Customer Needs You Must Focus on in a Digital World

How to make your business sustain in an uncertain reality...

14 Aug 2019 2204 Views

Written by Isabelle Andersson

Fredagsmys. As Swedes, we all know the concept. Have probably eaten that tacos and squeezed in that sofa when watching Idol ourselves. Unspoken, nobody really likes it but still, it is a way to spend quality time with our family which makes it worth compromising. Sometimes. Probably more ten years ago than today, when the reality is rather one family member eating vegan tacos, another gluten-free and the third one not even tacos, but Indian thali. This followed by one person watching Idol and the rest of the family Netflix and Youtube recommendations on their smartphones and other devices. Whether this is actually a problem or not, I will discuss later, but enough for now is to reflect on the change caused by the second communication revolution (van Dijk, 2012, 4).

No more mainstream

The societal change of the digitization is evolutionary and necessary for every person is now to embrace the rise and usage of new media. Referred to within academia is the transformation into a network society, a society which in turn can be summarized as individuals being linked by networks (van Dijk, 2012, 24). What is increasingly important in this current reality are the ties, connections to other people creating a smaller world easier to access. As the world becomes smaller, however, the distance between people also get bigger and business improvements made possible by the digitization are those of customization (Christodoulides, 2011). Today, being mainsteam is also being boring and following the footsteps of others therefore a way of showing lack of originality (Belk 2013). Not that strange and honestly, what is actually the point of listening to mediocre radio songs when now having the possibility to listen to the Spotifylist tailored especially for our individual wants and needs? From a relationship and small talk perspective there are surely incitements for being mainstream sometimes. However, as living in an individualistic society with enough resources for people to focus on self-actualization rather than more basic needs in Maslows hierarchy of fundamental needs, these benefits are not of the same interest anymore (Bauman, 2000; Egidius, 2018).

Maslows hierarchy of human needs as a tool for doing business in a digital landscape

As you might have noticed are the digitization of the world now pushing as well the individualistic mentality as heterogeneity among consumers (van Dijk, 2012, 43). It allows personal preferences to be different, also prioritized which in turn has increased people’s freedom. Consumers have become empowered and, due to an information overload and a wider range of options, demand- as well as information power can be considered as the new individual sources of power (Christodoulides, 2011; Labrecque et al, 2013).

A paralyzing freedom

So, what that the digital era has done is basically that it has created shortcuts, enabled consumers to as well do whatever they want as to be whoever they want. Today, everyone has a fair chance becoming a writer, using self-publishing services such as Books-on-Demand to fulfill that dream. For those who want to produce music, Spotify offers access to an almost overwhelming large network (van Dijk, 2012, 30). Also, Youtube has become a new arena, along with as well podcasts and blogs. As living in a welfare society with focus on self-actualization rather than more basic needs, this increased freedom has obviously become very attractive. Of course, do we want to become a writer, a youtuber along with a freelancing backpacker. Stupid would be not to.

Me, myself and I at social media

As people in the digital world has become more self-oriented, a logic conclusion supporting the fact consumers attention is now limited (van Dijk, 2012, 40), would be that people nowadays also pay less attention to others (Bauman, 2000; Belk, 2013). In other words, that your Instagram posts might be highly important for you but not of the same interest for me. However, what we both actually will consider to be important are, according to Maslow, how we are perceived by each other (Egidius, 2018). The need for social belonging is important which indeed creates an ironic contradiction where everybody cares without really caring.

Worth assuming is thus that the center of every consumers attention always will be themselves and, as confirmed in the article Brand Public, the reason why consumers interact with companies at social media is mainly that of self-branding (Arvidsson & Caliandro, 2016). In accordance with that, the biggest mistake a brand can do when using social media is being as naïve as sharing the belief that the world is all about them (Fournier & Avery, 2011), because it is not. People do not use social media to engage in brand communities and what they rather do is using brands identity in order to strengthen their own. (Arvidsson & Caliandro, 2016). Once again referring to Maslow, the most dominant needs being filled by social medias are those of social belonging and boosted self-esteem (Egidius, 2018), which furthermore stresses that the content being posted on these platforms should facilitate those needs.

Focus on needs rather than preferences

From a business perspective, this information can be very valuable and especially when trying to understand the climate at different social media platforms. Even though there nowadays is an obvious frustration expressed about customization making consumers harder to predict, I would say that is not really the case. Consumers might have different preferences but they are not unicorns, their behaviors neither rocket science. Instead are their actions well anchored in fundamental needs and capturing these are also what has been the success of social media giants such as Facebook and Instagram. What they have done is to organize their entire business around essential needs and, no matter how much we wish that we did not care about the number of Facebook friends we have or Instagram likes we get, we still care. It boosts our self-esteem and primal for all of us is that we like being liked. What we also want to feel is a sense of belonging, which as well is facilitated by Facebook with groups enabling the creation of subcultures (Egidius, 2018). So, what to learn from Facebook? Probably a lot, but in terms of customer needs I would say to focus on the fundamental ones, organize the core business around essential needs that will sustain even in an uncertain reality.

As I am now openly encouraging you to be guided by Maslow rather than trying to create new needs and wants among consumers, one need that due to my observation currently seem to be unprioritized, is that of safety. To follow the logic of Maslow, this is a basic need which must be filled before being able to commit to those higher up in the hierarchy (Egidius, 2018). At least if we want to stay happy and satisfied with our lives.

Not everything can be shared

So, what I am now questioning is the uncertain as well as individualistic reality, liquid and where collaborative consumption is embraced (Bauman, 2000; Belk, 2014). The fact that what used to be solid are now becoming fluid and a proof of that are the corporate babies of the sharing economy such as Airbnb, Uber and Facebook. Peoples increased accessibility has created new demands and due to the very success of the companies trying to meet them, there will probably be a further boom of new collaborative start-ups.

As the idea of sharing are well reflecting the values of our time (Belk, 2014), this is probably also the right way to go. However, important to consider is the human need of stability and to many uncertain elements in life will also kill the quality of it. Due to that, not everything in life can be shared and as both housing and employment are obvious sources of safety, these are also critical things for sharing. Also, relationships can be considered a source of safety but more important than weak ties with Facebook friends are the strong ones with as well family members, friends and partners. With that said, maybe not Tinder is the right way to go, neither watching Netflix alone rather than Idol with the family. Even in a liquid modernity we need the solid and by understanding that, happiness can be and increased and new business opportunities probably captured (Bauman, 2000).

In accordance with that, I wold like to sum up with my top 3 advices about how to deal with consumer needs in a fast-paced network society.

  1. Try to organize your core business around fundamental human needs rather than created ones. This will make your business sustain even when time is changing.
  2. When using social media: don’t try to steal the spotlight from the customer, better is to stay backstage. Needs filled by social media are basically those of appreciation and belonging. To keep in mind is therefore: what can I contribute with to you as a consumer?
  3. Critical in today’s liquid modernity are consumers need of stability. Facebook might fill the need of social belonging but not that of safety. Due to that, consumers do not only need to expand their ties but also new contexts for building their strong ones.


Arvidsson, A. & Caliandro A. (2016) “Brand Public”. Journal of Consumer Research, 42 (5): p.727-748

Bauman, Zygmund. (2000). Liquid Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Belk, Russell. (2013). “Extended self in a digital world”. Journal of Consumer Research, 40 (3): p. 477-500.

Belk, Russell. (2014). “You are what you can access: Sharing and collaborative consumption online”. Journal of Business Research, 67 (8): p.1595-1600.

Christodoulides, George. (2011). “Branding in the post-internet era”, Marketing Theory, 9 (1): p. 141–144

Egidius, Henry. (2018). Psykologilexikon (Elektronisk resurs) Stockholm: Natur & Kultur. Tillgänglig: (hämtad 2018-11-20)

Fournier, S. & Avery, J. (2011). “The uninvited brand”. Business Horizons, 54 (3): p. 193-207.

Labrecque, L., vor dem Esche, J., Mathwich, C., Novak, T. & Hofacker, Charles. (2013). “Consumer power: evolution in the digital age”. Journal of Interactive Marketing, 27 (4): p.257-269.

Van Dijk, Jan. (2012). The Network Society. 3rd edition. London: Sage Publications.

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BrandBase | @BrandBa_se
Students from the International Marketing and Brand Management program at Lund University are the contributing authors for the BrandBase blog.