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My answer is yes (well, almost always).

Of course I always run into people who believe that marketing is really about creating needs. Indeed, many people in this class appear to believe this creation story. But this is not the first group of people that disagrees with me. I have often run into this debate.

Why do I take this position? Well, it is simply because I believe people think at too low a level about customer needs. To see this, let's consider the computer industry that has typically taken the position that they created the need for a computer (many people cite computers as a great example of creating needs).

Why did people start to buy computers in the first place. To see this, consider the first "killer application" that really started the adoption of computers. The first killer app was VisiCalc, a spreadsheet that was the precursor to Excel and others. But what did VisiCalc do? It allowed people to do accounting and "what if" scenarios. Was this the first time in history that people did accounting and what if scenarios? No, this practice began hundreds of years before, but computers now provided an easier way of doing this.

Now, think of word processing (the next killer app). Did writing begin in 1980 when word processing programs become available? Hardly. The need to write and communicate did not begin in 1980, instead the computer allowed us to write letters in an easier manner. The same goes with the next killer app that was graphics and presentation software. No, the need to draw pictures and present did not start with the advent of the computer.

The need for communication, personal differentiation, self-actualization, comfort, beauty, health, etc. have all existed for thousands of years. So what is the new need that is being created?

What people also forget is segmentation (that some people in the market always cared about these needs) or perceptions (that people had the needs, but didn't perceive products could satisfy those needs better than what they already have).

When you think about the benefits that that these products have, it is hard to see how products create needs. Now I agree that sometimes customers may not articulate these needs directly – often because they don't believe the need can be fulfilled or they aren't being asked the right questions. But create needs?

Ok, I have an open mind. If you have an example of a product that created a need, let me know. I'll provide a response, if I can, or if not I'll concede.

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image of Allen Weiss

Allen Weiss is the founder of MarketingProfs. Over the years he has worked with companies such as Texas Instruments, Informix, Vanafi, and EMI Music Distribution to help them position their products defensively in a competitive environment. He is also the founder of Insight4Peace and the Director of Mindful USC.