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Finding What We Didn’t Know We Wanted

There’s a lot of activity in the “search world” these days. Microsoft is putting $150 million in advertising beyond its latest search venture, Bing. Twitter is making our 140 character “conversations” searchable in real-time. Facebook is said to be launching its own search function so we can take the stalking of our friends and exes to new heights. Of course all of this is happening as Google continues its algorithmic dominance of “organizing the world’s information.”

With the competition for search growing, consumers have more and presumably better ways to find what they’re looking for. Search has democratized information by bringing us closer to the content relevant to our needs, while making it easier to find in the process.

However, the idea of search presupposes that we as consumers know what we’re looking for—we type-in “xyz” because we’re looking for pictures of, thoughts on, directions to, or the best price of “xyz”…because we know we want more information on “xyz.”

But what about what we don’t know we want? How do we find that?

No one ever thought to ask for a Coke, an iPod, or The Cosby Show before they came to be. Consumers are dependent on companies to find things we will want to consume.  After all, it’s not until we know we want something that we can search for it.

And herein lies the opportunity for forward thinking brands: to move beyond the corner of your market that will actively search for you to understand the voids in people’s lives.  To get at what someone never thought to ask a search engine. To tap into a need someone never knew they had.

This idea is bigger than finding “unmet needs.” It’s about “creating needs.” It’s about being the taste-maker for consumers to expose them to new thoughts, ideas, problems, and solutions to those problems.

Great brands make it their jobs to broaden the perspectives of their customers. They inspire. Apple, Starbucks, and Nike all expose consumers to new ideas and influences that push the understanding of the world around us and its possibilities for us. None of these brands invented anything altogether new. They introduced us to what we didn’t know we always wanted.

This goes as much for these iconic brands as it does for pharmaceutical (did you ever consider you might have “restless leg syndrome” before you heard of a way to treat it?), B2B, B2C, or CPG brands. They can all create new needs and expand their relationships with their customers by doing so.

To create these needs, it’s not enough to look at data to see where consumers were or what they did yesterday. It’s not enough to understand their click-throughs or responses to a survey. To really tap into consumers and serve them in new ways you have to understand them as human beings. To understand their feelings, how they think, what motivates them. You need to search them. Not wait for them to search you.

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