Why don’t people buy what they need?

A sign saying "you need coaching" and Simon thinking "Do I want this?"

Are you selling what people want, or what people need?

It’s important to consider becuase, people don’t buy what they need. People buy what they want.

The two may be linked but they’re not the same thing at all. Wants and needs are very different and in marketing, it’s easy to get the two confused, or focus on the wrong one.

So what’s the difference between people’s wants and needs and why does this matter for your marketing?

People often don’t know what they need

The distinction between wants and needs is often clearer to you than it is to the client; especially in coaching and similar supportive services – the client wants to feel or be better but doesn’t know what they need to get them there.

The marketing pitfall is that you, as the expert, can see what they need and so you focus your marketing content on those needs. But this rarely works because people aren’t thinking about what they need; they’re thinking about what they want. Often, what they need is not at the front of their minds and it’s certainly not what they’re basing their decisions on.

By focusing on their needs, your marketing is on the wrong wavelength. They’re not engaging with your messages because – to them – those messages aren’t relevant.

Need vs. Wants


A need is something that is necessary for survival or for achieving a basic level of wellbeing; a requirement. Examples include food, shelter, clothing, healthcare, and safety. These are things that we must have in order to live and function in society.

Some people will be very aware of the needs that they have, most will be relatively unaware of them. Being unaware of a need doesn’t mean that they don’t feel it in some way. Usually, it’s just that they cannot articulate this need or frame it in a way that they understand. People often don’t contextualise needs or connect them to behaviour.

As such, in your first interaction with your audience, their needs can be easily overlooked, unconsciously bypassed or avoided. The potential client often can’t see what you can see so clearly.


A want is a desire or a preference. It is not necessary for survival or basic wellbeing. Examples include luxury items, entertainment, leisure activities, and specific ways of meeting a need (for example, hunger indicates a need, how that hunger is satisfied may indicate a want in deciding “I want to eat this type of food”).

Wants are often what a person thinks they need to address or act upon. They are most likely what a person has in mind when they seek out a solution to a perceived problem or frustration.

Needs may reflect an underlying problem. Wants often focus on the way in which they would like to address that problem (quite often without a deep understanding of it).

Market to where they are, not where you think they should be

Once someone has decided what they want, trying to persuade them that they actually need something different is very difficult. This is where most marketing falls down, pushing your solution to a need to people who have already decided what they want. It’s an uphill struggle.

The solution is to focus on what the client wants, on what they are looking for. Even if you can see what they need really clearly often it’s best to save that for later in the conversation or during the work you do. They’re not ready for this …yet.

For your marketing to be effective it’s far easier to help people better understand more about what that they want.

By encouraging them to explore their current situation – to offer a new perspective, or help them connect with a new idea – you’re inviting people to look at what they want, and understand whether it is what they’re looking for, or not.

Needs and wants both play important roles in people’s purchasing decisions, so it’s important to recognise the difference between them and to consider how we speak about them in order to help them make an informed decision.

But… How can I know what people want?

The reality is that most people can’t clearly articulate what they want. They want it anyway. So if you just ask people what they want, they may not be able to tell you. Part of ethical marketing is to use your expertise and deeper understanding to shed light on a potential client’s wants, and underlying needs. To get them to say, “That’s me.”

Even if you know that through working with you, they will work on and even resolve their needs, those needs are not always clear to them yet. Your marketing content and conversations must initially speak to the wants. In time, the needs will emerge, becoming clearer to the client. Then, they can be worked on.

By considering both needs and wants, you are looking at the bigger picture, and applying your knowledge and understanding to where they are now.

Key questions to ask

When thinking about people’s wants and underlying needs, use the following prompts to explore how they are articulating their situation:

  • How would they describe what they want to a friend or colleague?
  • What would (have) they typed into a search engine to learn more their situation?
  • What questions are they asking you? Are they focused on solutions or satisfaction? Needs or wants?

If we begin by talking to a potential client about what we can see they need, they won’t believe that we can deliver what they want. Even though it might be what they really need. So when we do our marketing, we would talk about what they want and then deliver to them through our work what they really need.

If you want to know more about your ideal client’s needs and wants and how you can talk to them about them effectively in your marketing, then consider my book Reframing Marketing. it’s a three-step guide to ethical and effective marketing and in it we dive deep into how you can get to know your ideal client better, talk to them about what they want and give them what they really need.

You can find out more and order your copy directly from me at reframingmarketing.com