Editor’s note: Billy Warden and Greg Behr run boutique marketing and communications shops based in the Triangle.

RALEIGH, N.C. — From teenage Romeos to middle-aged moguls, the players among us understand the primacy of one particular human impulse: desire. People want. Sensations, yes, but also products, services and the status they convey.

Whether the task is to create it or harness its power, desire is the raging river that turns society’s wheels. And though its force may be at a low ebb right now, that river does not run dry. Even in 2009, savvy marketers will find the right currents and deliver exceptional results to their bosses or clients.

Our process for navigating the currents is called Directed Desire. In 2009, we’ve scrapped the weight-loss promises and resolved to stick to these three fundamental rules of marshaling the fundamental human driver (maybe we’ll throw in a run, too):

1.) Our desires have a balancing force – our needs. For a long time, we’ve lived in a Starbucks-SUV era of want. We bought expensive java and gas-guzzlers because we felt the desire and we had the means. A less opulent cup-a-joe would’ve delivered the same kick, and a smaller car would’ve moved us from point A to B. But the want of status – as exemplified by bigness (SUVs) and ‘brandness’ (Starbucks) – propelled us far past the scope of our needs.

But now, need is back as the primary consumer consideration, and no one is feeling it more than Starbucks and America’s Big Three auto manufacturers. Learn from their pain – figure out your audience’s real needs and how to satisfy them.

2.) Desire isn’t just a consumer driver. The first step is to go internal, to figure out what your company or client wants to achieve and align the desire with the need the organization genuinely fulfills. Tough times require tough thinking on these points in order to avoid wasted effort.

For a meta-example, take a peek at pop. General consumers still love music but in a download society they no longer need to buy old-fashioned CDs. So, the musicians and their handlers have shifted focus. Their increasingly important consumer is … marketers, who desperately need hip tunes to create audience desire for products like electronics and vodka.

But setting a course is only half the task. The powers-that-be then have to persuade staff to share their desire. Chief executives of all kinds frequently fail because they cannot get their middle managers on board. Here, the meltdown is an ally. Nothing bonds people like a common enemy. Use this moment to re-frame the company mission and re-enlist every employee in the drive to succeed.

3.) Creating and maintaining desire requires attention and understanding. Right now, consumers may be as loathe to part with their dollars as a smoker is to split with his cigs. In a good tobacco-prevention campaign, you pry the smokes loose by offering a value (health, happiness, community) greater than the pain and struggle of changing a behavior. The comparison here means that in ’09, successful marketing may require time and coaxing, but ultimately everyone wins in a way that goes beyond the "quick buck" mentality.

As an example, we’re big fans of what companies like Patagonia are doing to build a deep and lasting relationship with their green-minded customers. On Patagonia.com, adventurers can view and buy outdoor apparel, but that seems almost secondary to the site’s environmental information and opportunities for activism. Patagonia’s robust community-building seems sincere, and it serves the purpose of channeling consumers’ desire to be good stewards into brand loyalty. It’s a near perfect want-need loop.

And at the end of this downturn, won’t it be great to say we succeeded by working harder to understand our customers and to provide them with goods and services they really need. Success and substance – isn’t that what we all want?

Billy Warden and Greg Behr run boutique marketing and communications shops based in the Triangle. All they desire is their clients’ happiness. Check out