Forrester Consumer Forum 2008: Maslow is Dead – First in a Series

I attended the Forrester Consumer Forum in Dallas earlier this week. It was my 16th Forrester event which speaks volumes about how I respect the company, value their people and study their work. It’s a day and a half of data, insights and big thinking with a sprinkling of small track sessions scaled down to snack size bites. They are also the consummate hosts. This year’s anthem was Keeping Ahead of Tomorrow’s Customers. An interesting theme, since most of the attendees (including me) were dialing back growth to match a briskly receding consumer. But Forrester did a great job at keeping things upbeat while recognizing the current economic climate and giving us some weapons we could take back and use.

One of the things that has been missing for me during the big top presentations as of late has been bold predictions. The research is still top notch, the analysts are smart, “wicked smart” as Carrie Johnson would say in her Boston accent, and they are frequently ahead of almost everyone. But some of the edge has dulled. I entered the main ballroom wondering if I would get something provocative, forward looking and passionate. My take? I got more stick your neck out than usual, and I was really excited about it.

James McQuivey, Ph.D. began with a talk called Satisfy Consumers for the Next Decade (and Beyond). He brought long lost relatives to life on the stage in an effective manner illustrating his story about why some consumers adopt early, and others late. His theme was: People share a set of universal needs. Satisfy those needs and you will win. He was really getting me to lean in until… Until he trashed Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. He said.

Maslow’s needs are not ordered, not orderly, and in fact they’re messy.

Wikipedia
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs - Graphic: Wikipedia

As I said, I was looking for provocative statements and guts, and I got both. As a formally trained psychologist I take umbrage to disparaging Maslow. He had sound methods and studied some of the most actualized people he could find to help him create this classic pyramid. I don’t claim it’s perfect, that would not be remotely possible in psychology. But it is a storied framework that has stood the test of time and is to be respected. I don’t believe Maslow intended his concepts to be the basis for business sales, but Mr. McQuivey made a strong case for how the current social media trend should cause us to rethink many things. He then laid out his own take at people’s universal needs.

  • Connection
  • Uniqueness
  • Comfort
  • Variety

According to Mr. McQuivey, everyone has all four, but they vary in importance by individual, can shift over time due to changing circumstances and people will ultimately trade off one need against another. These are interesting to ponder and even more so as he lays them out in a Needs Profile designed to help marketers target consumers better.

Forrester Research
Copyright © 2008 Forrester Research

He built his next section on the idea of a Convenience Quotient that can be found in research released earlier in the year. A Convenience Quotient (CQ) tells you how you compare with competitors as well as with other ways to meet the same needs. It applies to products as well as services.

I went from upset to inquisitive to interested by the time he wrapped up. At a high level it made sense, but I didn’t really know how to reliably arrive at a CQ for any of my products or services. Seemed very manufacturing focused. Will need to go back and ponder some more. Perhaps I’ll give him a call.

The event was held at the Gaylord Texan. Essentially it was like being in The Truman Show. A space the size of a city block enclosed in glass and steel. It looked more like a movie set than a resort. Perfectly manicured and very comfortable. We affectionately began calling it “The Bubble.”

Fellow Tweets Amy & Jayne
Tweeters Amy & Jayne

P.S. I attended my first TweetUp in Dallas. It was really a fantastic experience. Twitters send out Tweets and before you know it over 50 people descended on a BBQ restaurant in Grapevine, TX. All kinds of genuine, creative and fun people. Everyone is relaxed and talking about social media, politics, their start up efforts, etc. I felt so comfortable. You can get a better feel for what a TweetUp is by watching this video shot by Top Tweet and an amazing Forresterite Jeremiah Owyang. Check out his insightful and content packed blog here.

More to come on the Forrester Consumer Forum.

One comment

  1. Steve,

    It was a pleasure to meet you at the Tweetup! Thanks for this great post. Very intriguing about Maslow. My initial response is that Maslow does not have to be trashed if one looks at consumers’ jobs to be done rather than simply their needs. Jobs change according to the various circumstances, including barriers, opportunities, ecoomic climate, etc. Connection, uniqueness, comfort, variety, all sound like jobs rather than needs. It’s sometimes a subtle distinction, but it’s critical.

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