Marketers, strategists and business owners are now fully immersing themselves in consumers’ lives to see and experience things through their eyes and gain a true understanding of their wants and needs.
And they’re not just peering in from the outside to see what consumers think, either – no, these marketers and strategists are going beyond the essential research conducted by brands and startups to completely immersing themselves in consumers’ lives to see and experience things through their eyes and gain a real understanding of their wants and needs. Market researchers are joining in on the action, too, carrying out qualitative research to aid marketers’ understanding of consumers’ identities, their motivations and emotional experiences of brands. What does this mean for businesses? Well, it gives a big boost to the world of innovation and NPD for starters, where the identification of latent needs is a big driver.
WHAT ARE LATENT NEEDS?
Latent needs can be defined as a desire or preference which cannot be satisfied due to a lack of information or availability of a product or service. Or, in plain English, a latent need is a problem that a user or consumer doesn’t realise they have. These needs tend to go unspoken, either because people think they’re too trivial to be a focal point for someone to solve, or because they haven’t really looked at the root cause of their pains and frustrations to identify what’s wrong.
Well actually, no we’re not. Identifying the latent needs of consumers provides huge business benefits. Understanding the latent needs of your target audience helps to drive the fuzzy front end of innovation, allowing you to develop breakthrough products or services that really excite your customers. Not only that, but in doing so, businesses can achieve a really strong competitive advantage, enabling them to develop innovation platforms based on benefits that aren’t yet delivered by anyone else in the market place. These innovation platforms can then help marketers to decide which business opportunities to investigate, which strategic targets to focus on and whether or not to reposition the entire brand.
Identifying latent consumer needs is especially important when it comes to creating and launching new products and technologies. When hidden needs are addressed by product or service design, customers are both surprised and delighted by the result. Why? Because customers tend to focus on their current pain and the issues they want solved immediately – and they are of course satisfied when you do so for them. But when you discover a problem they didn’t even know they had, well, that’s something else. It’s the difference between evolution and revolution, allowing marketers to generate new ideas and concepts for development – which means long term growth.
HOW TO IDENTIFY LATENT NEEDS
We all know the (probably very fabricated) Henry Ford quote, “If I had asked my customers what they had wanted, they would have said a faster horse”. That’s all very well and good for Henry Ford, but trying to discover a need that consumers themselves don’t even know they have can be a bit daunting. How do you know whether you’re serving an actual latent need or just making something that no one wants? How should you identify them in the first place? And, once identified, how can you be sure you’ve hit the jackpot and chosen the right ones? Well, that’s where qualitative research comes in, observing consumer behavior and asking the right questions, at the right time to deliver game-changing insight.
Strategists, designers, and of course, research professionals can identify latent customer needs by taking a qualitative approach followed by quantitative research to verify their findings with larger samples. By beginning with a qualitative approach such as mobile ethnography or a research community, researchers can really get inside the consumers’ minds and begin to understand their unsolved needs and frustrations. The goal of the research is to not only to understand what they need, but also to identify emergent needs across categories based on macroeconomic, socio-demographic and rapidly shifting lifestyles.
It’s no longer enough to solve an existing problem consumers have. You must engage the leading-edge, outliers and abstainers to identify latent customer needs which can provide something of a lens for tomorrow’s products and services too. That’s where the magic comes in – and where you can deliver significant ROI.
To learn more about online qualitative research methods, download our essential guide now.