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Unarticulated Needs and Marketing

Unarticulated Needs are needs consumers aren’t able to voice. But these are things they actually want. It’s a big opportunity for marketers.

I remember first hearing the term when I was in college. It was used by Dr. Eric Von Hippel to describe the struggles of shoppers trying to communicate to the car salesperson the shade of blue they wanted for their new car.

These buyers had no issue picking the color if it existed in the lot, they just couldn’t describe it in the absence of a car as a reference point.

There is an even better story to illustrate the power of unarticulated needs:

Tide, these guys …

Tide unarticulated needs

… asked consumers what more they need from their detergent – they asked for bigger bottles and stronger solutions. But when Tide performed “follow me home” research they saw consumers dipping a toothbrush in detergent and scrubbing out stains before adding their clothes to the washing machine. This workaround highlighted a problem consumers weren’t even aware they had – an ability to spot clean when necessary. From this research, Tide Pen, a multi-billion dollar product was born. I can’t live without this thing:

Tide pen unarticulated needs

You’re a marketer, not a product developer, so what does this concept have to do with you? That’s next.

Unarticulated Needs and Marketing

Most marketers are huge fans of user research. I’m opposed to user research precisely because of this Unarticulated Need problem. If a buyer can’t explain what they want or describe their current workaround what insights can we expect to gain from user research?

Ok, so if buyers can’t describe what they want what should we do? We should A/B test ideas because by A/B testing we don’t have to rely on how shoppers describe their needs we can just pay attention to what causes them to pull out their credit cards. As far as I’m concerned that’s the ultimate way to get to the truth of the matter.

But it’s so much more. Once the marketer is divorced from having to only rely on what the consumer says she’s able to spread her wings and test crazy ideas.

The wonderful thing about testing, especially copy testing, is that you can have a crazy idea, and within a few hours put it up on your top paid search landing page as an A/B test. Now 50% of people will see the original page 50% will see our crazy message. If your idea is bad the data will make it clear and you can kill the test.

But the upside is that you may have discovered a whole new Selling Angle, something that none of your competitors know about.

Why Listen to Me

My name is Rishi Rawat and I’ve been running marketing experiments for the last 14 years. Our clients have invested over $3,900,000 with us to understand shopper behavior on their sites.

eCommerce is a giant space (there are over 12 million eCom sites) and while it’s impossible for me to study each of them each week I spend at least 5 hours studying how marketers are using clever marketing tricks. Each week I note at least 3 ideas for my swipe file. Speaking of swipe files:

Next Steps

This article was an appetizer. The main course is where the magic is. Now that you’ve seen a glimpse of something very few marketers know the next logical step for us to pull back the curtain and reveal our process.


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