“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” – Henry Ford

Building and growing your business depends on you understanding what your market is wanting and needing. What often gets forgotten or unaddressed is that there are two ways to understand our markets: we can look at what they’re wanting and needing now (market demand) or what they’re going to want and need in the future (market projection).

Market demand is what most small business advisors talk about. Most of the advice is about syncing your business offers and marketing around what people are demanding.

There’s good reason for keeping your eye on what your market is demanding: it’s where you’ll find your short-term cashflow and it’s a great place for beachhead initiatives.

A business that only focuses on what the market is currently demanding, though, will lose to entrepreneurs who have the foresight to both see what people think they need and what they actually need now and in the future. Those latter entrepreneurs become the industry leaders, where the businesses who just focus on market demand are always a step behind where their market is and several steps behind where the leaders are.

That foresight is what I call market projection. Whereas market demand is about the past and present of your business, market projection is about the future of your business and industry.

We have to be careful with market projection, though, because it’s entirely possible to start along the path of taking our tribes where they don’t want to go. What gets confusing is that sometimes our tribes don’t know where they really want to go and other times they think they want to go somewhere when you know they don’t.

For example, many people want to start an online business because they’ve been led to believe that it’s easy, quick, and profitable. They’ve been conditioned to think solely about launching their first product, so what they’re demanding are resources around product creation and launching. From my view, what they actually need is a better strategy and business model – they’re starting their business by focusing on tactics rather than strategy, and I’ve seen where that goes.

This is an age-old problem, though, and it comes down to selling them what they want so you can deliver what they need, all without it being a true bait-and-switch. At least, that’s what I try to do – I think we all know people who are happy enough just to sell them what they want without thinking about what they need.

The case above is an example of when what people want and what they need diverge, but there’s also another case in which people just don’t know where they’re trying to go. A prospect with that particular psychography has a bit of the Shiny Bauble Syndrome, for he’ll spend a lot of time pursuing attractive opportunities without actually committing to any of them.

When you start thinking about market projection, the chief question is “Am I taking my market where they truly want to go?” If you make sure where you’re taking them has practical, useful, and resonant benefits for them, then you’re in a good position. If your desire to take them somewhere is predominantly based upon where you want your business to go, you need to reassess.

Obviously, since this is a discussion on strategy, I can’t tell you in a post what you should do in your business. I can leave you with some guiding questions, though, so here you go:

  • What is your market currently demanding?
  • How does your business address what your market is currently demanding?
  • Do you have any business activities that don’t address what your market is demanding?
  • Where are you taking your market? What competencies, capabilities, and solutions are you wanting to deliver to your market in the future?
  • Has your market expressed a desire to go where you’re taking them?
  • How does your vision for where you’re taking your market relate to their current demands?

The bottom-line: you have to serve your market’s needs and wants today and prepare for what they’ll need tomorrow. Focusing solely on today forsakes tomorrow’s growth; focusing solely on the future doesn’t give you the resources to grow into the future.

Originally published at productiveflourishing.com


  • Charlie Gilkey

    Author, Speaker, Business Strategist, Coach

    Charlie Gilkey helps people start finish the stuff that matters. He's the founder of Productive Flourishing, author of the forthcoming Start Finishing and The Small Business Lifecycle, and host of the Productive Flourishing podcast. Prior to starting Productive Flourishing, Charlie was a Joint Force Military Logistics Coordinator while simultaneously pursuing a PhD in Philosophy. He lives with his wife, Angela, in Portland, Oregon.