Need States and Websites

I’ve been reading The Dorito Effect, a fascinating book about the food industry in America. At one point, there’s a discussion about how some food companies are no longer thinking of their customers as an Asian-American housewife or a Hispanic Millennial guy, but are thinking instead about need states.

The housewife might need to fix something for impromptu teen dinner guests, something that will be cool enough not to embarrass her kids in front of their friends. The young man might need something quick and tasty for a break in a video game marathon.

They’re different when it comes to demographics, but they both are in the same need state: they need a quick, on-trend meal that they can fix at home.

“Need state,” along with “usage occasion” and “brandshare” may be primarily retail jargon. But they can be a good way to get unstuck when you’re thinking about your customers. Never been stuck? We often see it: people thinking about how to attract millennials or customers from a particular ethnic group, people who’ve gotten stuck in thinking that their customers have the same reactions they do… there are plenty of ways to get stuck.

So if you haven’t thought about need states before, try it now.

People accessing a tourist attraction with a mobile device probably are in a need state that’s mostly about maps, hours, and prices. It’s about the same as the need state people on phones have for restaurants at lunch time, medical facilities, and hairdressers.

We could call it the “Where are you and what do you cost? I’m on my way” need state.

But the desktop users of these websites are likely to be in quite different need states. Someone browsing through art exhibits for pleasure has a different set of needs and desires from someone researching restaurants for an upcoming special occasion. Neither of them is mostly looking for a map and payment information.

We don’t usually focus on this concept for websites. But it might be useful to do so. We know a lot more than we used to about how people use the internet, there are some useful generalizations we can make, and it’s possible to get broader ideas about how most people approach different kinds of online experiences. So maybe we can apply the marketing concept of need states to website use now.

Not only can need states affect the way you plan your content for different devices, it can also affect the way you plan your landing pages, your pop-ups, and your download offers. It can be brought into your thoughts about the path to purchase and micro-moments.

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