Need State

A need state(s) is the name of a concept that can be used to define the topology of a market – a map for showing the driving needs that determine brand choice in a particular market.  Consumers may have multiple need states within a category.  Need state thinking does not fit consumers into separate and fixed boxes.  

Need states refer to the complex web of rational, emotional, social, environmental and personal triggers that lead to the choice of a particular brand or product. The word ‘state’ means ‘the condition of a person with respect to circumstances’ (view URL).  Need states are context-dependent needs.  For example, the choice of what snack to eat on-the-go depends on who I am with, where I am, what is available nearby, how I feel emotionally, how I feel physically, what time of day/season it is etc.  The final choice crosses multiple categories e.g. it could be a Mars bar, ice cream, bag of crisps, McDonald hamburger or Starbucks latte depending on a host of contextual factors operating at the moment of choice. 

The term ‘need state’ was first used in the mid 70s by the Mars marketing team to describe how brands can be developed so that they dominate a context in which a brand is often selected.  The result of this model of thinking can be seen today – certain chocolate brands have come to dominate a need state thus creating a brand heuristic (See Heuristics) e.g. Mars bar for energy, Kit Kat for a little daytime break, Galaxy for indulgent pleasure, Maltesers for TV/Cinema treating.  Dominance is achieved by consistent and repetitive brand communications including packaging.

Need state thinking was first applied to brands in FMCG markets but increasingly it is being used to understand service and financial brands e.g. investment/saving, insurance, leisure (holidays, destinations) etc.

The need state model of thinking can be used successfully for strategic, tactical and innovation challenges.  In most markets 4-5 need states account for the variation within category. These need states can then be measured in terms of size, frequency, value, closest competitors as well as the demographics of consumers.  This kind of segmentation is useful for portfolio planning – one brand can rarely meet multiple need states and therefore brand portfolio management requires more accurate alignment of brands against single need states.

Need states has particular relevance to contemporary theory as it is a Behavoural Economic model of thinking.  The question ‘why’ is not used to understand need states – only the questions ‘what’, ‘when’, ‘where’, ‘how’, ‘who’, all of which relate to behaviour rather than attitude (see Behavioural Economics)




Further reading: 

1. Gordon W. (1994) Retailer Brands – the value equation for success in the 90’s.  Journal of the Market Research Society, Vol 36, No. 3

2. Gordon W. (1994) Taking brand repertoires seriously. Journal of Brand Management Vol 2, No.1

3. Gordon W. and Valentine V. (1996) Buying the brand at point of choice.  Proceedings of the Market Society Conference, March 1996

4. Leith A. and Riley N. (1998) Understanding Need States and their Role in Developing Successful Marketing Strategies. International Journal of Market Research Vol 40, No. 1