Codifying our Human Desires

Understanding Desires vs Wants & Needs

Desires – as human motivations – are often sexualized, trivialized or marginalized as wants … fleeting indulgences at the edge of who we are or want to be in a moment. The things of longing daydreams and romance novels.

However, Desires are at the very core of who we are as humans. More than needs or wants – both of which we may often have to do without.

Desires are ever-present drivers of our thoughts, feelings and behaviors.

Understanding the underlying Desires of our needs, wants and behaviors helps us understand WHY we make the choices we do.

The Human Desires Map

There are four basic Desires that define us as humans: Power, Attraction, Comfort and Play.

These four Desires are simplified, borrowed, connected, pieced-together versions-of well-studied sociological and psychological literature … which is all rather dense and tough to read.

This Human Desires Map – and everything you’ll see here – was built by Customer, Now to be a bit more human and easy to use.

Working with a group of 500-ish ordinary, extraordinary people around the world, we started with a technique called “the 5 whys” to understand what motivates people and why it does. We then keep asking “why” to uncover the root cause of what’s REALLY motivating people’s behavior. The first “why” gets you fairly expected responses … but by the fourth or fifth “why” – multiplied by 500 people – you get some pretty good ingredients that we categorized into these four Desires. We then put this framework back in front of people to validate it and further explore emotions against it.

The result is a framework we hope you’ll have a lot of fun with … and take seriously. To help you have better and deeper relationships with people by understanding what really motivates them … and you.

The Human Truth about Human Desires

Drop any number of us on a desert island, and we will exhibit all four of these Desires in due time, usually in very short order. Any one of these Desires in the extreme is dangerous, of course, just as living in denial of these Desires isn’t living.

To understand these Desires is to understand our shared humanity as to why we do what we do.

We should probably add here that there is a light and dark side to these Desires. But with Customer Now, we are focused on the positive – looking for the possibilities to grow and build.

Defining Our Human Desires

Power

Is the Desire to feel in control. Control of -or- control over. Ourselves, others, materials, thoughts, feelings and our behavior. The power to love. To lead. To hurt. To build. To destroy. To give life to. As humans, we have more and greater control of our destinies than any other species … but we have a hard time feeling it.

Attraction

The force bringing people together. Attraction is as much about how we see others as how we see ourselves. To accept who we are; to accept others as they are. Only then, can we feel connected.

Comfort

Where we feel most secure and most vulnerable. Wrapped in swaddling clothes or confident in who we are. Feeling safe. This feeling can be physical or emotional and usually both. Rarely are we uncomfortably cold without feeling miserable 😉

Play

Where we are free … to unwind, relax and enjoy. Play is as important for adults as children. But Play is probably the aspect of ourselves we neglect the most, motivated by the pursuit of Power, Attraction and Comfort over the Desire of Play for the misrepresentation of it as foolish, time wasting or silly. But Play is where we are free from and free to be who we really are.

Unpacking Desires and the Feelings They Create

Power to me equals self control and able to make choices, exercise my own freedom and respond positively and beneficially to what other people choose to do or any challenge that arises.”
Power feels like responsibility for the choices we make, and being happy with those choices. It feels like making a difference even just to one very small part of the world, positive and hopeful.”

The connection between Desires and Feelings is both a natural and a causal one. We desire Power, because, it makes us feel in Control. We desire Comfort, because it makes us feel Safe.

We desire x because it generates y feeling and y feeling is good … so we want to repeat it.

The ultimate feeling of each Desire is an important one to understand, because it’s why our Desires motivate us. Because we want more of that feeling.

Power + Control

Power and Control just sound negative. And for good reason … they can elicit all kinds of bad associations with being controlled by another. And yet, as one person simply stated, Power is, “having the ability to control the things in my life that make me happy and to overcome negative thoughts.” Not bad.

This Desire of Power to have greater than less great. To have more control, greater strength to “create a life you want to live” … is, well, very powerful.

Power and control are not only relevant in the moments of great strength. We see Power surface in any and all kinds of choices. In the authority and the ability to control your choices as your own.

Love this. Control of one’s self…knowing that if we don’t control ourselves, others will do it for us. Can I get an “Amen!”?

While a few people rejected (or wanted to reject) Power … for all of its afore mentioned negative affect, the truth is, Power lives in all of us. “Power is within everyone. It is the ability to not let disappointments, setbacks, adversity get you down. I believe I can overcome any obstacle if I put my mind and spirit to it.”

We all have Power. And we all desire more of it. It’s ok. Power is a powerful force. To empower others. To give people the power of control. To make our choices ours.

Attraction in my life is twofold. One is my attraction to others while the other is attraction to me. Not, romantic attraction, but the attraction of one spirt reaching out to another spirit. On occasion I have just met a person and we become friends almost instantly. This kind of attraction is felt and sensed on a spiritual level or perhaps as some might say as a gut feeling.”

Attraction + Connection

Attraction is so easily and often connected to outer beauty and sexuality that we miss the deeper meaning of how Attraction works.

We can think of attraction as an iceberg. The surface is what we can see and what we quickly associate attraction with looks, with beauty, with traditional ideas of “handsome” and “pretty” … but even to go a step deeper into “inner beauty” we still miss the massive block of Attraction-ice under the surface.

Listen to what this one person says about Attraction. As a reminder, these people are not experts, scientists nor the Dalai Lama.

Lots of good stuff to unpack here … but most interestingly is the idea that attraction is just as much about you as it is me. And that’s what connects Attraction to Connection … that WE are attracted to one another. That WE connect.

As opposed to the other Desires, “Attraction” lives in context of others. While we CAN be attracted to others without them being attract to us, the heart of attraction is being accepted by another.

Or, quite simply, as one person said, “Attraction is what happens when two forces pull each other together.” Exactly.

It’s like a big soft blanket that you can cuddle up in.”
It is something that feels easy, familiar, relaxing.”
Comfort is like sunshine in my life. It is what I have sought for my entire life.”

Comfort + Safety

Mmmm, comfort. It just sounds good. Cozy. Warm. Soft.

Finding comfort is how we recover and recharge. Comfort is a retreat … of surrounding yourself with things and people that make you feel safe. AND it’s about stripping away all the things that don’t make you feel safe. It’s as much in feeling safe as NOT feeling unsafe.

Said differently, we need to feel safe to be comfortable. One woman simply said comfort is, “My home, my boyfriend where I can let myself go a little”.

Letting go requires feeling safe to do so. We don’t “let go” from the tight rope without a harness, without a net, without the confidence that even if something goes wrong, I’ll still be safe. That’s what we saw across people’s contributions, that the nature of true Comfort was feeling safe.

Comfort may seem the most “passive” of the four Desires. But in our work with people, we saw nearly the opposite. That Comfort was the most important, most sought after Desire. And, here’s where it got REALLY interesting, Comfort was the Desire that showed up most in the other Desires. There is a very strong connection between Comfort and Play, Comfort and Attraction and Comfort and Power … making even more sense of our “sweatpants” example.

Play makes me feel happy and free. It allows the inner child to come out and have fun when I play with my grandchildren. It gives me a sense of freedom…” 
Doing things that provide pleasure and spontaneity: cooking, gardening, drawing, painting”
It’s the freedom to be yourself, to live, laugh, love and do your favorite things while having a full heart and happy mindset.”
It’s the fun part in my life where I don’t have to worry about my responsibilities etc.”

Play + Freedom

Play isn’t just for kids. It’s an essential quality of who we are. It’s the freedom to be my most me.

Play is where we see ourselves as our real and best selves. The people we were as kids. The people we still are as adults … but we have let the stressors and the expectations and the worries get in the way. The people we are in moments of Play – where we connect to our most-me-selves and to others who let us be them – are who we are at our most free.

You know who gets this? Dogs. They just play. With one another. With themselves. With their family and friends. They don’t let the pressures of “adulthood” hold them back. And we humans get this about our dogs. “Play is my doggie … Bella is the light of my life. I’ve had her for 14 years now – a little Jack Russell Terrier….she loves to play.”

Loving to play. Not forcing ourselves, or feeling awkward to, but loving to play. We all could probably stand to be a bit more dog 😉

How Desires Work Together

None of our Human Desires work in isolation. There can be great Power in being Comfortable in who you are … which can be very Attractive. And so on …

Finding the points of intersection, overlap and white space is part of seeing the opportunity in tapping into more of our humanity in more meaningful ways.

Mapping Desires

In our work at C Space, we’ll often conduct a simple, yet illuminating exercise where we ask clients to think about where their brand sits on the Desires Map. After some discussion, people tend to place a brand in multiple places, but more in one or two boxes than the others.

Similarly, we may do the same exercise with our clients’ customers. What we often find is that the company and the customer see a brand very differently, exposing a challenge or opportunity in better connecting them both.

Opportunities to bring brands closer to customers and expand the relevance to customers vs other Desires.

An Example: Mapping the Evolution of Sweatpants

Let’s see how this whole Desires Map plays out in a real/semi-real example … with sweatpants. Sweatpants, joggers, tracksuit bottoms, or trackies were first introduced in the 1920s by Émile Camuset, the founder of Le Coq Sportif.

We’re no sweatpant experts. We simply started with a super mundane product category – sweatpants – to see how the Human Desires Map would play out in an example with which we can all relate.

We all know sweatpants. The staples of sidelines and lazy Sunday mornings. If I were to ask you to associate sweatpants with one of the four Human desires, without thinking, you would all say “Comfort”. And you’d be right, of course. Our immediate, natural association of sweatpants is with comfort.

However, when we dig into it and look at “sweats” over time, through different brands, products, materials and lifestyle shifts, we can see expanded associations, beyond “Comfort” and into “Play”, “Attraction” and even “Power”, creating new relevance with consumers by addressing more of our innate desires.

Somewhere back in history – let’s call it the 80s – sweatpants started to evolve beyond the “Comfort” box and moved into “Attraction” and “Play”… think luleulemon, Addidas, Nike and created, what is now an estimated US$200 billion global athleisure market.

While never giving up its “Comfort” cred, sweatpants found new relevance as they became more fit for “Play” (the pun is intentional). Sweats became more functional, with new materials, moisture wicking and/or repelling qualities – creating new occasions to use them, not merely after sport, but for it. Sweats became more emotional too, as identity markers of an aspirational, active lifestyle … where I both “work hard and play hard.” [insert 80s fashion model stare]

Further, the humble sweatpant, found new acceptance in the “Attraction” box, as they walked out of the yoga studio and walked into the after-yoga coffee shop. They took on new forms, fits, colors and designs. They showed up on celebrities “just like us”. They were embraced by designers. They were given new names like “leggings”, “jeggings”, and “joggers”. Lawmakers spoke out against them (btw, there is no better way to get people to embrace something than by getting lawmakers to speak out against that thing, but I digress ;-).

Not to mention the “Power” sweatpants can yield when I decide that I’ve had enough of squeezing myself into someone else’s version of me and I find “power” in the “comfort” of being my “real” self in the perfect pair of joggers.

To put a dramatic point on it all, let’s look at the difference in two different pairs of sweatpants.
In a collaboration with North Face, Gucci sells a “technical jersey jogging pant” for $1,300. Similar, but differently – very, very differently – the brand “Fruit of the Loom” sells “Eversoft Elastic Bottom Sweatpants” starting at $7.44 at Walmart. That’s a price elasticity of 175x – for a pair of cotton/polyester blend pants with an elastic waistband.

The Human Desires Map doesn’t explain why one would spend $1,300 for a pair of sweatpants, (that’s a whole separate Episode of Customer Now), but it does help to understand the human conditions that create a market for $1,300 sweatpants. That is, by expanding one’s associations between a product and the Desires it could trigger, a brand can create new relevance between a product and its audience. To get people to think of it differently. To get people to feel differently … about themselves. To create new associations, use cases and occasions. To create new rational and emotional relevance for a brand, even within a product category as mundane as sweatpants.

Living in More of Our Desires

This leads us to the end … and to a really important point. While we access and connect to each Desire in different degrees, one Desire is no less important or more important than another. Each Desire is present. Each Desire motivates our behavior in different ways. Each Desire has its own strength, weakness and balance point. And each Desire lives in context of and in relation to the others. Said simply (and probably a bit overstated)…

To live our most complete lives is to lean into each of our Desires in balance with one another.

We could probably use the most help with Attraction and Power. Feeling connected to others and in control of ourselves. We could probably stand to get out of our Comfort zones a bit and Play more. To feel more safe and more free.

The first step is to recognize these Desires in yourself. Not as good or bad, as strengths or weaknesses, but as present. And to understand these Desires are just as present in others.

Our hope is that we all can use the Human Desires Map to recognize a bit of ourselves in others; and a bit of others in ourselves. When we can, we start to build stronger relationships by relating to more of one another, more completely. In new ways. In more meaningful ways. To possibly, ever so slightly, improve our human condition.

Customer Now 2021

How did 2020 change the rules of engagement between customers and brands? For nearly a decade, we’ve tracked the connection between companies and customers; what we saw in 2020 was a complex and rapidly changing picture - fluid emotional shifts, driven by economic, political, cultural, and environmental uncertainty.

Over the next 12 weeks, we’ll be sharing what we’ve discovered about the state of the customer, now — and the implications for brands — answering three key questions:
— What really changed with customers in 2020?
— Which behaviors are here to stay?
— Which brands are set up to succeed in 2021?

Methodology +

In March of 2020, we launched “Customer, Now” - an online community of 504 people in China, Germany, India, Japan, UK and the US, to build an ongoing relationship over-time and understand more deeply how the events of 2020 were affecting them. We produced weekly “episodes” on from “Customer, Now” through 2020.

Our COVID tracker, fielded weekly from April 10-13 through July 2-6, 2020, with a total of N=68,358 (base for all analyses unless otherwise noted):

  • US n=57,985: sample with respondents from all 50 states.
  • UK n=2,783: sample with respondents from England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
  • Global n=7,590: international sample with respondents from 45 other countries, including India, Canada, and Mexico.

Our customer benchmark has surveyed more than 125,000 US customers over 6 years, to benchmark which brands they love and how this picture changes over time. Companies are rated across more than 30 different brand behaviors as well as several outcome measures including NPS, recommendation, discouragement, and intent to purchase. From this, we have identified a core battery and four additional levers that help companies form strong emotional connections with their customers. In 2020, we also included in our benchmark 5 brand behaviors specific to COVID which form their own index alongside several other COVID specific questions. We found these metrics to be especially important in our on-going monthly tracker which we began back in the Spring to track consumer sentiment in relation to COVID.

To hear more about this framework, get in touch.