The Continuum and the Marketplace

In consumer business strategy – from branding to product development – addressing the emotional human needs continuum is crucial to success. Businesses that seek to create superior product/service experiences need to learn how to empathize with consumers’ needs.

Years ago, our firm conducted research at Universal Studios Florida and Walt Disney World, Orlando. At the time, Universal was searching for ways to distinguish itself from its giant competitor. Consumer deep-dive research with 14 families provided a participant mix representing the park visitor population. We followed these families observing their moods and behaviors, and discussed their impressions as they experienced the parks to determine what was really at play during a family vacation.

We take vacations to escape daily life and to provide children new experiences. Vacations satisfy our need for pleasure in an ever accelerating culture. So what happens when we escape and the work piles in our inbox? In the context of emotional needs, a theme park can mean more to its patrons than they can articulate. It’s not simply about the fun, but rather the function of the fun for the family’s growth.

One might think that the two parks are locked in a win-lose competition for Sunshine State vacationers, but that’s not necessarily true. Many families visit both parks. At one time the parks offered discernibly different atmospheres. One interview subject put it: “Disney is like sitting by a stream. Universal is like going rock climbing. Both are enjoyable, both are nature, but with one you’ve got more of that nervous adrenaline rush.”

Our researchers spent days observing how this participant’s analogy was on the money. The polarity of experiences is perhaps why some vacationers visit both parks. At the time, Universal and Disney mirrored the needs continuum. However, this has changed. They aren’t merely high-end amusement resorts that offer different thrills for families. They help families satisfy psychological needs for their children.

[wcm_restrict]Security versus Independence

From toddlers to teens, children have conflicting sentiments, a desire for the security of connectedness pulling them in one direction and a desire for the adventure of independence pulling in another. At the time of our research, the Walt Disney World experience appealed to desires for security, safety, and closeness. It always offered a fantastic experience that feeds children’s imaginations. But generally speaking, its essence nurtures a younger child’s connection in a safe and fantastic world. Disney is the quintessential ‘mother’ archetype.

Universal Studios, on the other hand, appealed to older children and their families’ desire to interact with the world, through which they gain a sense of accomplishment. By developing autonomy, children boost self-esteem. Universal Studios was perceived as edgier and adventurous — stimulating and intellectually challenging. No longer was Universal just the more exciting cousin of Disney. It was an amusement park that satisfied visitors’ needs for individuality and independence.

Recognizing this fundamental difference, Universal changed its marketing from promoting what it wanted consumers to experience to a testimonial to what the experience was already providing. No longer focusing on their marketing platform – “ride the movies”– they built a new strategy – “Experience an extraordinary escape at Universal.” Steadily, Universal made gains in gate entries.

Of course, this dynamic has changed in recent years. The Disney of decades past is not the Disney of today. Their parks are now more “Universal” in feel, entertainment and attractions. That said, the dynamic illustrates the opportunities that arise when a needs-based approach is applied to business models.

The Value of Human Needs

The process is not simply one of a business matching its product to a customer’s psychological needs. To harness the value of human needs, one must understand where people are in their life cycle. Some emotional needs are more relevant at different ages, for different genders and personality types.

We see the push and pull between connectedness and individuality at each point along the continuum. No one need is owned entirely by the individuality or the connectedness side of the continuum. For instance, consider the need for belonging, essentially connectedness within a community. So much of our daily routine consists of participating in groups. We join groups for closeness and sometimes to ‘fit in.’ To a great extent the need for belonging is not wholly consumed by the connectedness space. What we belong to is a stamp on our identity.

Consider how we categorize informal acquaintances. It’s not Dave, the guy with a unique perspective on financial markets, but rather it’s Dave, the guy from Rutgers, the big Mets fan, the one who volunteers with Habitat for Humanity. Certainly, we are not the church, synagogue, or mosque to which we belong. We are not the political party we vote for. We are not the company we work for. Or the brand of shoes we wear or the grocery store we frequent. Each group we ‘belong’ to is a distinct piece of our identity.

The Needs Continuum can only be put into action when matched with a psychological perspective that helps businesses identify consumers’ unmet needs. With the right focus, meeting unmet emotional needs can be much more than a token statement issued in press releases.[/wcm_restrict][wcm_nonmember]

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About the Author

Mark Ingwer is a business psychologist and the founding partner of Insight Consulting Group, a global marketing and strategy consultancy specializing in consumer and business insights. He has over 25 years experience applying his unique blend of psychology, marketing, and business acumen to helping companies optimize their brand and marketing strategy based on an in-depth understanding of their customers. He has worked with a diverse range of companies across numerous industries, with a special focus on consumer packaged goods, healthcare, and advertising. Mark is a frequent speaker and media source, and has been featured in publications such as Business Week, New York Times, Crain’s New York, Brandweek, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Admap, Bloomberg Markets, Marketing News, and Advertising Age.

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