation and the country rapidly responded with new security measures. Trends can create new needs, such as the interest in “Down-Aging.” As people get older they want to feel and look younger, and this leads to buying sports cars, having plastic surgery, and using exercise equipment. So we can distinguish between existing needs and latent needs. Smart marketers will attempt to anticipate the next need and not only conﬁne their attention to today’s need.
Sometimes a need is obscured because a company has taken too limited a view of customers. Certain dogmas get set in concrete, such as the cosmetics industry dogma that women basically use cosmetics in order to be more attractive to men.
Greg Carpenter and Kent Nakamoto have challenged a core assumption of marketers that buyers initially know what they want. Instead, they learn what they want. And companies play a strong role in teaching buyers what to want. Different brand competitors add new features to their computers, cameras, and cellular phones that buyers may not have known of or asked for, and in the process, buyers form a better idea of what they want. Such companies are not just market driven (by customer needs) but are market driving (by innovation). In this sense, competition is less a race to meet consumer needs and more a race to deﬁne these needs.
One reason that early market entrant (such as Xerox or Palm) often gain sustained market leadership is because the attributes they initially build into their products deﬁne the wants that were otherwise ill-deﬁned. Consumers see the attributes as deﬁning the category. Late entry competitors are forced to supply the same attributes at a minimum as well as innovate new ones.
How do you get your whole company to think and breathe customer? Today’s CEOs must show employees, in ﬁnancial terms, how much more afﬂuent they and the ﬁrm would be if everyone focused on delivering great value to customers. The customers would spend more and cost the ﬁrm less to serve. Everyone would beneﬁt, and special rewards would go to employees who rendered outstanding customer service.
The task begins with hiring the right people. You have to assess whether job candidates have not only the right skills but also the right attitudes. Those whom you hire need good training. Disney runs a training program that lasts a week in order to convey what experience the company wants customers to have at Disneyland. A customer mindset doesn’t just happen. It has to be planned, implemented, and rewarded.
American Airlines treats its customers differently beyond assigning different size seats and different cuisine. Passengers who have accumulated millions of miles get Executive Platinum Advantage treatment: they enter a shorter line at checking, board earlier, get frequent upgrades, and receive surprise gifts such as interesting books and crystal Tiffany glassware.
The conclusion: Treat every customer with care but not necessarily equally.
To be truly customer-oriented, the ﬁrm should be run by customer managers (or customer group managers), not brand managers. They will ﬁnd out the set of company products and services that their customers would care about and then work with the product and brand managers to deliver them.
Too many companies are product driven rather than customer centered. Their thinking goes like this:
Assets → Inputs → Offerings → Channels → Customers
Being product driven and heavily invested in assets, they push their offerings to every conceivable customer and fail to notice customer differences and values. Not knowing much about individual customers, they cannot efﬁciently cross-sell or up-sell. Both processes require a capturing transaction and other information on individual customers and inferring what else they might be interested in. A customer oriented company visualizes a different approach, called sense-and-respond marketing:
Customers → Channels → Offerings → Inputs → Assets
By starting with an understanding of customers, the company is in a much better position to develop appropriate channels, offerings, inputs, and assets.