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Qualifying the need for your product is one of the best ways to begin to understand your business, the market, and your customers. We’ve talked about qualifying the need in our lesson on Value Propositions, and understanding your market opportunity in our lesson on Market Opportunity and Evolution. In our BLAC and White Framework in this lesson, we’ll connect your market opportunity with qualifying your need, setting your startup on the path to success.
The BLAC (standing for Blatant, Latent, Aspirational and Critical) and White framework is all about finding a space in the market specifically for you, and qualifying the need of your customer in order to validate your value proposition and ideas. Using this framework will guide you through your market in order to find a space where you aren’t competing with the same people and for the same resources. Along with this lesson, read our lessons on the 4U framework and Barriers to Entry for a better understanding of your market and ideas.
BLAC, standing for Blatant, Latent, Aspirational, and Critical, is a way to qualify customer needs. As you can see in the graphic above, we have these four words listed out on a grid with four squares, where you can have four types of problems:
These four types of problems produce very different kinds of products. Very often, as you can also see from our diagram, the most compelling breakthrough B2B businesses fall into the Blatant and Critical category of product. B2C businesses are much harder to qualify but often fall into the Latent and Aspirational category of products. However, this is not always the case!
Often, we can look to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to understand the pieces of BLAC. This hierarchy of needs is a psychological concept that suggests that humans have certain needs, and they pursue them in a certain order. First, physiological needs, like food and water. Second, safety needs. Third, love and belonging. Fourth, self-esteem and the esteem of others. Fifth, self-actualization.
Blatant problems are obvious and on the surface. The products that match these problems are solving something that is, very apparently, a problem for the customer. Often, these problems will fall into the bottom two categories of the hierarchy of needs: physiological needs and safety needs. When it comes to selling to companies, physiological needs and safety needs end up being the basic needs to keep the company alive. Think of products like e-commerce platforms for online businesses, or accounting services for larger companies: these are blatant, obvious problems that need to be solved for the company. When looking at B2C businesses, you can think of food, shelter, and safety products, like grocery products, weatherproofing products, and alarm systems.
Latent problems are under the surface. These typically refer to the top three levels of Maslow’s hierarchy: love, belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. Often, these products won’t be as necessary to the customer as blatant problems. For B2C examples, we can think of products like social media for love and belonging, or self-help seminars and books for self-actualization. For B2B customers, think of products or services like company retreats, or ping-pong tables for the break room. None of these products are necessary to solve a problem, but they are nice to have, and often these needs become very real once the customer has experienced the product.
Aspirational problems are also problems that will fall into the top three categories of Maslow’s Hierarchy, and often refer to B2C businesses. Aspirational products tend to be products that we’d like to have, solving latent problems, but can also have a blatant need. Often, consumers purchase things like fashion items or personal grooming items as a means to solve an aspirational problem, that to them is blatant. Wearing nice clothes, for example, may be aspirational, but it’s also blatant: perhaps the customer is in a professional environment and needs those items of clothing. Aspirational problems often are less important to B2B companies.
Critical problems are urgent needs, where a problem is causing real difficulty and needs to be solved as soon as possible. This is often where you’ll hook in B2B customers, especially when the problem is blatant. Focusing again on the bottom two tiers of Maslow’s hierarchy above, these problems for companies are often necessary to the customer’s success. For examples, think of products that solve auditing problems for companies, or enable communication between departments.
We present B2B and B2C examples because both individual consumers and companies have similar features:
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, along with other understandings of how people and companies work, allow you to tap into real needs and solve problems that will be valuable. Using the hierarchy in combination with BLAC will allow you to address a more definable problem. As we’ve said in our lesson on Value Proposition, a problem well defined is a problem half-solved. Use BLAC to help define where you are in the market, and what kinds of needs you’re addressing.
Often, your go-to-market strategy is going to change drastically based on where inside the BLAC chart your company falls. For example, Latent and Aspirational sales are often going to play on emotion and status. If you think about the first iPhone, a Latent and Aspirational product, it was an ‘evangelical sell’ where Apple had to create the demand and awareness, and then sell on the possibilities with the technology. On the other hand, Blatant and Critical products will often sell based on the prospect of saving money or jobs, or solving a critical problem within a company. One of the most obvious examples is network security: every company has to have it! Once you can navigate the qualification of the customer need, you’ll be able to serve your target market much more easily.
The White part of the BLAC and White framework refers to a common business term: finding white space in the market. With B2B startups, the white space is often where those blatant, critical needs are underserved. In B2C startups, the white space is often where latent, aspirational needs are underserved. There is definitely crossover depending on your product, so try and think about your startup’s position in terms of qualification using the BLAC grid above.
Finding your white space is incredibly important. These white spaces are going to be your open areas of opportunity, particularly if you can find blatant, critical needs for either consumers or other companies. You’ll need to find a white space that’s underserved, and understand why that area is underserved. If you can solve a problem that no one else has solved, you’re really onto something!
The positioning graphic above is explained in our lesson on Barriers to Entry, but clearly shows the need for finding a white space: if A, B, C, and D are your competitors, you’ll want to position yourself in a white space where you aren’t competing for the same dollars in the same space as your competitors. Check out our lesson on targeting and segmentation for more on understanding your position in the market.
Qualifying the need for your product and understanding your position in the market will help you make decisions for the rest of your product. With success in mind, you’ll be able to make marketing and positioning decisions, as well as product decisions while understanding your customer better.
Check out our other lessons and resources below, and be sure to head over to the forums or the comment section below to connect with other entrepreneurs and ask any questions you may have.