When Insight Becomes Foresight

“When you know what people really want, you know what they’re going to like.”

An old boss of mine in advertising said this to me once, and at first this sounded to me like a tautology. Like saying, “a = a”. Well, duh.

Then I realized that what he was really saying is this: When you have an understanding of what deep down people are really wanting/craving/yearning for, then you know in advance what they’re likely to reach for when they see it. But the way my boss said it was much more pithy.

People, myself included, rarely can articulate in words what they really want as an emotional benefit, as they’re going through their day. I spend a lot of my life in hotels, and I don’t walk up to reception and say to the young woman behind the counter, “Today, what I really want is to feel like I’m in my own personal palace, my royal home away from home.” While this may be the unspoken promise of luxury chains such as Shangri-La or Ritz Carlton (or even more mainstream but upscaled offerings from Hyatt and Hilton), it’s never said aloud, and certainly never articulated by guests as they walk into the lobby.

I doubt very much that Tesla experienced a lot of self-doubt when they made their plans to a) download autonomous driving software into the on-board computers of their current owners (it was met with nearly rapturous applause); or b) offer a more affordable, pared down version of the Tesla, thus making it accessible to millions of customers who’ve been salivating over the luxury version. This is a company that knows what their customers really want.

Great brands know what their customers really want, the emotional payoff they’re seeking that customers can’t even put into words. And in knowing this, they have the ability to discern whether their customers will find any new features or offerings appealing. It isn’t guesswork, it’s emotionally intelligent planning. This is the point I’m trying to make:  Companies that have developed their emotional intelligence and intuition will never fall into the trap that Henry Ford identified a century ago, when he was asked how he knew that Americans would love the Model T:

“If I had asked my customers what they really wanted, they’d have said a ‘faster horse’.”

– W.