The most successful innovations throughout history have one thing in common – they are valued by consumers because they uniquely meet and/or exceed previously unfulfilled needs. Occasionally, an innovation might succeed by accident; but more times than not, successful innovations are the result of an organization employing a purposeful end-to-end innovation process that begins with a deep understanding of consumer needs. With uniquely solving consumer needs as a key for innovation success, it is important to understand what a consumer need is; and that needs can be functional and/or emotional.
Functional consumer needs:
Functional needs are generally more straight forward to understand. A functional need is best described as that which the consumer is trying to get done. For example, a carpenter might need a hole in a wall stud in order to thread an electrical wire through it. Alternatively, a musician might need a way to recall and replicate something that they just came up with while improvising. Emotional needs however, are quite different from Functional needs and can be a little trickier to get your head around.
Emotional consumer needs:
Emotional needs can be thought of as how a consumer wants to feel; either intrinsically or extrinsically. As an example of an intrinsic or internal emotional need, we might think about a bicyclist who regularly rides when it is dark outside. Being able to see where she is going and being able to have others (motorists) see her serve true valuable functional needs. But, an innovation fulfilling these functional needs can also fulfill intrinsic emotional needs like feeling safe, confident, responsible, etc. At the same time, if the innovation is some amazing, latest and greatest, cutting-edge gadget, our cyclist may have been motivated by how she feels she might be perceived by others (i.e., she might want others to think she’s: “with it”, “cutting edge”, “cool”, etc.).
In my opinion, one of the best ways to tap into emotional consumer needs is through design. And one of the awesome things about design is that there is very little (if any) correlation between design and cost. Things don’t have to cost a ton to have awesome design. If you need some convincing, let me share a recent occurrence in my household that was the result of an “emotional need” being triggered through design.
Hard to say no to compelling design:
I came home the other evening to find two Williams-Sonoma shopping bags on our kitchen counter. When I looked into the bags to see what goodies we had gotten, I had to chuckle. Brand spanking new OXO measuring cups and measuring spoons. These weren’t new things whatsoever – we already have things that performed these exact functions. But rather, these were new and improved versions of things we already had in our drawers. Not only did we already have them in our drawers; we already had two sets of each of them. Now we have three!
These OXO measuring cups and spoons weren’t purchased because they all of the sudden filled an unmet functional need; not at all. The ONLY reason these were purchased was because their design spoke to my wife’s emotional needs when she was at Williams-Sonoma to pick up something completely unrelated. But here’s the deal, I admit it; they also speak to my emotional needs as well.
These OXO measuring cups and spoons are actually pretty cool! They look cool. They feel cool. They’re a heavy brushed stainless steel with grippy rubber handles. They’ve definitely got their own unique look and feel. They look like they will hold up – maybe even last forever. They don’t look like something that everyone else would have in their kitchen. They look different – and I guess that makes us a little different. They’re sort of unique – I guess that might even make us a little unique too. The design of these OXO measuring cups and spoons spoke to my wife, and they’re now ours – in addition to two other (not so unique) sets that I’m not sure what we’ll do with now.
So, the next time you are seeking innovation opportunities for your organization, don’t overlook design and the opportunity to spark your consumers’ emotional needs! Superb design can do many many magical things for your brand!
Now, let’s get innovating!
image credit: oxo.com
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Bradley (Woody) Bendle is Director, Insights & Innovation at Collective Brands, Inc. and formerly a VP of Marketing, Customer Analytics & Strategic Systems at Blockbuster, and a consulting economist. His focus areas are: Brand & Market Strategy, Product & Service Innovation, Consumer Behavior, Quantitative & Qualitative Research Methods, and Applied Econometrics. (twitter – @wbendle)