19
January
2009

Needs, wants, qualities, valuables, Worth 23:05 on Monday

The more I think about user experience and worth, the more I feel like I’m going to come up with some kind of a groundbreaking revelation.

Valuable things
Valuable things, originally uploaded by Thorsten Becker.

A revelation, that turns out to be a piece of 400-year old business wisdom, taught in the first beginner class at every business school. And I will be sitting home with the revelation everybody knows already, having gained nothing but the pride of having figured it out by myself. I’m sure it will be similarly satisfying as playing a game of sudoku.

Nevertheless, here’s my latest step towards that revelation. (Anyone who already has spent those first 30 minutes in business school, you’re more than welcome to comment.)

Business is about what?

Let’s say that business is about creating value, and keeping some of that value to yourself (as hammered to my head by Sig, thanks ;).

By creating value, a business comes to be in possession of valuables. These things of value can be tangible (like apples), but they might as well be intangible (like opportunities for relaxation, or hopes of future returns on stock).

Just how valuable these valuables are, is decided by each customer individually. A business knows the cost of their valuables, how much they spent creating the valuables, but the business can only estimate the worth of their valuables to prospective customers. The business makes a guess, and names their price. The customer decides whether the price is fair by comparing the set price to the value of the object to them.

So if no customer sees any value in what the business is producing, the business in effect has… nothing.

The notion of valuables establishes that:

  1. Customers find the valuables to be of worth to them (material worth or more often not)
  2. And consequently, the valuables can be turned into profit

So you could say that the customers’ perceived worth is the source of value, that can be turned into profit.

But where does worth come from?

Sources of worth

Valuables are only worth something when they fill a need or satisfy a want. You could say that these are the two sources of worth: needs and wants.

Needs can be absolute necessities for human survival, like food, or needs for civil survival, like having a mobile phone. Needs will be acquired in a way or another, without minding the price, if it comes to that.

Wants could be said to be things that you can live without. You might want a new 46″ TV, but you can certainly live without one. It is very difficult to draw a line between needs and wants, and for the purpose of my argument, there’s no need to draw that line either.

You could say that both needs and wants are about what:What do you need?” or “What do you want?”

But wait — there’s also a third source of worth: qualities. (Attention, please! This is the key of this revelation.)

Qualities are about how: How are your needs going to be fulfilled? Qualities are about senses, experiences (user experiences!), feelings, values, aesthetics, design and yes, from the perspective of a business, also quality.

Turning wants and needs into profit

Wants and needs are easy to turn into valuables and profit.

You need to eat? Pay me a little, and I will buy the ingredients, and prepare a meal for you, while keeping a small profit.

You want that new TV? I’ll build a factory, design the electronics, build the components, get a TV built, and ship it to you — if you pay for all of that, and a little premium on top.

Wants and needs are easy: you buy something, you sell for more. You spend a little effort, and get paid for doing things on behalf of someone else.

Turning qualities into profit

Qualities are a bit more difficult, but not at all impossible to turn into profit. In fact, I’m thinking qualities are a huge opportunity.

While taking care of the need to sleep away from home, the hospitality industry is great at seeing the value in various qualities of their offerings. Want to sleep under five stars? You pay more. Want to stay in a “design” hotel? Pay more.

It is surprisingly difficult to get companies to treat qualities as an asset, considering there are already many many qualities that get funded by companies: brands, industrial design, customer service training…

Just like you can strive to find new “untapped needs”, you can find “untapped qualities”. Finding untapped qualities might even be a lot easier than finding untapped needs, even though turning them into profit could be more difficult.

You might also have underutilized qualities, like for instance (my favorites) user experience or technical quality. If you’re satisfying a need to watch all TV channels (the “what”), it is quite impossible to satisfy more of that need. But you can always make it better (the “how”). You can improve the experience, you can make the technology smoother. You can increase the worth of your product by tapping the underutilized qualities.

In short…

  1. People have needs and wants. They appreciate qualities.
  2. Customers are attracted to products/services which fulfill their needs, satisfy their wants and have qualities they appreciate.
  3. Profit!

Let me know what you think. Blow this train of thought apart. Coat it with syrup. Whatever.

2 Responses to “Needs, wants, qualities, valuables, Worth”

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  3. Improving the TV — /personal