Consumer Needs and Consumer Wants Should marketing try to satisfy consumer needs or consumer wants? Marketing tries to do both. Heated debates rage over this question, fueled by the definitions of needs and wants and the amount of freedom given to prospective customers to make their own buying decisions.
A need occurs when a person feels deprived of basic necessities such as food, clothing, and shelter. A want is a need that is shaped by a person’s knowledge, culture, and personality. So if you feel hungry, you have developed a basic need and desire to eat something. Let’s say you then want to eat an apple or a Hot Pockets Bacon Cheddar Cheese Melt microwave sandwich because, based on your past experience, you know these will satisfy your hunger need. Effective marketing, in the form of creating an awareness of good products at convenient locations, can clearly shape a person’s wants.
Certainly, marketing tries to influence what we buy. A question then arises: At what point do we want government and society to step in to protect consumers? Most consumers would say they want government to protect us from harmful drugs and unsafe cars but not from candy bars and soft drinks. To protect college students, should government restrict their use of credit cards?17 Such questions have no clear-cut answers, which is why legal and ethical issues are central to marketing. Because even psychologists and economists still debate the exact meanings of need and want, we shall use the terms interchangeably throughout the book.
Studying late at night for an exam and being hungry, you decide to microwave a Hot Pockets Bacon Cheddar Cheese Melt sandwich. Is this a need or want? The text discusses the role of marketing in influencing decisions like this.
As shown in the left side of Figure 1–3 on the next page, discovering needs involves looking carefully at prospective customers, whether they are children buying M&Ms candy, college students buying Chobani Greek Yogurt, or firms buying Xerox color copiers. A principal activity of a firm’s marketing department is to scrutinize its consumers to understand what they need and want and the forces that shape those needs and wants.
What a Market Is Potential consumers make up a market , which is people with both the desire and the ability to buy a specific offering. All markets ultimately are people. Even when we say a firm bought a Xerox copier, we mean one or several people in the firm decided to buy it. People who are aware of their unmet needs may have the desire to buy the product, but that alone isn’t sufficient. People must also have the ability to buy, such as the authority, time, and money. People may even “buy” an idea that results in an action, such as having their blood pressure checked annually or turning down their thermostat to save energy.