Tales of the Unarticulated Need

It’s easy to solve a problem consumers are overtly talking about. If they say they want a soda with less sugar, companies will rush to create sugar-free options. When they say they need detergent packaging with easy-to-carry handles, you’ll see handles on every detergent bottle out there. But what happens in the moments the consumer isn’t actively talking about?

What is the Unarticulated Need?

The Unarticulated Need is a concept around understanding what consumers need, but don’t know they need. It is derived from behaviors they are doing but often haven’t realized – behaviors we call “workarounds.” The challenging part of this need is that, in essence, it doesn’t exist. No one has overtly said they have this problem, and no one understands that they need their workaround to be solved. Yet, at the end of the day, solving this need can help businesses tap into their consumer groups in newer, more focused ways.

Tide asked consumers what more they need from their detergent – they answered with bigger bottles and more potent solutions. When Tide performed household immersion research to understand their behaviors further, they found something completely different: consumers were dipping a toothbrush in detergent and scrubbing out stains before adding their clothes to the washing machine. This workaround highlighted a problem consumers weren’t even aware they had – an ability to spot clean when necessary. From this research Tide created the Tide Pen, a multi-billion dollar product. By watching for what consumers did in the moments they didn’t discuss, Tide was able to truly tap into consumer behaviors and solve a problem their competition could not.

How to Leverage Consumers’ Unarticulated Needs

More often than not, the Unarticulated Need directly supports market research or and other efforts. It will bring specificity to the general trends uncovered through focus groups and industry reviews, add a behavior element to pure sales data, and help companies tap into the psychology of their consumers from a purchase intent angle.

So through understanding all this, one question usually comes forward: even if consumers don’t know they have a problem for which they’ve made a workaround, why doesn’t their behavior still come to light in focus groups?

As counterintuitive as it may sound, this tends to occur because consumers place very little importance on the actions that directly tap into their Unarticulated Needs. They think the bigger problems they have day-to-day are the overt issues – product size, price, packaging, point-of-sale, etc. How they then engage with products feels personal and often does not strike them as something they may need help innovating. Most won’t even think a company can innovate those items.

The key, however, is to note that these habits are personal and usually driven directly by their lifestyle. That lifestyle is becoming increasingly streamlined through a variety of technological and service-based solutions as consumers become busier and busier. So when a consumer has a workaround in their lifestyle, it is often indicating an opportunity for innovation that will streamline that action through directly removing the steps a consumer needs to take to achieve their goal.

Going back to our Tide Pen example, the removal of steps is clear: before, consumers had to wait until getting home, then took their stained clothes to the washing machine, took out their toothbrush and dipped it in detergent, scrubbed the stain and then put it in the washing machine. Through the Tide Pen, designed to easily be on-the-go, a consumer could instantly scrub out a stain no matter where they were, then throw their garment in the washing machine later. Even though in total it only removed about 10 minutes of effort from the consumer day, it felt like a whole new solution to a problem they didn’t realize they had, but now clearly noticed.

Whether a technological breakthrough or just a new approach to packaging, tapping into the Unarticulated Need of consumers gives companies an additional angle for innovation that comes directly from consumer lifestyles. Companies will be able to give themselves the opportunity to create a product that, when seen on the shelf, will elicit an, “Oh wow, I really need this!” response from their consumers.

Discover how we leverage consumers’ unarticulated needs for meaningful insights. Contact us to book a demo.

– Alina Imam, Strategic Manager of Consumer Insights