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Customer Needs, Wants and Demands

Provided by IFC, adapted from Business Edge® workbook, “Introduction to Marketing Concepts"

How well you understand your customers’ needs and wants will greatly impact on how your business thrives. Successful, customer-focused marketing requires an understanding of human needs, wants and demands and in general, what motivates human beings. Building a marketing strategy around these aspects is critical to the success of the business.

Let us look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory to further understand consumer behavior vis-à-vis buying. In 1943 Abraham Maslow introduced the below list of human needs to understand what motivates people:


Maslow argued that most human beings must satisfy their basic needs before moving on to a higher level need. For example, if one’s biological needs are not met, they will not be concerned with the need for love and belongingness, or independence and status. Maslow further suggested that one’s actions and decision-making are strongly related to the five need levels in his needs hierarchy.

In marketing, company’s ability to masterfully appeal to one of these motivational drivers is a defining factor for success.


Difference between needs, wants and demands


Basic human needs are the fundamentals for one’s existence. These are food, water and other elements of survival. Usually, products in this category do not need to be pushed; customers will seek and get them on their own. However, taking into consideration today’s markets, even food and drink items need to be marketed wisely.

For instance, drinking is a basic human need. The drink that has quenched human thirst has been water. However, when a customer sees a soft drink ad on television, needing a drink changes its meaning. There is now a much wider pool of products that can satisfy the given need and it is up to the business to convince the customer that its product does just that. 


Wants are very much related to the needs, even though wants are not a crucial part of life. As soon as basic human needs are satisfied, wants become predominant. However, they are not constant like needs; they change with time or geography of the person that is experiencing them. As producers expose consumers to more products, their wants and desires expand.

Our wants come from a combination of our personal experiences and our culture and depend mostly on our environment. Wants might be specific to our environment. They might vary from countries to even regions, depending on the believes promoted by the culture.


When someone has a “want” for a specific product and at the same time, has the ability to pay for it, then this “want” becomes a demand. Many times people want a product or have a desire to access to a service but not always have the buying power to satisfy this desire.   Demands are “wants” coupled with buying power. Customers want products and services and companies must also take into consideration how many customers in their market are willing and able to pay for them.

Applying theory to your customers

Consumers usually do not want to buy a product just because you make it available to them. They are trying to fulfill a need or solve a problem. Hence, companies need to ask the following questions:

  • What type of need are our customers trying to satisfy?
  • How can we market our product in a way that addresses that exact need?

Consequently, when businesses understand the needs, wants and demands of consumers, they are more likely to sell and become profitable. 

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