If there's one thing clear from the American Consumer Project, it's that the definition of "need" varies, depending on whom you're asking. Here, we look at how the various members of our sample determine what a necessity is and how marketers can position their products as such at a time when every new item purchased is a trade-off for something else.
ROSEMARY, a 40-year-old married Asian-American with a 10-month-old daughter, lives in affluent Howard County, Md. Her family hasn't cut back so much as added new products for their daughter.
HOW TO BECOME ROSEMARY'S "NECESSITY": She's looking for products that will impact the health and well-being of her family, no matter what the price. Rosemary joked that before the baby she didn't care about how much pesticide they ate, but now she makes more frequent trips to the grocery store and farmers' markets in order to get fresh organic produce. A product can move its way up the want-to-need spectrum by emphasizing health and wellness -- specifically in regards to her only child.
JENNIFER, a 31-year-old white married mom with two boys, ages 3 and 1, is from Grayson County, Texas.
HOW TO BECOME JENNIFER'S "NECESSITY": ""Need' to me is what is necessary for the well-being of my family," Jennifer said. Convenience is critical. For wants, she tends toward emotional rewards like going out with friends and her husband. She does a lot less personal shopping and has made trade-offs on the brands she buys for herself. "As a mom, I have lost my aptitude for impulsive buying," she said. If a product can be shown to simplify Jennifer's life, it has a good chance of moving from the want end of the consideration spectrum toward becoming a "need."
SANDRA, a 42-year-old African-American single mom with two daughters ages 18 and 4, lives in East Baton Rouge Parish, La.
HOW TO BECOME SANDRA'S "NECESSITY": Though Sandra is on a pretty tight budget and price is always going to be a consideration in her purchases, if a product is of use to her daughters, important to their education, or something that she and her girls can use, she's willing to stretch for it. The key to unlocking Sandra's wallet is to show that a product can work for multiple family members.
MICHAEL is a 31-year-old affluent African-American with an MBA and a business-consulting job. He lives with his Hispanic partner and (for now) a roommate in the New York City borough of Manhattan.
HOW TO BECOME MICHAEL'S "NECESSITY": Emotional satisfaction is a strong pull when it comes to Mike's discretionary spending. He has what can only be described as big-city problems, and financial concerns are less important than practical (very little space and a busy life) and emotional ones. But friends are deeply important to Michael, and products and services that help him spend quality time with them have become regular expenditures, making entertainment and camaraderie keys to positioning for Michael's attention.