A need is defined as "a state of felt deprivation in a person" (Kotler, Chandler, Gibbs, & McColl 1999, p. 4). The most basic human needs are those for food, clothing, warmth, and safety. There are also needs that are more psychological, such as the need to feel loved, to feel successful, or to feel a sense of belonging. A more thorough explanation of needs can be found by considering Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs theory.
Maslow's hierarchy of needs theory describes five levels of need that exist in a hierarchical order. In order from highest to lowest, these needs are: physiological, safety, belongingness, esteem, and self-actualization (Daft 1997, p. 530). The physiological need refers to the basic human needs for food and water. These are essentially the basic things that every individual needs to physically survive. The safety need refers to the need to feel safe, secure, and free from threats. Depending on individual circumstances, this could refer to a need to feel financially secure, including having job security, or it could refer to a need to feel free from threats of violence. It could also refer to a need to feel emotionally secure, including feeling secure in family relationships. The third need is belongingness. This refers to the need for social acceptance, which includes the need to be accepted by peers and can include the need to be accepted by a partner. The fourth need is esteem. This refers to "the desire for a positive self-image and to receive attention, recognition, and appreciation from others" (Daft 1997, p. 530). The final need is self-actualization. This refers to the need to reach one's potential and feel self-fulfillment. This consideration of Maslow's hierarchy of needs shows that physical needs are only a small portion of all needs, with psychological needs making up the three highest categories. The other important point relates to the way the needs are organized in a hierarchy. This means that the needs have an order of priority, where the lowest needs take priority first. However, this lowest need only takes priority when it is unfilled. That is, once a person has fulfilled their physiological needs, the second level of safety needs will then become the priority. In turn, once an individual has fulfilled both their physiological needs and their safety needs, belongingness needs will then become the priority. This means that the actual need a person is motivated to fulfill is dependent on their current level on the hierarchy.
The next important point is that a need refers to a general desire a person has and does not refer to a specific product. A want is more specific and is defined as "the form taken by human needs as they are shaped by culture and individual experience" (Kotler, Armstrong, Brown, & Adam 1998, p. 6). For example, a person may need clothing. The specific type and brand of clothing they purchase will be shaped by their culture and by their own experiences and preferences. The next important term is demands. This is defined as "human wants that are backed by buying power" (Kotler, Armstrong, Brown, & Adam 1998, p. 6). For example, an individual may want a convertible sports car and may have a specific product in mind. However, if they do not have the buying power to actually purchase the sports car, it remains a want and not a demand. These terms related to needs are all important to the consumer behavior model.
Consumer Needs and the Consumer Behavior Model
The central component of the consumer behavior model is that consumers recognize or become aware of a need or want. The need or want recognized is influenced both by the individual's internal psychological factors and by external or social influences. The internal or psychological factors include: motivation, learning, attitude, personality (Perreault & McCarthy 2000, p. 123). Motivation is closely linked to need because an unsatisfied need is what motivates an individual to take action. This was described in the discussion on Maslow's hierarchy of needs, with it especially significant that the unfulfilled need is what will take priority at any given time. Learning is closely linked to the process of needs becoming wants because it helps determine the form that the need takes. For example, consider that an individual needs a new vehicle. They have previously owned a Ford and a Honda. With the Honda, they had constant mechanical problems and found that repairs and servicing were expensive. With the Ford, they had few mechanical problems and found that servicing was inexpensive. From this past experience, the individual has learned that Ford vehicles are reliable and inexpensive to run, while Honda vehicles are unreliable and expensive to run. Based on this, the individual who needs a vehicle is most likely to want a Ford vehicle, not a Honda vehicle. This illustrates how past experience influences an individual as their need become wants, either by making them want a certain product type or by making them not want a certain product type. This example also illustrates how attitudes influence the form that the need takes. In the example, the individual has developed a positive attitude about Ford and a negative attitude about Honda. These attitudes have then influenced the specific product that the individual desires. This process can also occur based on factors other than the individual's personal experience with products. For example, another individual may have the attitude that Ford vehicles are for the average consumer and that Mercedes vehicles are for the elite buyer. If this individual considers himself as one of the elite, he may reject purchasing a Ford vehicle based on this perception. One of the important points is that the attitude is not based on the individual's own experience with the product. Instead, it is based on their perception of the brand. Attitudes can also be influenced by advertisements, other people's opinions, and general opinion on the company that produces the products. The final psychological factor is personality and this may also affect the specific form the need takes. The other factors are the external factors and social influences. This includes the individual's family situation. For example, a single individual seeking a vehicle will most likely have different wants than an individual who is married with four children. This is not only because the use of the product will change based on the individual's family status, but also because priorities will differ. For example, in the case of the single individual, they may be focused primarily on themselves and the current time, and so choose to purchase an expensive and exclusive vehicle. The married individual with four children may be more concerned about the future and may factor in the other people in the family that need to be cared for. In this case, the desire for an elite vehicle may be overwhelmed by the need to do what is best for the entire family. For these reasons, the want may be a small second-hand vehicle. Other factors that influence the form the need takes include social status and culture. Another important consideration is reference groups, with these having the potential to influence both needs and wants. For example, a teenager may develop a need to own a certain brand of item because their social group accepts that item. This analysis shows the aspects that influence the development of needs and wants. The next part of the consumer behavior model refers to what consumers do about these recognized needs and wants.
The first important point is that the individual will only take action on the need or want if they have purchasing power. When this happens, the need or want becomes a demand the individual starts the buying process. The first part of this process is a search for information. In some cases, the individual will already have developed a specific want and will seek information on a specific product. In other cases, the individual will only have identified a general need and will seek specific products that can provide for that need. In either case, the individual will search for information, compare available products, select the best solution, and purchase the product that represents the best solution. However, it is also important to note that this process is not necessarily an extensive one. In fact, one source notes that "most consumer problems and the resulting decisions involve very little effort on the part of the consumer" (Neal, Quester, & Hawkins 1999, p. 1.15). This means that individuals will often not select the best possible solution, but will instead select the first solution that meets basic needs.
Application to Marketing
Now that needs and the consumer process have been described, it is important to consider how it can be applied to product marketing. The first important point is that a product needs to meet needs and wants. Perreault and McCarthy (2000, p. 111) note that trying to get consumers to act against…