How Smart Companies Understand User Needs (and Exploit them)

Product Management

How Smart Companies Understand User Needs (and Exploit them)

This week’s theme is ‘Understanding User Needs’ [Read the first part: Understanding User Needs – The Fundamental Motivation Theory) and here is presenting the second part in the series – How companies create product/service around user needs.

The second part takes the discussion to the next level and will revolve around how smart companies understand user needs and build features/messaging around the same.

For the sake of this discussion, we will focus mainly on the top 3 needs – i.e. Love/Belongingness, Esteem and Self-actualization.


Search for ‘crossed followers’ in Twitter and you will have enough results to spend your entire day surfing who crossed 200 followers, who did 1000th etc.
Why do people do that?
Because it serves their ego, their esteem and the basic need to be recognized in the society.

Twitter displays one’s total number of followers/following in one’s profile page and that acts as a trigger to increase the ratio.

Infact, think of this:

Why do you invite your friends to Twitter/Facebook/social networks? How does more people=more useful product work?

Cause Related Marketing

Word coined by American Express, Cause Related Marketing is often used by companies to appeal to customer’s philanthropic senses and at the same time, differentiate themselves from the pack.

Cause Related Marketing, in a way offer customers an opportunity to contribute to the society without moving their butt (well! that’s the reality!).

Examples – Tata Salt announced “Desh Ko Arpan” programme which was launched in 2002

The Desh Ko Arpan Programme will contribute 10 paise for every kilo of Tata Salt, sold during specific periods, to the education of underprivileged children.
The money raised was Rs 33 lakhs in a period of one month (2002 numbers) – source

Similarly, there are tons of marketing promotions where FMCG companies partner with NGOs to share a small percentage of sales revenue – and the fact is that all of such Cause Related Marketing strategy work.

Why? Because, it appeals to one’s instinct of giving back to the society (a perception of having reached ‘self-actualization mode’)


People love to collect points/numbers on the Internet and the more they have, the more they want to show-off.

Look at Orkut design – profile information prominently display the number of friends/scraps etc.

You are pretty much judged by the number of friends and scraps you have – appeals to ‘Esteem’ needs.

Was in double mind whether to publish this pic or not - I do not have a fan!

On the contrary, Facebook appeals to one’s social needs – the core idea is to connect to your friends (and not to ‘explore’ new friends).

Royal Enfield

To me, this is the grand daddy of all products that appeal to human senses. You only know this, when you are riding one. The world looks at you and asks you several questions about the machine (right from mileage to ‘how does it feel?’) – you treat it like a girl friend (and maybe more than that).
Enfield riders wave/smile/look at each other when on the road – there is something about the bull that makes it so special.

Royal Enfield - Creating Product Champions
Royal Enfield - Creating Product Champions

Why is that? First of all, the sales happens thru’ word of mouth (their last TV ad was in 2005, as far as I remember).

Limited supply, Closed groups create an aspiration to be ‘in the ring’. You know what I mean, right?

And why do Enfield riders wave/acknowledge each other? Feeling of being in the same tribe. Same ‘Esteemed’ tribe.

What about those who aren’t part of the tribe? They aspire to be there.

Spiritual Groups

What do they sell? Each one of them have unique motifs, but they sell you the same thing – how do you reach self-actualization state? (Read: Marketing Lessons from Spiritual World)

The very fact that they have huge followers speaks of people who want to reach out to that state.

Aquaguard/Iodized Salt

Aquaguard has become a de-facto standard in water purification system. How did they achieve that?

They did create an awareness and FUD (fear/uncertainity/doubt) regd. the normal water (i.e. normal = contaminated) – which did hit the users’ safety needs.

Ditto with Iodized salt. Infact, Tata salt created the first packaged iodized salt in the country. How did they market it? By creating awareness about the harms of not using iodized salt (‘safety’ needs, i.e. normal = harmful).

There are enough examples of how businesses understand different set of consumer needs and work around a campaign/programme to accomplish their objectives.

If you look at successful products, you can map them to certain user behaviour and how they help users in reaching what they wanted to.

The question to you is – are you building stuff just because it has worked with somebody else? (for instance, every socionet has a scrap feature, so you should have one too?) or do you dig deeper and analyze whether your product/service appeals to user’s needs or not?

Most importantly, does your product/service helps them move up the hierarchy?

pic credit: 1,2

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