If you’re like me, you may be skeptical about sports quotes being overly 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 turns them into growth opportunities. 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 potential opportunities, develop the right solution, and successfully bring it to market.


This blog post highlights three proven techniques for discovering unmet customer needs that can be turned into opportunities for growth.


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 by asking open-ended questions designed to get them talking. Questions that start with “how” or “why” work well in these settings. Or simply ask them to describe the way they use certain products or services.

Not all of your customers will be able to articulate their problems. However, if you listen closely enough, you’ll discover other issues you can solve for them. Take plenty of notes. Consider inviting a team member to join you during the roundtable discussion. However, don’t count on customers being able to tell you what the solution is. That’s your job.

New products can fail for a multitude of 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.


I’ve used this tool to discover what’s going on in the target 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 growth strategies, contact Affinity Strategic Marketing, Inc. today for a complimentary assessment.