Learning the Difference Between Need and Want

Learning the Difference Between Need and Want

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Syed Aquib Ur
Syed Aquib Ur Rahman
Assistant Manager
Updated on Jan 2, 2024 13:59 IST

Distinguishing between needs (essential for survival) and wants (stemming from desire), marketers appeal differently to these concepts. Understanding consumer behaviour, psychological theories like Maslow's Hierarchy, and economic implications help differentiate and strategise for essential versus discretionary spending in marketing and advertising.


Basic necessities, including food, water, clothing, and shelter, are everyone’s needs. But the desire for a luxurious house is a want. That’s the main difference between need and want, which marketers should know about their target audience

From various perspectives, we will help you understand the distinction between needs and wants today. Stick around. 

Parameters: Need Vs Want

Let’s look at how needs and want differ, not just conceptually or psychologically, but also how they differ within the marketing perspective. 

Parameters Need  Want
Influence Driven by basic physiological and psychological requirements Driven by personal preferences
Necessity Needed for basic daily functioning Not important for the basic functioning of life
Examples Food, water, shelter, clothing, healthcare Luxury goods, entertainment, travel, specific brands or products
Nature of demand in the market Create a constant and stable demand as they are essential for survival More influenced by changing trends and preferences, resulting in fluctuating demand.
Perception of value Perceived as having high value due to their necessity Perceived as having subjective value based on personal preferences, aspirations, and the perceived benefits they offer
Marketing Appeal Focus on practicality, functionality, and problem-solving aspects Emphasise emotional appeal, lifestyle enhancement, and status symbols.
Target Audience Broad target audience due to universal appeal Niche target audience based on specific preferences and demographics.
Decision-making Consumers prioritise their needs before wants Decisions for wants are based on considerations and comparisons

Defining Needs

Needs are basic requirements for survival. With them, one can live a healthy life. 

There are two types of needs: primary and secondary. This categorisation comes from psychologist Henry Murray, who describes needs exist at a biological and unconscious level.  

Primary needs are biological and necessary for survival. Oxygen, food, and water are some examples. Secondary needs are psychological. Some examples are nurture, freedom, etc. 

Another psychologist worth mentioning when discussing needs is Abraham Maslow. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs postulates that needs are basic and complex. The basic ones are physiological. Once the physiological needs are met, individuals satisfy their safety, love and belongingness, esteem, and self-actualisation needs. 

Now, marketers, too, look into physiological and psychological needs while communicating with consumers. They look into various needs characteristics to explain the product’s benefits. Some are that needs are constant and long-term, and that they exist in a hierarchy. 

Example of Leveraging Needs Through Marketing Efforts

Let’s take an example of promoting a healthcare product – a multivitamin supplement. The marketing strategy might focus on educating consumers about the advantages of taking that supplement.

It could be about vitamins and minerals that support a healthy immune system, boosts energy levels, and helps maintain optimal health. 

All in all, the healthcare brand’s main marketing communication will be helping the consumer’s quality of life by choosing the supplement. 

Defining Wants

A want arises from desire and does not affect our survival as needs do. It is subjective, based on our preferences and interpretation of what satisfies us.

Cultural influences, family aspirations, and lifestyle contribute to what we want. It can differ from one individual to another, or between different groups. 

Wants are theoretically described in economics. Adam Smith described that natural resources are limited, but human wants are unlimited. Some of these wants are to satisfy comfort and luxury. 

Finding satisfaction goes a single product alone. Products’ inherent nature often demands a harmonious combination with other products or services. 

A simple example can be owning a smartphone that matches one’s lifestyle. But solely possessing it will not be the ultimate satisfaction. One also needs a reliable internet connection, and pay for the internet services to connect. 

Example of Leveraging Wants Through Marketing Efforts

Imagine walking through a bustling shopping mall, captivated by a vibrant display of sleek smartphones. As you admire the sleek design and impressive features, a desire awakens within you – a want for the latest model that promises to enhance your digital life. 

Sensing this longing, savvy marketers seize the opportunity, crafting persuasive advertisements that showcase the phone’s cutting-edge capabilities. They show how it seamlessly integrates into your daily routine. 

They leverage your wants by appealing to your aspirations, demonstrating how this device can elevate your status, boost your productivity, and keep you connected to what matters most. Through strategic marketing tactics, they tap into your desires, presenting the smartphone as a gateway to a more fulfilling and connected life.

More into Need vs Want through Marketing, Psychology, and Economics w/ Examples

If you want to learn in more detail, here are some examples from different perspectives. 

Marketing Perspective

Product Example - Smartphone

  • Need: A basic mobile phone that allows for essential communication (calls, texts) and perhaps basic internet access for essential services (email, basic browsing).
  • Want: The latest iPhone or high-end Android smartphone with advanced features like high-resolution cameras, large storage capacity, and sophisticated apps.
  • Marketing Strategy for Need: Focus on reliability, affordability, and essential features. The message might emphasize connectivity and practicality.
  • Marketing Strategy for Want: Highlight the latest technology, design, and status symbol associated with the product. The campaign might use emotional appeal, showcasing how the product fits into an aspirational lifestyle.

Service Example - Travel

  • Need: Basic transportation services like a bus or train for commuting to work or essential travel.
  • Want: Luxury travel experiences, such as first-class flights, exotic cruises, or upscale hotel stays.
  • Marketing Strategy for Need: Emphasise affordability, convenience, and efficiency. The focus is on the practical aspect of getting from point A to B.
  • Marketing Strategy for Want: Create a narrative around the experience, luxury, and enjoyment of the travel service. Use imagery and storytelling to evoke a sense of adventure and exclusivity.

Psychological Perspective

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

  • Physiological Needs (Need): Basic food, water, and shelter. For example, grocery products, clean water supply, and affordable housing.
  • Esteem Needs (Want): Luxury goods that enhance self-esteem and social status, like designer clothing or a luxury car.
  • Application in Advertising: For physiological needs, advertising focuses on the essentiality and necessity of the product. For esteem needs, advertising often focuses on the prestige and status associated with the product.

Emotional Appeal

  • Need-Based Products: Advertisements for need-based products might focus on safety, security, and the comfort of having one’s basic needs met.
  • Want-Based Products: Advertisements often use emotional appeal, tapping into desires for luxury, adventure, or social status. For instance, a high-end watch brand might associate its products with success and sophistication.

Economic Perspective

Resource Allocation

  • Need: Spending on basic healthcare services, which is a necessity for maintaining good health.
  • Want: Opting for elective cosmetic surgery, which is more about personal preference and not a basic health requirement.
    Economic Implication: Budgeting and economic planning differ significantly. Needs often take priority in budgeting, while wants are considered when disposable income allows.

Consumer Behaviour

  • Need-Based Purchases: Consumers are less price-sensitive and more focused on the functionality and necessity of the product. For example, buying generic medicines.
  • Want-Based Purchases: They may be willing to pay a premium for luxury or non-essential items, like high-end electronics, influenced by brand perception and quality.

Parting Thoughts

These are the basic differences between need and want. We recommend you check on the core concepts of marketing, discussing the needs, wants, and demands along with other ideas on customer satisfaction.


What are five examples of wants?

Here are five examples of wants that you may want to know.

  • Designer apparel
  • High-end automobiles
  • High-tech gadgets
  • Fine dining experience
  • Luxury travel

What is the difference between needs, wants, and desires?

Needs are vital for survival and include essentials like food, shelter, and healthcare. Wants include desires beyond survival, such as luxury goods or entertainment, enhancing lifestyle quality. Desires are the most personal and subjective, representing deeply felt longings or aspirations, often extending beyond basic wants or needs, such as achieving success or owning specific items.

What is the difference between needs and wants in psychology?

In psychology, needs refer to fundamental requirements essential for survival and well-being, such as food, water, shelter, and safety. They are considered innate and universal, rooted in fulfilling biological or psychological necessities. Wants, on the other hand, are desires or preferences that go beyond basic survival needs, relating to individual preferences, aspirations, and desires for comfort, pleasure, or improvement in lifestyle. Psychologically, needs are crucial for sustaining life and health, while wants are more about personal desires and preferences that enhance one's quality of life beyond the essentials.

What are the similarities between needs and wants?

At their core, both needs and wants reflect elements of what individuals perceive as valuable or necessary for their well-being and satisfaction. Both also contribute to shaping human behaviour, influencing decision-making processes, and driving individuals towards fulfilling these desires

Why is it important to distinguish between needs and wants?

Needs are essential (food, water), wants are desires (fancy car). Knowing the difference helps you:

  • Make better choices: Needs first, wants when you can.
  • Save money: Avoid expensive non-essentials.
  • Feel happier: Less stress from unmet needs.
  • Grow as a person: Focus on what truly matters.
About the Author
Syed Aquib Ur Rahman
Assistant Manager

Aquib is a seasoned wordsmith, having penned countless blogs for Indian and international brands. These days, he's all about digital marketing and core management subjects - not to mention his unwavering commitment ... Read Full Bio