When you launch a new product, service, or business you need to make sure that it’s grounded in an unmet need.

An unmet need is something that customers really want a solution for, so without this grounding then there’s a much lower chance of success. If you can identify a big enough problem that enough customers are experiencing, then you know you have a foundation to take forward.

People consume products and services to achieve desired outcomes. Most of the time, we don’t want the product or the service itself, we just want to get a job done. Look at toothpaste as an example. People don’t actually want to buy toothpaste, however we do want clean and healthy teeth – we want the outcome rather than the specific product itself.

So, how do you pinpoint what needs your consumers have that need to be met?

One way is to go and ask them directly, which can give you some insights, but as Henry Ford reputedly said: “If I had asked my customers what they wanted they’d have said a faster horse.”

Often, customers don’t know what they want, so we need another technique to actually find out what pains they’re experiencing and what problems they’re facing that we can potentially solve for them.

We can do this through a two step process called, customer observation.

Step One:
You can’t observe your customers from the comfort of your own home or office. To really gage the pain points your customers are facing you need to get out there and put yourself into the environment where your consumers are spending their time.

Where you go might be determined by an industry that is specific to your business, or the business you want to build. If for example you’re in fashion retail, you should inject yourself into that environment.

Get out there and observe the way customers interact with existing products and services. Look at what consumers do with the existing products or services, how are they using them, and ultimately what are they trying to achieve by using or buying them.

Step Two:
So you’ve put yourself in the right environment, what’s next?

Now you need to identify a need that’s either been poorly met, or not met at all. Take Uber as an example – they noticed that people’s need to get around in a fast and cost effective manner was not being fully met by the taxi industry. So they created a more efficient solution to that problem.

Here are a couple of things to look for that will enable you to find that unmet need:  

Areas of inefficiency – anything that doesn’t work properly or effectively for the consumer.

Workarounds – things people do to make a product or a service fulfil the job they originally wanted it to do.

User torture physical or psychological discomfort to the user, essentially anything that’s uncomfortable for the user, and not helping them achieve the outcome. 

Foreign tools  things being used with a particular product,  item, or service to ensure the required job gets done.   

Swearing and frustration if customers are frustrated with a product or a service and they’re venting that frustration that’s a clear sign that it’s not helping them achieve the job that they want to get done.

As you’re a fly on the wall, observing these interactions the key thing is to write everything down. Take as many notes as you possibly can around areas of potential discomfort or dissatisfaction with a product or service.

Remember that identifying an unmet need is not an instant process. While some may have a light bulb moment it is more likely that you will need to spend several hours or days doing this. After an extended period of time you will see some patterns emerging. From here you can start thinking about solutions you could create to solve those needs for the customers – this is the foundation of all strong business models.

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