Sometimes you’re working on a needs research project and you get this sense that something’s missing.
The jigsaw is falling nicely into place - how people see the world you’re in, the central need, the different expressions of that need that you’ve found, how those needs explain the different behaviour, where the brands all sit.
But you stand back and look at the overall picture and there’s a hole in it.
One of the ways you know something’s missing is there’s a symmetry to people’s needs. If a world you’re exploring has a Control need, there should be some kind of Freedom need too. If there’s Unity, there should be Independence. It’s like two sides of the same coin.
And of course, it could be an unmet need. That’s the Holy Grail in any needs study, a white space of opportunity.
Unmet needs are also the hardest to identify. We’ve had qualitative projects where only one respondent has initially brought a particular need out into the open. It turned out to be quite a significant opportunity.
But occasionally you look into the space and there's just nothing there.
One place we’ve noticed this is on the other side of Safety or Reassurance or Comfort. There’s a desire to feel secure, calm, content, to have peace of mind. So there really should be some kind of Adventure or Empowerment or Stimulation. Except there isn’t.
In a situation like this, we’ve now learnt it’s good to ask yourself certain questions.
Did some respondents avoid answering questions about how they feel?
Were they only really comfortable talking about the facts of the matter?
Was there a fair amount of anxiety around?
Did you notice a lot of defensive body language?
Have people been trying to convince you all along that this is a very rationally-driven category?
If so, chances are the elephant in the room is a need for Distance. To feel a degree of separation, detachment.
Once you know it’s there, you can’t believe you missed it. In fact, you start to see it everywhere. Every time people avoid a charity worker on the street. Every silent crowded train carriage.
You start to recognise it in yourself too. Every time you agree to a request but then do what you want. Every time you’re there but not there.
Why does it happen? Ask any psychotherapist. It’s every time you feel overwhelmed. Like opening up your sub-conscious, feeling a blast of heat and quickly closing the door.
That’s the irony. You’re actually trying to keep some distance from yourself. From all those pesky feelings.
So that’s all very well, but is Distance actually an opportunity?
In politics, well, it would appear so. Just look at it go.
Billy Bragg recently berated the audience on Question Time after the UK government decided to take 350 unaccompanied child refugees instead of the promised 3,000: “What kind of people are we? Are we going to turn away from our responsibility to the world? Or are we going to step up and do what we said we were going to do?”
And in marketing, we’ve always had those rationally-driven people who don’t believe brands should even try to make an emotional connection. Maybe they’re holding up a mirror to their own Distance need.
But if you do want your brand to make an emotional connection, surely the last thing you need is Distance.
In fact, what we all need at the moment is Closeness. That's becoming the big unmet need in our world.