© The Financial Times Ltd 2014 FT and 'Financial Times' are trademarks of The Financial Times Ltd.
Also known as latent needs, these are issues and problems that customers face but have not yet realised. When hidden needs are addressed by product or service design, customers are both surprised and delighted.
Traditional methods of market research using focus groups and surveys are ineffective for identifying hidden needs, as customers often struggle to articulate their deeper needs. Qualitative methods such as repertory grid technique (from psychology) and ethnographic market research (based on ideas from anthropology) can be used to uncover customers’ hidden needs.
Companies that are successful at identifying customers’ hidden needs are able to develop breakthrough products or services. Such products have unique features that excite customers because they solve issues or problems that customers face.
For example Fuji, the Japanese electronics company, was the first to develop a travel adapter that combined all of the connectors needed to fit any power outlet worldwide, all in one unit. Previously, business people had been forced to carry a selection of separate adapters, which were bulky and easily lost. The new Fuji product cleverly combined all of the different adapters in a slide-out unit, which even incorporates a USB connector.
Other companies that have used the identification of customers’ hidden needs to drive breakthrough innovation include Bosch, the maker of pharmaceutical production equipment, and Whirlpool, the appliance manufacturer of various products such as washing machines.