Yes you CAN sell ice to Eskimos – Part II: Our Primal Needs

In Part I of this blog, I introduced the age-old secret of entrepreneurship – understanding the essence of what you’re really selling, i.e. defining the intrinsic quality of your product or service that compels your customers to want it.   This is also referred to as the ‘value proposition’ or ‘deep meaning’ of any particular offering, elucidating the reason ‘why’ someone should want it (vs. someone else’s).

I showcased a personal example of selling books door to door and how I repositioned a commodity product in a seemingly crowded space.  My experience convinced me that one could create multiple market segments for essentially the same product by uncovering the multiplicity of human needs.

In Part II of this blog, I introduce a novel categorization of innate consumer ‘Needs’, a convenient euphemism for ‘Consumer Wants’.  My categorization is composed of two major parts:  Primal and Advanced Needs.  Part II of this blog covers the Primal Needs and the upcoming Part III covers the Advanced Needs.

Note:  Ideas that matter fill one or more of the innate needs I describe below, i.e. impart a clear value proposition or deep meaning in the mind but mostly the heart of customers that ultimately add to their happiness (and we can only hope, human progress).

Categorization of Innate Consumer Needs (The Things that Make us Happy):

Categorization of needs

Let’s define the first four innate needs, the Primal Needs along with examples of products and companies that cater to them.

Primal Needs

‘Superpower’ is the catchword for the need to experience something new and incredible.  Superpower is a fitting word because since the dawn of time, we have been trying to feel closer to God (God-like), or at least distance ourselves from a mere animal.   

A ‘Superpower’ endows us with superhuman senses and abilities (or allows us to command animals (horse spurs) or robots (Roomba) to do human things for us, the ultimate God-like power).  It usually starts off as an elitist phenomenon (The car), but eventually gets old, democratized, and ‘slips away’ to the Empowerment, ‘now everybody now has it’ category (the Model T).

Superpowers are not necessarily things we show-off to our friends and neighbors (that’s another need altogether). They’re mostly things we enjoy in private, but certainly have a danger of turning us into shallow materialists – much like Gollum and his ‘precious’ ring, Gulliver’s Yahoos’ and their useless gems, and me and my Alentejo ’95 Pera Manca Red – the nectar of the Gods that shall remain unopened.

Let’s look at epic Superpower examples in different ages:

Stone Age:  Stone tools & fire (and not much else)! Took these folks a while to get going with Innovation, seemingly complacent w/ only rocks & sticks for millions of years (Don’t feel alone, large companies!)

Middle Ages: Printing Press/ Guttenberg Bible, Eye-Glasses
Renaissance: Flush Toilet, Telescope/Microscope
Early Modern:  Astrolabe/Ephemeris/Maritime clock, Bicycle
Industrial Age: Steam engine, Car, Airplane, Telegraph/ phone, Electricity distrib./light bulbs (and the Necrophone!)

Seems Only Yesterday:  AC, Legos, Computers/ Internet/Web, Viagra, PCR, Gleevec, Cell phones, & everything TV (Remote control, Tivo, HD, etc.)

Present Modern:  Smart phones/tablets, Next Gen Sequencing, Music Playing toothbrushes, Cialis (Does it not outsell Viagra?), AI/Robots/Driverless Cars (Look Ma, no hands!), and all products featured on the guilty pleasure, airplane catalogue, Skymall, including Soap on a Rope (pretty incredible when you think of it).

Superpower Organizations
There aren’t many, as most seem to be wallowing in Stone Age complacency. The exceptions include Google (Organize all the world’s info, Driverless Cars, AR Glasses, etc.), SpaceX and Planetary Resources.  There is also Nest…Oops, Google bought them…Stark Industries…hum?…that’s a fictional company….so….can’t think of anyone else actually. 

The need for ‘Association’ is mostly about needing to belong to a culture, which by definition is shared beliefs, knowledge, religion, customs, etc.  In essence, it is about belonging to something greater than yourself.

A lot of products or services can fill the need for association, if not only between us and our friends and family.   In the gaming console market, the Wii played off this need to get families playing together in the living room, differentiating itself from competitors, which were catering to individual gamesmanship (Aspiration).  A new pilot offering by Panasonic, On4Today, aims to break the detachment between caregivers and the elderly in assisted living facilities.

Association Organizations
The prime example of a company that’s all about selling Association is Facebook – no wonder they scooped up communications platform, WhatsApp.  Another outfit that’s all about Association is the US Marine Corps (“The Few, The Proud”).  Think about how much it must cost to train a Marine – you want him or her to stay for life, as opposed to the Army recruiting tactic based on Aspiration (“Be all you can be’ was their best slogan, replaced by short-lived ‘Army of one’ (too individualistic), and now ‘Army Strong’ – at the end of the day, they mean: “Come through the Army to serve, but also to prepare yourself for civilian life”.  

The need for ‘Protection’ is based on the insight that humans hate to lose something more than they love to gain something.  But it’s not just protection we crave; we also seek the associated ‘Peace of Mind’.   Humans want to protect their culture (God/ Country/ Freedom), their family, their lives, their earned success/reputation and their prized possessions – won’t argue about the order.

A great example of a ‘Protection/Peace of Mind’ product would be a ‘Cell Phone Parachute’ (My Qualcomm Venture Fest all time favorite idea submission (which didn’t make the cut) – I am freely giving the world that idea now – run with it! (But check with Qualcomm’s IP licensing, just in case)!

Protection Organizations
No need to belabor local and federal government’s role in protecting most of the things above.  There are also plenty of companies, industries actually, that cater to protection including insurance, healthcare, finance, home security, premium package delivery (FedEx, etc.), weapons, and a now a slew of online reputation experts protecting your hard earned Social Capital including Persona.   

Yes, Revenge is an innate need, albeit a sin that most of us aren’t gallant enough to suppress.

Thankfully, there aren’t many products that cater to Revenge, besides divorce lawyers that is. A former student proposed a bar concept called “Rebound”, complete with a pawn shop for engagement rings and a plate smashing alley – at least safer than a gun vending machine!

Revenge Organizations
Besides divorce lawyers and psycho-therapists (that ‘listen’ to our Primal Screams), I’ll stay away from thinking too hard about this one, but “Revenge is a dish best served cold”, should make for a good catering company specialized in Gazpacho.      

Stay tuned for Part III, a description of mankind’s more advanced needs, Empowerment, Aspiration, Escape and Emphathy; I’ll try to postulate, that in many ways, our Advance Needs serve as counter balance for our Primal Needs. 

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