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Lead with What Your Customer Wants Most: How to Use the Desire Chain

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Lead with What Your Customer Wants Most: How to Use the Desire Chain

One company that wants to make my day better, every single day, no matter what, is Chick-fil-A.

Chick-fil-A recognizes that they sell Connection. Founder Truett Cathy once said, “We should be about more than just selling chicken. We should be a part of our customers’ lives and the communities in which we serve.” 1

You can visit any Chick-fil-A and observe that principle being lived out. You’ll have a positive connection with the team members who put in your order, fulfill your requests, and deliver your food, from the smiles on their faces to the moment they say, “My pleasure,” after you thank them. 

You’ll have a positive connection with those who are eating Chick-fil-A meals with you, because the food is fresh, fast, and delicious, and because the environment is clean and welcoming to families. Chick-fil-A understands how to communicate their Core Transformation in their words, action, service, and atmosphere.

We just talked about the Desire Chain and how customer desires are like a tangled, glowing knot. In your messaging, you have to find a way to talk about your potential customers’ ultimate desire while balancing mentions of their other desires.

How to Use the Desire Chain

QUICK REFERENCE: When to Use Each Part of the Chain

  • THE OBVIOUS DESIRE: 99.9% of the time, whether in copy or visuals
  • THE FEATURE DESIRE: Only when your product or service has a novel or seasonal feature (e.g., Chick-fil-A's Peach Milkshake, which is only served in the summer months)
  • THE DIFFERENTIATOR DESIRE: Use when speaking to customers who are unfamiliar with your brand (in order to stand out from the competition)
  • TRANSFORMATIONS: 99.9% of the time, use some form of the Core Transformation, whether Concrete or Conceptual

The Obvious Desire should almost always be part of your message or the imagery that accompanies it. For Chick-fil-A, this would be the food they sell. 

The Feature Desire should be used with discernment, because as we’ve discussed before, you and your competitors may share certain features (whether in regard to your business or the individual products you sell). The Feature Desire is most useful when the traits of your product are novel or highly prized. Chick-fil-A competes with other fast food restaurants, so communicating that it provides fast service doesn’t do much for the sale. But using the Feature Desire is key when Chick-fil-A is advertising menu items that are seasonal or not sold anywhere else.

The Differentiator Desire is defined by what you offer that makes your brand special, and it should be backed by your mission. When it comes to Chick-fil-A, their friendly, attentive service and family environment make them stand out. The Differentiator Desire is most effective when you’re speaking to new potential customers, especially those who have had minimal exposure to your brand.

A transformation should almost always be used in some form. The Core Transformation (Lifestyle, Adventure, Connection, Freedom, or Safety) can be used on its own or in the form of its parts, Concrete or Conceptual. While people are drawn to the Core Transformations as they are, we can get more specific and personal by breaking them down further.

The Concrete Transformation is easy to use because it’s practical and can be measured, and it precedes the Conceptual Transformation. For Chick-fil-A, they may advertise the ability to eat healthier on the go or to save money on family meals. Those are Concrete Transformations.

The Conceptual Transformation is about conveying a feeling, and it should often be considered in your messaging. Chick-fil-A could use the Conceptual Transformation in its messaging by saying something like, “Come to a place where you’re always welcome,” or “Have a better day with Chick-fil-A.”

Reasons Why People Buy: An Example

As another example, let’s talk about carbonated water. How would you go about selling this product? What problem does it solve

Broken down in terms of transformations, here are some possible reasons why people buy carbonated water:

1. The desire for something fun to drink that is still healthy

  • Core Transformation: Adventure
  • Concrete Transformation: Have Some Guilt-Free Fun
  • Conceptual Transformation: Enjoy Life

2. To have something available to drink to replace soda or alcohol in the moment when one is tempted to drink them 

  • Core Transformation: Safety
  • Concrete Transformation: Break a Habit
  • Conceptual Transformation: Feel Protected from Possible Failure

3. The need for an interesting alternative drink at a party 

  • Core Transformation: Connection
  • Concrete Transformation: Being a Conscientious Host or Guest
  • Conceptual Transformation: Feel Well-Liked

4. To support health values or a change in diet that includes reducing sugar or calories

  • Core Transformation: Lifestyle
  • Concrete Transformation: Lose Weight, Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle
  • Conceptual Transformation: Feel More Attractive and Confident 

5. To look like or fit in with other people who drink this type of beverage

  • Core Transformation: Lifestyle
  • Concrete Transformation: Do What Your Friends Are Doing
  • Conceptual Transformation: Feel a Sense of Belonging

6. To build the habit of drinking more water during the day

  • Core Transformation: Freedom
  • Concrete Transformation: Think Clearly and Stay Alert (through being hydrated)
  • Conceptual Transformation: Feel More Energized

Exercise: Practice Creating a Message

See how it works? Practice creating a message based on the Desire Chain while using your avatar and target audience as filters to determine what you focus on. Your goal is to highlight the transformation while still being clear about the Obvious Desire.

This is an edited excerpt from my book Mission, Market, Message: The Actionable Guide to Marketing for Small Business Owners, which you can purchase on Amazon.


  1. Who We Are.