How to Know What Products People Actually Want

Everything you need to know.

Zight | September 17, 2021 | 6 min read time

Article Last Updated: April 17, 2024

How to Know What Products People Actually Want

If you work in product in any capacity, you’re no stranger to the conversation about satisfying the customer’s painpoints and needs.

This might sound simple on paper, but figuring out what people actually want out of your product and business is much easier said than done.

Partially because the customers themselves don’t even always know what they want. Therefore, part of your team’s responsibility is to understand and solve those objectives for them. If you’re successful, your product will have a much better chance to resonate with the customer and maybe even foster some long-term loyalty.

Maybe you’re having a tough time figuring out what it exactly it is that potential customers might want from your company or product. In this post, we’ll break down the different approaches you can take to discover customer needs both before and during development.

Before we hop into development, let’s talk about needs and desires on a more basic level.


What Do People Need in a Product?

If you ever took an entry level anthropology or sociology course you probably recall hearing about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

While this might seem a bit too foundational, fundamentally it can absolutely relate to modern business and creating and selling custom products.

So what exactly constitutes a need?

First off, we know that a need is something that is likely to move a person towards a concrete action, or provide a motivating behavior. In Maslow’s hierarchy, he proposed a model explaining that people have basic needs that must be prioritized first (hence the hierarchy) before they seek out to satisfy their other needs. For example, one is more inclined to ensure that they have basic physiological needs (such as food or shelter) met before feeling the need to improve their status in the community by buying an expensive house or car.

Hypothetically, once someone has met the first level on the hierarchy, they are able to then move on to the next level. While reality can obviously be a bit more complicated, this framework is a helpful tool and provides a solid foundation to understand human needs and motivation.

Here is a basic rundown of the types of needs:

Physiological Needs

The needs that a human being’s body requires to function (e.g. food, water, air).

Safety Needs

The needs that a human being requires to feel safe (e.g. shelter, employment, nutrition).

Love and Belonging

The needs that a human being requires to feel loved (e.g. family, friendship).


The needs that a human being requires to feel accomplished (e.g. respect, confidence, status).


The needs that a human being requires to feel their full potential, being the best they can be.

So What Do People Want in a Product?

As you might have guessed, wanting is a little different than needs, and therefore should be treated and thought about a bit differently. As opposed to needs, wants are not as likely to cause a directly negative outcome, and instead are more aspirational in nature.

Wants can include things like how intuitive using the product is, cost-effectiveness or value, and style or aesthetic. So these facets should all be seriously considered when developing your product execution and how its marketed to your potential customers.

Customer Needs Vs. Wants

Hubspot defines customer needs as “the features and characteristics that are required for a customer to meet their goals. Needs are non-negotiable, and if they’re not fulfilled, they often result in unsatisfied or angry customers. Wants, on the other hand, are the features on top of the product’s core functionality that could help a customer make a decision.”

Essentially, needs are going to be the core motivation for the creation of your product. Somewhere along the way you discovered a user pain point that you’re confident customers would be motivated to solve. And you’ve decided to address it.

Frankly, needs tend to be easier to identify than wants. When a customer feels their needs aren’t being net, they tend to make it rather clear. Unfortunately for businesses, this could mean publicly leaving a bad review or asking for reimbursement.

We like to think of customer wants more like the icing on the cake. These are things that people might want out of your product, but might not be non-negotiables. This could be customer service, features, or other differentiators that can separate you from competitors and help win over lukewarm potential customers.

Customer wants might be harder to recognize. But, if your team does quality discovery, fulfilling these expectations can be a great way to delight your customers and provide them a great experience.

In a perfect world, you product can provide a balance fulfilling both the needs and wants of your target demographic.

How to Figure Out What People Want and Need From Your Product

To identify a potential customers’ wants and needs, you’ll have to do a bit of your own research. This can be done with contributions from various teams from product to customer success to marketing.

If you’re not certain of where to start, here are some metrics you can use to figure out what actually matters to your customers:


Customer Behavior Analysis

Customer Behavior Analysis is a report that describes the buying habits for different target audience segments. It uses your specific customer journey map to get an idea of how certain personas will react to different barriers. Using this report, you can look for different trends between different customer segments, and then outline individual needs at different moments in the customer’s journey.‍

Primary Data

First party data is data that your company has collected directly from your target demographic. It’s specific to your product or service and can really help highlight some interesting patterns and trends occurring with your existing customers. You can use this data to identify customer needs and wants that are specific to the people who are already interacting with your business. Some first-party data reports that we recommend are:

Customer Feedback

While it’s a bummer when people aren’t satisfied, it’s an opportunity for your company to learn. Incredibly valuable information about customers becomes obvious via customer success often, but it can be hard to make tangible use of it. But as a general rule of thumb, customers who are clearly upset or frustrated are at the end of the day, just communicating their needs to your business. Customers who are making suggestions typically are expressing their wants. It’s important to regularly check in on this information to stay updated on how your customers feel.

Product Testing

Product testing should be carried out throughout the entire development process. These tests ensure that your new product or feature is going to be successful with your target audience. Among the ways to perform product testing is by using a method like ‘printing on demand‘. This way, you can gauge interest and adjust the product before it officially hits the market.

Look at Competitor Products

Begin with observing your competitors and compare your product to other successful ones in your industry. If customers are buying your competitors’ products over yours, then there must be a place where your team is falling short. Comparing your current products to the best ones in your market is a great way for developers to identify opportunities for product improvement.

Customer Usage Reports

Usage reports can contain helpful information about how customers are currently perceiving and using your product. They have detailed analytics that highlight the most used aspects of your offering, as well as point out areas that are being underutilized or abandoned. The tools being used the most are features that customers need from your product. Look closer at those products and identify what the customer’s goal is when they’re using it.

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