I’m skeptical about sports quotes being used in business. However, this Wayne Gretzky quote speaks directly to a critical element of marketing strategy: how to identify unmet customer needs.

Effective marketing identifies unmet customer needs. And the company that fulfills those unmet needs with the best solution at the right price wins. This applies to service-oriented companies as well as product-oriented companies.

The role of marketing is to be the first player to reach the puck. Therefore, the marketing team needs three core competencies. The team should be able to identify opportunities, develop the right solution, and bring it to market.

New products can fail for several reasons. One that’s avoidable is the new product that doesn’t solve a common customer problem. Please don’t bring a new product or service to the market unless it solves a real customer problem.




Here’s what a company needs to do to succeed at turning unmet customer needs into opportunities.


Successful marketers pay close attention to the strengths and weaknesses of their primary competitors. They’re also aware of potential substitutes for their products (indirect competitors). They can see the industry from the customer’s point of view. After all, customers have many alternatives from which to choose. They don’t have to buy your stuff!

One of my favorite strategic marketing tools is the Gap Analysis. That’s because it provides a comprehensive look at how a company compares to its primary competitors on critical business development and brand attributes. Specifically examine customer service, key product features, price competitiveness, and ability to innovate.  Where is your company falling behind the competition?


These are golden opportunities to learn what pain points are keeping customers up at night. Learn what challenges they face. Not all of your customers will be able to articulate their problems.  Listen closely enough and you’ll discover what other issues you can solve for them. Don’t count on them to tell you what the solution is. That’s your job.


I’ve used this tool to discover what’s going on in the market. Observational research helps inform new product design requirements and identify new product features that couldn’t be imagined in the ivory tower of marketing.

How observational research works is simple. Marketers embed themselves in the customer environment to watch and absorb how customers use their product in the real world.

This technique offers a firsthand glimpse into what challenges customers face. It allows the marketer to interact one-on-one with the customer, asking them probing questions about their work.

It’s up to the marketing team to develop product or service solutions that resolve those challenges. The research might uncover a new product feature that improves a product your company currently sells to your target market. However, I encourage you to think broadly. Don’t ignore the possibility of discovering an idea for an entirely new product.

For some companies, the next step is to vet the ideas generated by observing the customer in their environment. Cross-functional product development teams create a list of concepts and then narrow it down to the opportunities offering the best fit with the company’s strategy. Then they screen these opportunities in focus groups.


Opportunities are where unmet customer needs are. However, there is no crystal ball to tell you where the next big product or service opportunity lies. Wayne Gretzky’s quote aligns well with the role of marketing strategy. Above all, marketing has to be good at “skating” to where the next big opportunity is.

To learn more about turning opportunities into strategies, check out our offer for a free white paper.