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Customer Needs, Wants, and Demands

The most basic concept underlying marketing is that of human needs. Human needs are states of felt deprivation. They include basic physical needs for food, clothing, warmth, and safety; social needs for belonging and affection; and individual needs for knowledge and self-expression. Marketers did not create these needs; they are a basic part of the human makeup.

Wants are the form human needs take as they are shaped by culture and individual personality. An American needs food but wants a Big Mac, fries, and a soft drink. A person in Papua, New Guinea, needs food but wants taro, rice, yams, and pork. Wants are shaped by one’s society and are described in terms of objects that will satisfy those needs. When backed by buying power, wants become demands. Given their wants and resources, people demand products and services with benefits that add up to the most value and satisfaction.


States of felt deprivation.


The form human needs take as they are shaped by culture and individual personality.


Human wants that are backed by buying power.

Companies go to great lengths to learn about and understand customer needs, wants, and demands. They conduct consumer research, analyze mountains of customer data, and observe customers as they shop and interact, offline and online. People at all levels of the company—including top management—stay close to customers. For example, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos still has a customer-facing email address that helps him to identify customer concerns. “I see most of those emails,” says Bezos, “and I forward them, some of them—the ones that catch my eye.” Similarly, to see up close what their customers experience, Airbnb’s CEO Brian Chesky and his co-founder Joe Gebbia regularly stay at the company’s host locations. When Airbnb first listed rentals back in 2009, Chesky and Gebbia personally visited all of their New York hosts, staying with them, writing reviews, and making sure they lived up to the company’s lofty vision. Such personal visits help the pair to shape new customer solutions based on real user experience.

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