Does Anyone Really Need Content Marketing?


Is your product sexy?

Don’t worry – I’m not going in any NSFW direction. 

I’m asking whether people buy your product because they want it or because they need it? And would you approach marketing it differently based on the answer?

Do you market products that people want but don’t necessarily need – like art, cosmetics, gym memberships, alcohol, restaurants, or social media apps, or other discretionary purchases?

Or do you market products or services that are a utility, something people need but don’t necessarily want to purchase – like health care, electricity, fuel, insurance, access to living space, or other non-discretionary purchases?

Should these two categories be marketed differently?

A discussion about needs vs. wants naturally leads us to philosophy, possibly a good bottle of Bordeaux, and a drawing of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Most people would agree on the layers of needs (physiological, safety, love, esteem). Discussion of the top layer of self-actualization – the things that fuel one’s potential – might take longer (and maybe involve more wine), but I believe ultimately, we will conclude that self-actualization is a need.

Marketers sometimes believe we design products and services to fulfill needs and we differentiate by fulfilling wants.

For example, our customers need basic insurance. But they buy our insurance because we offer more customized plans to meet our customers’ desired lifestyle.

But aren’t those “wants” just components of need? Aren’t they there to help people fulfill a better version of their potential self or future?

Of course, consumers aren’t always correct. They may not feel more self-actualized by buying the fully loaded potato skins instead of the simple plate of vegetables. But that doesn’t make the food any less of a need. It’s the act of consuming – not the product itself – that satisfies the emotion. 

Asking if we should market differently to people who need rather than want our product or service is the wrong question. Why do people buy things they don’t need? Because, put simply, they believe they need them.

Abraham Maslow referred to this idea when discussing self-actualization, which he made the highest level of need on the pyramid. He said, “What a [person] can be, they must be.” 

Any product or service we make fulfills both needs and wants. Why? Because they are all needs.

If so, then why do we need content marketing? We need it because our customers need it.

All the content we create should meet both emotional needs and wants.

We can meet the basic needs – helping customers understand what our brand does and why and how it sells what it sells.

To differentiate, though, we must fulfill additional needs. We have to add value by helping our customers achieve better versions of themselves. That’s content marketing.

We will most likely never produce any piece of content that makes someone achieve a self-actualized state. But that’s not why we need content marketing.

Audiences own the responsibility to give their needs deeper meaning. As marketers, we need content marketing to help them try to find it.         

It’s your story. Tell it well.

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