Rebirth of Brand
Myth of Politics

Moving Beyond Needs to Goals and Longings

Written by
Sandy Dunlop

There are many important insights from Decision Science. Most significant here is why people buy what they buy. In brand strategy, there is an understandable focus on customers’ needs. Surely it is these that we serve?


In fabric wash, the consumer needs are efficiency (I want my clothes clean) convenience. In the hotel business, consumer needs are food and a clean, comfortable room. This can not be argued with, yet is it why people choose a certain product?

The field of neuroscience can tell us what is going on when people are making decisions. They can identify a particular ‘reward’ centre in the brain that is a much better indication of the reason behind purchasing behaviour. 

The reward centre is connected to deep motivational goals. These goals are characterised by their remoteness from consumer needs. Needs are not longings!

This lightning flash opens up the possibility that simply focusing on needs and need states may just be too superficial. And this kind of makes sense. The need in laundry is efficiency but the goal might be the recognition that I am the mother that I long to be (autonomy), and feeling the joy and pleasure of a child’s smile (enjoyment).

I need a car but a Land Rover offers me a brilliant combination of security and adventure. I need a toilet cleaner but I long to kill those threats to my children, “all known germs!”

So what are these goals that are deeper than needs?

The implicit, deeper goals are rooted in flight and fight drives. These core motivations have been elaborated into six goals that form the main motivation in our lives; security, autonomy, excitement, enjoyment, adventure and discipline.

Brand Strategy - Motivational Goals
Motivational Goals - Adapted from Phil Bardon’s book ‘Decoded’


Goals (culturally-rooted) and needs (category specific) are both relevant. Needs are based on common sense and expected of the product. They are what is articulated in standard market research. They can inform the rational argument for why you buy something. 


However, neuroscience shows that more often than not it is not the rational argument that influences your decision to buy. Goals take you into a much deeper space, less easy to uncover, but much easier to create meaningful distinctiveness that can be sustained. And importantly, they form a better indication of actual buying behaviour. Goals get very close to a territory we could call ‘longings’. 

Great iconic branding moves way beyond needs to deep ‘longings’. ‘Goals’ research helps define and identify those longings. 

As the French Aviator, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry put it so poetically “if you wish to build a ship do not divide men into teams and send them into the forest to cut wood. Instead, teach them to long for the vast and endless sea!" 

October 21, 2019
December 16, 2019

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