Designing Durable Demand —
do you need to reinvent the wheel?


Meeting “Real Need”…

In a recent 'Inside Retail' article “This lies at the heart of retail failure”, by Dennis Price of management solutions consultancy Ganador, argues that marketing alone is not responsible for the creation of great brands.

He argues that it is demand that lies at the heart of maintaining a successful brand. He also points out that marketing excels at making the consumer more aware of a brand. Also he identifies, what he calls ‘the relief of customer pain’ as the solution to retail failure. Both of these principles are sound. However for me this is only part of the solution as he has not considered how the role of “real need” creates demand in the first place.

In his article, Price argues that marketing identifies need. Here I have to disagree. Marketing can most certainly identify commercial opportunities which may or may not address customer need. However, it is only within the field of design that “real need” is identified. The customer often does not realise they are missing something, or have a need for a different service or product until design creates it.

Why is this? Marketing tends to focus on short-term thinking relying upon what is known in the past and the present to address immediate issues to make quick financial gains. For example, it may identify a market niche that has been overlooked or developed over time. This methodology which is generally effective for short term results, resides in yesterday and today and not in any long term future. Designers on the other hand are well aware that if you ask the customer about what they want, the majority of answers will be based upon their knowledge of what went before and what exists today. For most customers any real concept of how the future may look is totally unknown to them.


Design the Future

It is the nature of design and designers to live in the future by simply wanting to make their own life and the life of others better. In the process they not only make something desirable, but create want and often highlight and address a “real need”. It is this need that can become the catalyst for change which in turn leads to the potential for real demand.

‘Design Thinking’ methodology understands how to use the relationship between desire, want and need. Marketing, generally sees desire and want as individual short term targets but rarely achieve “real need”. Desire, want and need are related — real need is the holy-grail that most designers work towards. For example, the mobile phone (and especially the i-Phone), has become a real need through design. We do not really need a phone in the same way we need shelter, food and water — but to live effectively, in the name of survival in today’s society — then yes, we need a smart phone.


Does added value have value?

Price also refers to the many unused features introduced to products and vehicles in an effort to ‘add value’ and extend the marketing life of the product.

A good example of this practice is illustrated through Ford Motor Company’s Edsel car design. This was a well-documented (and purely marketing driven) failure. Ford marketed the Edsel model as ‘the car of the future’, in a series of teaser advertisements over the course of a year. Once the car was unveiled, the public viewed it as over hyped and over priced.

In his article, Price is spot on when he suggests that fault lies with the age old marketing approach to brand story-telling — ie the practice of spruiking a product’s benefits in a manner so far-fetched and unbelievable that there is no chance of there being any long term lasting effect or impact upon the consumer. Part of the problem lies within the fact that marketeers believe their own hype — they fall in love with it and don rose tainted spectacles — and under a cloud of marketing pheromones completely loose sight of their target audience’s real need.


Symptom or Cause?

When Price talks about relieving the customers’ pain and the need to relieve that pain to create demand, this highlights how marketing tends to look at the symptoms whereas design looks for the cause. By substituting need for pain we can start to understand why design is better placed to identify and meet a real need as opposed to one manufactured in a marketing meeting.

By employing design thinking to identify the real cause or need, one also highlights the necessary design direction in order to successfully develop a product or service — and in doing so a real story can be told honestly and realistically in a way that makes sense to the customer. This is the real way to create effective long term demand.

Dr Philip Whiting

Zeroplus, May 2017


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