Needs and Wants, Shoulds and Coulds

The Intelligent Content Conference is still fresh in my memory. What a wonderful group.

In my keynote address, I asked people to look up from their day-to-day activities, take note of the landscape, and decide where they wanted their careers to go. I encouraged them to pave their own way by becoming more strategic in the business and not just learning to facilitate content widgets more fluidly, efficiently, or even effectively in the business. The career path of today’s content practitioner will be paved with efforts to synthesize meaning, share wisdom, and add strategic business value.

At the conference, my talk inspired a wonderful hallway conversation I had with an attendee from a big B2B enterprise. She talked about wanting her team to focus its content on customer needs. Her point is understandable. One of the core focuses of content, and even our broader communications strategy, is to “meet the needs” of customers. We think that if we become customer-centric and make our customers successful – and relieve their pain – then, yes then, we will finally be successful.

But I said I was skeptical.

“When you think about people’s needs,” I said, “you to ask yourself what you already have that can help. The harder thing is aiming to meet the wants of your customer. That’s harder because those wants usually require something that you haven’t created yet.”

Now, to be clear, understanding the customers’ pain points and the ways that our products or services (or content) can relieve those pain points is something we should do. In fact, it’s something we must do. It’s table stakes.

Renowned author Clayton Christensen has developed a framework called Jobs to Be Done. At its core, the Jobs to Be Done framework states that people buy products and services to get a “job” done. And “success” of the job is what creates satisfaction with the customer. The classic example of this is that people don’t buy a hammer or a nail, they buy a hole in their wall. That’s what constitutes success. Helping customers achieve success – meeting their needs – should be an important part of the content we create.

We also have to go beyond meeting needs. As Seth Godin said years ago, “There are things that people vitally need … and yet providing it is no guarantee you’ll find demand.”

What if we could also create things that met the wants of our customers? This can be a powerful way to approach developing content that feeds every customer experience we create. We have the opportunity to create differentiating content-driven experiences that are separate from our products and services and may even target different audiences than the product users. In other words, the purpose of our content can extend beyond filling needs or helping customers succeed with our products or services. We must also consider what content we could give them that they would want so that they would demand more from us.

This is hard. Templates don’t exist. We may get it wrong. But there’s great potential in seeing the customer as not just someone who needs our product or service but also as someone who wants many things in life.

This is the opportunity. We can live our content life in needs and shoulds, or we can look at wants and coulds – and differentiate ourselves and our brand in the process.