Connecting Customer Desires to Product Sales

November 16, 2023
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In his great book, Breakthrough Advertising, Eugene Schwartz talked about one the most important concepts in direct response marketing: mass desire of an entire market. In this post, we’re going to talk about the desire of your individual prospect for your product and service, and how important it is for you to identify that desire and focus on one to two of those desires of how your product solves the problem standing in the way of getting that desire.

“Everybody wants the same things but not to the same degree.”  – Professor Steven Reiss

Steven Reiss and the 16 Desires Theory

In Dr. Steven Reiss’ book, “Who Am I: The Sixteen Basic Desires that Motivate Our Actions and Define Our Personalities,” the idea of basic, intrinsic desires is explored. Per Reiss, the characteristics of a desire are that these are deeply universal, that satisfaction of these desires is temporary, that people pursue their desires for intrinsic reasons, that the value of each desire fluctuates between individuals, and that each desire has psychological significance for the individual. 

As a marketer, if you can find a way to market your brand’s product as the thing that helps buyers achieve that desire, you’ll be able to scale and grow your business. 

The Sixteen Desires 

The sixteen desires are: 

  1. Acceptance
  2. Curiosity
  3. Eating
  4. Family
  5. Honor
  6. Idealism 
  7. Independence
  8. Order
  9. Physical activity
  10. Power
  11. Romance
  12. Saving
  13. Social contact
  14. Social status
  15. Tranquility
  16. Vengeance

These desires are based on interviewing 6,000 people about what motivates them. But knowing these desires isn’t enough – you have to connect one or two of them in your advertising to your product in order to turn browsers into buyers. 

To help you begin implementing, here are some real-world examples.

Example 1: Time Management Software Brand

Predominant Desire: ORDER

What it means: the need for structure and stability

This brand sells time management software, and ORDER is the perfect desire for this product.  All of our ad copy, hooks, images, and videos are focused on the market’s desire to create stability and structure out of chaos in some part of their lives. We do that by showing the before and after state of the time management product and how it betters that person’s life by creating order.

Example 2: Dating Platform

Predominant Desire: ROMANCE or FAMILY

What it means: the need for companionship and intimacy

Think about dating platforms: there are many desires that humans have, but for a dating platform, there are only a few you can choose from. The biggest of these desires is ROMANCE, which is your market’s desire for companionship and intimacy. We can pull at this desire by showing images of happy couples, by telling success stories of people who met on the dating platform, and by showing how the specific product removes the obstacles in the way of achieving romantic success.

Example 3: Luxury Goods

Predominant Desire: STATUS

What it means: the need for social significance

Status is the drive to impress your friends, family, neighbors, or peers. Marketers of luxury brands like watches and sports cars often stoke this desire. Interestingly, since the pandemic we’ve seen trends in “affordable luxury” to give consumers the ability to achieve status at multiple price points. An example of this is a luxury fashion brand offering a branded belt or scarf in addition to their usual lineup of designer dresses, shoes, and purses.

How to Inject Customer Desires into Your Product Marketing

At the end of the day, your product or service exists to achieve the desire of a specific prospect. When you start crafting your individual advertising messages, ideation of creatives, and so forth, connect each message to at least one or two specific desires.

Here’s how to start doing this with your marketing team:

1. Have them identify which of the 16 desires are present in your market.

Think about the psychology of your buyers and what desires they have stated or which you can identify, and write down each desire which could potentially be tied to your product(s). For example, if you sell nutraceuticals, desires like romance, independence, physical activity, tranquility, and status could be selected depending on the product.

2. Examine which of the 16 desires your marketing campaigns have used in the past.

Chances are, your team has relied upon a handful of desires in your past marketing campaigns. List them out, indicating which desire(s) seems to be the most prominent in advertising and which seems to be the most effective. Are there trends you can act on based on this data.

3. Explore which of the 16 desires your competitors use in their ads.

Are there any trends in the desires your competitors are using in their ads to similar products? Sometimes, competitors have hit on a desire you’ve missed. At other times, common trends in targeting means that a specific desire is especially powerful to elicit buying activity.

4. Create, test, and iterate!

At this point, it’s time to take the desires discovered in the research and connect those desires to your product. Remember, your product should be positioned as the way to remove the barriers stopping your buyers from getting what they want – their core desire. The desire should be woven in the ad copy, the ad creative, and the after-the-click experience. Where possible, limit ads and creatives to a single desire per test, but test multiple variations on that one desire hook.


By now, it should be clear that your product’s market likely has buyers with many different basic desires motivating them to buy. But you can’t target them all with the same ad, which is why full-funnel marketing strategies employing content that addresses different hooks and buying stages are critical to success online today.

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