I’ve heard a lot of conversation around “what do people really want from us” in the digital space; people = target audience and us = advertisers/advertising. (We’ll save why we separated out digital for another conversation).
I’ve heard - “We should ask them”.
But people only know what they know.
If Thomas Edison had asked people if they needed another way of providing light, it’s unlikely someone would have said “yes, we need lightbulbs!”. Would Einstein have bothered with the theory of relativity if he had put the idea into a focus group? If Steve Jobs had asked people “do you want a new MP3 player” we wouldn’t have the iPod. Thankfully Edison and Einstein and Jobs didn’t have the masses weigh in on the feasibility of their ideas.
I’ve heard - “The answer is nothing. They don’t want anything from us.”
Also a possibility, but highly doubtful for two reasons – again, people only know what they know. Maybe they think they don’t want anything from us because they don’t believe we can give them anything of value (and then we are dealing with a pretty big perception issue that needs to be solved) Even if all they want is just general news and a stock price, that’s still something. And we should make it the best damn something it can be.
Is there a guiding principal to what people want from us online? Yes and its not that complicated and has to do a lot with the basic fundamentals of human nature (in addition to playing in advertising we sometimes pretend to be sociologists, psychologists and anthropologists):
1. They want to seem smart and be accepted. Smart can mean “intelligent”. It can mean “first to know”. It can mean “well-versed”. It can even mean “cool”. It also suggests we have to communicate with some degree of honesty and transparency because if we don’t and people end up feeling stupid because we duped them or if their reputation or social standing is impacted, then we lose them FOREVER. It boils down to a reputation thing and the basic human need to feel accepted. If you don’t believe me, that’s cool. Just prove to me people inherently want to be outcasts and look/feel stupid and I’ll change my mind.
2. They want information that makes them seem smart. And that information doesn’t have to come directly from us. It’s probably better if it doesn’t come from us. It can be about us, but let their peers or people they admire be the ones to share it with them. Or talk about it. Still not sure? Show me someone who actively searches out information that makes them seem dumb.
3. We want to be entertained and/or intrigued. We can’t always play - sometimes fun and games have to wait. Sometimes we can combine the serious stuff and the fun stuff and that’s a win win. But even the most career focused individual is human and at some point, wants to be entertained or interested in something. Not there yet? Ok. Show me people who have no passion for or interest in anything at all. Not even their goldfish. Or a piece of wood. Or breathing.
So answering what people want online isn’t really that hard. The tricky part is understanding all different people who want different types of information about different things at different times.
And that’s not impossible to figure out, if we use a mix of data, intuition, and even some trial and error. Isn’t that the fun part?