Knowing Customer Wants and Needs: How They Define Your Story

Wendy Kelly
May 13, 2014
Knowing Customer Wants and Needs: How They Define Your Story

Defining and Refining Your Brand's Story

How well do you know what your customers want and need? Okay, then. Let's step this up a bit. How well do you think you know what your brand wants and needs?

This weekend I took an intensive Master Writer's Course called Action: Screenwriting for Fiction Authors taught by UBC MFA adjunct professor Sioux Browning. Over 15 hours on Saturday and Sunday, we plumbed the depths of our character's wants and needs -- and by the end of the weekend, we all had that niggling feeling that we knew all too well, perhaps, what our character's wants and needs were...but did we know our own?

As if to answer that unasked question, Sioux gave us one last assignment: Write down our own wants, needs...and, if we could, our fatal flaw.

Screenwriting for Brand Development

What I began to notice this weekend is that, just as much as a writer's perspective is important in the creation of marketing and UX persona development, writing, and specifically, screenwriting, can add a depth to understanding not only your customer, but also to understanding your own story, and the story of your brand.

The infamous Robert McKee (author of STORY) even has a seminar for Story-in-Business, and several astute marketers have blogged about attending his Story seminar and how much it has helped their business.

No one has to tell you that storytelling is hot right now in marketing and business. It's the new buzzword. I'm definitely bullish on the concept. Your customer is your protagonist. Really. He or she is the hero. And knowing that will get you infinitely closer to a successful end result. As soon as you embrace that, you win, basically.

Many business owners, however, have a painful relationship with their hero. They are, in essence, the antagonist in the story. 

So to flesh out this metaphor, think about how you feel toward you customer. Some of you, by the grace of God, probably, will genuinely like your customer. You may have wrong information about him, you may be starry-eyed and full of vain or naive beliefs about him, but you like him. Some of you, however, and you know who you are, have complicated relationships with your customer. If they aren't engaging the way you want them to with your website, you secretly curse them out under your breath. If they are getting just so far but not far enough in making a purchase, you are genuinely frustrated with them, instead of actively trying to help them out.

And the list goes on.

Your Customer, Your Hero

But really, your customer is your brand's hero, and your job, ideally, is to back the heck out and be the invisible screenwriter (director?) of your brand's story. 

Your customer's wants and needs...and your customer's fatal flaw, can all help you to write a story where the customer gets both his wants and needs met...and overcomes his fatal flaw.

Now, I would say that the only way you are probably going to do this effectively, is if you really know your brand's wants, needs and fatal flaw, so that you can align these to your ideal customer.

A painful example: I personally abide by the idea of eating hyper-local food. Let's say my want is hyper-local food, my need is to be a socially conscious consumer, and perhaps my fatal flaw is that at times my ego gets in the way of practical food choices.

I am not McDonald's ideal customer.

But let's say that McDonald's was having a crisis many small business owners have: They had decided that their customer was "everyone" (sound familiar?) I came into their shop and started asking where their tomatoes were grown, and how their cow was raised. 

Confused McDonald's, instead of investing millions in a former CEOs brainchild and starting Chipotle and then sending me there, would try infinitely hard to please me. They wouldn't hear exactly what I was saying, since it is so against their brand's story. They'd try adding more tomatoes, or offering me a "vegetarian" burger of some kind. I wouldn't be satisfied, so they'd perhaps offer me free Coke. 

I'd leave, confused and frustrated.

Why This Would Never Happen IRL

In real life, I would never walk into a McDonald's, because they know their story so well that there would be no way that I would mistake it for a place where I could buy the kind of food I believe in. 

And that is okay, because billions of people walk into their stores everyday, precisely because they know their story so well and their story is so well aligned with their customer's story. McDonald's wants and needs are in balance with the hero of their story. 

I Always Preach "Know Your Persona"

But it comes down to "know yourself." Know your brand. Know your story, and your brand's wants and needs. If you know these things, you will attract the customer who intuitively understands your brand's story and "gets" that it will align with their wants and needs.

This is a bit of a chicken-and-egg story. Certainly you need to know your customer. And as you define and refine who you are as a brand, being flexible to the wants and needs of your customer keeps you in business for the long term. (I'm thinking McDonald's salad, for example.) But I would say that knowing your brand's story first is the place to start.

Don't Make Stuff Up

In the same way that we want to make stuff up about our customer, instead of really objectively listening to what they say and observing what they do, we all want to lie to ourselves about ourselves and our brand.

Oedipus did it. Othello did it. And you will, too, unless you are vigilant. 

I wish I could hand you a helpful worksheet to fill out for this. You don't need one. You need a piece of paper, on which you will write: Wants/Needs at the top. 

You will ask yourself: What does my brand want? You will answer this. You will ask yourself: What does my brand *need*? You will answer this. You should probably have someone with you who will hold you accountable.

What Your Brand Wants is Straightforward

What you want may be fairly straightforward, as far as your brand's story goes.

You may want a profit of $100,000 per year. You may want to improve the lives of the people who live in your community. You may want notoriety and your name in bright lights. You may want to win awards.

Your Brands Needs, Though? Dig Deeper

Your brand's need, though. This gets a little tricky.

In a traditional screenplay, the story can be told in a three act structure. And I think it is possible to super impose a brand's life story onto this framework, to get a sense of what its wants and needs are. It's a bit of a stretch, but I think some helpful stuff comes out of this exercise.

Why does your brand exist? When you started your company, you were in equilibrium. Homeostasis. Something happened, you wanted something, and that set you teetering off, creating this brand, on a quest for this thing you/your brand wanted. Along the way, you battled antagonist after antagonist. You discovered your need...and you found there was no turning back.

What is that need? What is it that your brand exists for? Does your brand need to chase maturity? Does it need to prove something? Does your brand want the adulation of the community? I think it's possible to answer this question in most cases. 

McDonald's needs to be seen as the good guy. Juxtapose Walmart and McDonald's - similar offerings, similar treatment of employees. But whereas when Walmart gets caught doing something reprehensible, they seem to offer the finger to those who criticize them, McDonald's seems to try, hard, to get everyone to agree that at least they are happier once they've finished their Big Mac.

What does your brand need? 

Once you can answer what your brand wants and needs, I would argue you are closer to knowing who your ideal customer is. Who the hero of your brand's story is. It's going to be someone whose wants and needs align with your own. Not always 100%, but if you aim to please that ideal in your marketing, you will go a long way to creating the business that you and your customer both love.

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