Asking our customers what they want is one of the first steps to design and promote our products and services. However, people are not always aware of the real reasons for their preferences. In this article we’ll see three companies that succeeded because they discovered what their customers really wanted.

Reading Simon Sinek‘s book, “Start With Why”, I found a story that fascinated me: The story about how Unilever changed forever the way of promoting laundry detergents.

Initially, detergent manufacturers asked consumers what they were looking for in a laundry detergent. Customers said that they wanted a detergent that eliminates stains while colours remain bright. It seems logical. We would answer the same.

Thus, detergent manufacturers engaged in a war of ads to show who had the best formula to remove stains.

Meanwhile, Unilever undertook a different strategy. They didn’t ask, but observed consumers. And what they discovered changed the way detergents were advertised.

Unilever observed that when people took their laundry out of the dryer, they didn’t thoroughly inspect whether there was any stain or checked whether colours remained the same. The first thing people did was smell it.

Obviously, we all want a detergent that removes stains, but that is something that is taken for granted. What makes the difference is the feeling that offers a sweet and fresh scent.

Thereafter, detergent manufacturers changed their battle against stains by the battle to offer the cleanest scent (though the typical ads on magic formulas never disappeared).

This story caught my attention, and thanks to it I became aware of a detail that I had missed while watching TV ads.

Let’s watch the following Apple’s Ad For iPhone 5.

Before reading Sinek’s book, I had watched this ad several times. I found that it was somewhat inspiring, nothing more. After reading the story about detergents, I realized one thing: although being a phone ad, it only promotes one of its features: the camera!

If someone had asked me what I wanted from a phone, I’d have said “to make and receive calls. Now, I realize that making an ad with the aim of convincing people that a certain phone is the best making calls would be simply absurd.

Obviously, a phone should make calls. What is going to make me choose between the different offers will be, therefore, elements like the camera, design…

And finally, our last TV ad before finishing this article. Watch the following BMW ad.

This ad is not about technology or power. In fact, the car doesn’t even appear. The ad title is “Do you like driving?” BMW is selling us an experience, a feeling.

The obvious conclusion we can draw from these three examples is that we must not only ask the customer what they want, because perhaps they aren’t aware of it. We should observe them in order to detect real needs and future trends. In brief, to understand what our customers really want.