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Whenever you’re selling something, whether it’s downloads, subscriptions, or products, you have to identify what people want.
Ok, easier said than done. I hear this advice all of the time. Yes, it is good advice.
But this is also incomplete advice.
You can’t figure out a need without knowing what people care about and what troubles them. You need to find out what people want, but if you’re not good at asking questions, you won’t get very well-articulated answers.
Steve Jobs and Henry Ford were right – people do have a hard time assessing what they want and need.
A need is much tougher to peg down than you think
When it comes down to it, what’s a need? A lot of us feel that we need our smartphones, but most wouldn’t have said the same thing in 2010. For those that lead comfortable lives (I include myself in this), smartphones have given us an enhanced existence. For the poor, I am with the argument that smartphones are critical lifelines. For that reason, I would say that if you build a smartphone app that helps a need of the poor, you will come out quite well once the market has settled.
To me, a need is something that will directly determine your personal survival.
If someone has to question their survival on a regular basis, they have needs. To identify the needs of those people, you need to volunteer, talk to people, and become engaged with communities besides your own.
As you can see, to figure out real needs, you have to play the long game. It’s all about starting a conversation and engaging with people on solving problems. I love going to community meetings because I get to see these problems first hand. I live in Philadelphia, and just by engaging with the communities near me just a little bit, I’ve learned so much about what the needs are.
On the other side of the coin, there is going to be the need to adapt to automation. Get to know someone’s personal hell, and figure out how to make it better
Why is the automation space so attractive to businesses right now? Humans also get bored, distracted, tired, and have their limits when it comes to manual labor. Computers, on the other hand, are cheaper in the long run because they do their tasks better.
Fundamentally the shift to automation should be a good thing because it’ll free humans’ time to do better stuff.
But the problem here is that we know the need here already (jobs), but don’t have an adequate transition in place. Knowing those it’s going to effect comes into play here, so that you can identify solutions that will help. In other words, when it comes to solving the job creation problem, know your market on all sides.
I would challenge most of us also can’t identify the real problem from the need, though. The jobless don’t just need jobs; there is a lack of security and self-determination.
Let me attempt to identify a need, problem, and solution here:
Need: Jobs. Let’s identify a particular location – West Virginia.
Problem: Lack of self-determination. People have given up. I know this because I talk to a good number of individuals in another impoverished area, North Philadelphia. Notice that I am using a heuristic here.
Solution: Find ways to bring self-determination into people’s lives.
Concrete Solution: And this is where I trip up. Cannot determine at the moment.
See what happened here? I couldn’t come up with a solution. It’s because I haven’t gotten to know anyone that lives in West Virginia. I don’t know my “consumer” at all. Once I engage with people in West Virginia, I can start to narrow things down and come back here.
Encouraging self-determination also extends to the consumer
What depresses people the most? When they don’t feel like they’re in control of their destinies.
There are two types of marketers killing it: those who are manipulative and those who are persuasive. The manipulative trick you into signing up for some BS diet pill offer, while the persuasive will successfully sell you on an idea that you could use, but didn’t realize it.
I’ve only met a few marketers that seem to genuinely respect and empathize with the need for consumers to be self-determined. We agree that the road to identifying problems, personal needs, and then solutions is through engagement and education.
Start with talking to people outside of your circle. Get out of the echo chamber and your shell. And if you feel like that you can’t even begin to think about what other people might need, then talk to me.
One immediate strategy to become more observant of your surroundings
Become more reflective about Facebook. Rather than exploring it through the lens of your ego, start to take a more omniscient approach. Read into what people are saying in discussions, think about how conversations get going, and pick out wants and needs. Facebook is a place where people go to express what they care about.
One problem that most of us have is that too much information is coming at us at once, and it’s hard to separate the complexities. Just take notes. I use two journals to take notes (keep themes more organized that I like to reflect on).
Write about your Facebook experience, and trace it to the people you observe, the comments that you see, and just what people are talking about. Filter through the politics for now. It’s not as hard you think.