Needs and Wants, Shoulds and Coulds

“When you think about people’s needs, you need to ask yourself what you already have that can help. The harder thing is aiming to meet the wants of your customer. That’s harder because those wants usually require something that you haven’t created yet.”

In my keynote address at last year’s Intelligent Content Conference, I asked people to look up from their day-to-day activities, take note of the landscape, and decide where they wanted their careers to go.

I encouraged them to pave their own way by becoming more strategic in the business and not just learning to facilitate content widgets more fluidly, efficiently, or even effectively in the business. The career path of today’s content practitioner will be paved with efforts to synthesize meaning, share wisdom, and add strategic business value. 

This point came racing back to me this week, as I was honored to be named a Keynote Speaker at this year’s MuraCon 2017, and a conversation I had that same day with an advisory client.  My client talked about wanting her team to focus its content on customer needs and their experience. Her point is understandable. One of the core focuses of content, which of course includes our website, blogs, interactive applications, mobile and every digital touchpoint we have, is to “meet the needs” of customers. We think that if we become customer-centric and make our customers successful – and relieve their pain – then, yes then, we will finally be successful.

But I said I was skeptical. 

“When you think about people’s needs,” I said, “you to ask yourself what you already have that can help. The harder thing is aiming to meet the wants of your customer. That’s harder because those wants usually require something that you haven’t created yet.” In other words - there is no existing repository of content or code. There is no existing interface we can borrow from to develop. There is no template that we can lean on. 

Now, to be clear, understanding the customer's’ pain points and the ways that our products or services (or content) can relieve those pain points is something we should do. In fact, it’s something we must do. But today, it’s table stakes. 

Renowned author Clayton Christensen has developed a framework called Jobs to Be Done. At its core, the Jobs to Be Done framework states that people “buy” products and services to get a “job” done. And “success” of the job is what creates satisfaction with the customer. The classic example of this is that people don’t buy a hammer or a nail, they buy a hole in their wall. That’s what constitutes success. Helping customers achieve success – meeting their needs – should be an important part of the content we create. 

But we also have to go beyond meeting needs. As Seth Godin said years ago:

“There are things that people vitally need…and yet providing it is no guarantee you'll find demand.”

Think about that statement as a creator for a moment. Whether we are developers, interface designers or marketers - the usual place we start are “requirements”. What are the “requirements” or “specs” to be met in this design. And, we spend all our effort trying to meet that demand. Instead, what if we started with the question of “what’s the biggest impact we can have for this customer to have a remarkable experience? What ‘job’ does the customer want done?”

In other words, what if we could also create things that met the wants of our customers? This can be a powerful way to approach developing content-driven experiences that feed every touchpoint we create. We have the opportunity to create differentiating experiences that are separate from our products and services and may even target different audiences than the product users or buyers. In other words, the purpose of the experiences we create - both in content or code - can extend beyond filling needs or helping customers succeed with our products or services. We must also consider what experience we could give them that they would want so that they would demand more from us.

By the way – this whole idea extends far beyond simply marketing strategy or customer facing applications, and into the interpersonal relationships with our colleagues. I find that the disconnect between most technology practitioners and marketing practitioners commonly lies in that gaping void called “communication of requirements”. The marketers say “here are our “requirements” (their needs) and the technology practitioners dutifully fulfill those needs. And, vice versa, an application designer might give content creators the “requirements” for content needed for their application. But, candidly, most often the result in both cases is often something the business wants, not what the customer wants.   

This is hard. Templates don’t exist. We may get it wrong. But there’s great potential in seeing our customer, our colleagues, our partners, as not just someone who needs our product or service but also as someone who wants many things in life.

This is the opportunity. We can live our professional lives meeting the requirements of needs and shoulds, or we can look at wants and coulds – and differentiate ourselves and our business in the process.