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Product Emotions: The way to captivate customers

product-emotions

By Peter Boatwright and Jonathan Cagan

When businesses think about innovation, most think about technology innovation.  Their innovation efforts and product development processes focus on new technologies, new capabilities, new functions, efforts that are seen as important to the future of the company.  Yet what the business ultimately wants is to captivate the marketplace, because when customers are captivated by a product, the business gets higher margins instead of further cost cuts.  Customers become not simply loyal purchasers, but passionately committed to that product and company. That passionate customer base then generates the word-of-mouth that is so critical today.

“There are actually two dimensions for successful innovation: functionality – what products do, but also emotion – how products make customers feel.”

Despite the importance of technological capability, technology is only part of what it takes to captivate customers. There are actually two dimensions for successful innovation: functionality – what products do, but also emotion – how products make customers feel.  Customers require both if they are to be engaged with a product.  While companies have a process to develop and deliver technology and functional capabilities, they lack a process to develop and deliver emotion in a product.  In Built to Love – Creating Products that Captivate Customers we introduce a process for that second critical dimension, the emotion that a product engenders.

Opportunities for product emotions

To understand why emotion is critical, consider two business-to-business products: a long-haul truck, and a service to analyze and map out the condition of a sewer system.  Our choice of these products is to illustrate that emotion is important in all types of industries, even where one would typically consider them irrelevant such as for business-to-business products, whether those products are physical (such as the truck) or are services (such as the sewer service).  Built to Love describes opportunities for product emotions within a variety of products and industries, including consumer companies and software companies.

Long-haul truck drivers have a tedious job, extended hours on the road.  Their task is to move products long distances overland, lengthy trips that require multiple days or more away from family and friends.  Their primary tool in the industry, the truck itself, effectively accomplishes the role for which it has been designed, to not only move the product but also to provide certain essentials to the driver such as a place to sleep.  Drivers live in their truck cabs, sleeping, trying to relax and eat in a minimal floor space about the size of a two-person tent, where the bed fills most of that space.  With engines that last for hundreds of thousands of miles, and a living space that allows the driver to get enough sleep to get on the road again, long-haul trucks are effective business tools, efficiently transporting goods between cities,
year after year.

Yet while the long-haul trucks have been designed to solve the functional need to move products throughout the nation, there is a deeply human need of drivers that remains overlooked, unmet, unaddressed.  Many drivers own their own trucks and are thus small businessmen, yet society does not view drivers to be on the same professional level as other small business owners and entrepreneurs.  The truck driver lacks the respect of most professions, and there is not only a social argument but also a business argument for addressing this need.  For example, large trucking fleets in the U.S. have over 100% employee turnover per year.  The typical truck fulfills part of the business opportunity of transporting goods, the functional need to move products.  Yet there still remains the opportunity to fulfill a more deeply human need of drivers, to provide them with a feeling of dignity and the sense of professionalism.

As a different example of an emotion-based business opportunity, about 150 feet below our cities will be found the deep sewer system, five foot diameter pipes that accumulate the sewerage and transport it to the processing plant.  Because the pipes are old, some deep system pipes have begun to deteriorate or debris has started to build up as well, threatening the environmental damage of major sewer leaks or blockages that lead to sewage backups into our offices and homes.

Regulatory agencies are putting the pressure on municipalities to repair failing systems – and to know when their systems will fail. Although the deep sewer system pipes are difficult to inspect, robotic and other technology does exist to repair identified problems in these systems.  Even so, for the city managers responsible for these systems, the problem is not one of repairing known problems, for typically they do not know whether or not the pipes have deteriorated to the extent that they are in need of repair – and that is the problem.   If they knew of specific sewer problems, city managers would want to quickly address those problems because unseen problems can become major headaches.  So the city managers’ lack of knowledge about the state of the system pipes leaves them with a constant, nagging background worry about the sewer.  Thus there is a business opportunity here, to alleviate this persistent worry of city managers.

In both of these cases there are quality, functional products available to meet the business task.  Long-haul trucks are effective business tools, able to efficiently bring goods between cities with high quality engines that last for many years of work.  Robotic and other technology exists to rehab deteriorating sewer pipes.  However, both of these solutions are insufficient to meet the broader set of desires of the customers.  Both the trucker and the city manager seek not just high performance but also high emotions as well.  They need products that don’t just do the right things but also make people feel the right ways.

Leveraging product emotions

In our research, we have found that people will pay for products that address their emotional needs in all types of businesses including long-haul trucking and sewer system management.  We have also studied the profitability of companies that consistently deliver high-emotion products.  In Built to Love we present the results of tracking a stock index of consumer-identified high emotion companies.  In good times the index returned ten times the averages of the standard indices.  But in recent bad economic times it still significantly outpaced those indices.  Even during economically difficult times, it turns out that people will pay for product emotions, boosting the success of the companies that provide them and therefore of investors in those companies.  It turns out that at least 84% of investors would have been better off if they chose the high emotion index of standard stock investments.

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“Even during economically difficult times, it turns out that people will pay for product emotions, boosting the success of the companies that provide them and therefore of investors in those companies.”

Emotion, then, not only provides strong benefits to the customer but to the company as well.  The challenge is how to design for emotions.  How do you create a product that engenders the strong emotions your customers seek?  There are thousands of emotions, hundreds that we have put names to in our language, emotions like joyful, assured, reliable, guilty, honest and happy.  In our work we identified 130 emotions that are specifically relevant to how people feel when they are using a product.  Many of these emotions are subtly different but related, and they can be grouped into categories.  The result is 16 emotion categories, a set that enable a broad consideration of emotion-based product design.  These emotion categories are listed in Figure 1.  The set of emotions in Figure 1 captures the span of emotions that people feel when using a product.

figure-1

“Knowing and understanding the product emotion categories will allow you to assess the emotions that your company and products currently evoke, those that your competitor’s products evoke, and the product emotion categories serve as the basis to craft your product emotion strategy.”

Knowing and understanding the product emotion categories will allow you to assess the emotions that your company and products currently evoke, those that your competitor’s products evoke, and the product emotion categories serve as the basis to craft an actionable plan to provide the emotions your customers seek: your product emotion strategy.

Current product emotions—What emotions do your company’s products evoke to customers today?  Understanding the current set of product emotions is a critical first step, for managing them requires knowing what they are. Quite possibly your product delivers some emotions that your company does not intend.  Maybe some of these emotions are undesirable to your customers.  For example when Western companies attempted to upstage existing rice cookers in Asia, they provided high tech multifunctional and computerized versions that made not just rice but other foods as well, with layers of non-stick coatings for convenient clean-up.  Yet these companies had not properly researched and understood product emotions.  When they entered the Asian markets, customers felt these intruding devices to be disruptive, confusing, and even unsafe.

Competitors’ product emotions—What emotions do your competitors’ products evoke? Maintaining your differentiation requires you to understand not only your own products but also those of your competitors.
Product emotion strategy—If companies have product strategies, they are generally function based, often based on a technology platform.  A product strategy dictates the fundamental interaction between a company and its customers, defining the relationship between the company and its customers.  Yet many companies miss the opportunity to gain long-term commitment from their customers by addressing their emotional needs.  Apple is the iconic company that consistently delivers high emotion products.  If their strategy was narrowly based on technology platforms–computers–would they ever have created the iPod or iPhone or changed their name from “Apple Computer” to just “Apple”?

Keep in mind that Figure 1 lists categories of emotions, and your analysis of your products and your strategy for emotions will be specified with particular emotions from these categories.  Note that not all emotion categories are relevant to a product, so the analysis will explore the ones that are relevant to your industry, company, and products. These specific emotions and the resulting strategy are rooted in an understanding of your customers, your company, and your company’s competitors.

In Built to Love we introduce a tool called the eMap based on these categories.  By using the set of emotion categories within the eMap, the current state of your product and your competitors can be compared, and your emotion-based product strategy can be set for products under development to achieve a necessary level of emotions that customers find important and fulfilling.

Executing the product emotion strategy

Once the emotion-based product strategy is completed the goal is to make it actionable through the development of products, conveyors of value from company to customer.  The products will deliver the emotions specified in the strategy through touchpoints – any points of interaction between the user and product.  The result is a process that begins by identifying emotions that customers seek and ends with a product that meets those desires, advancing the connection of the company with the customer while extending the brand and reputation of the company within current and potential customers.

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If we consider again the long-haul trucker living in a drab truck, what emotions does he feel and which would he really like to have fulfilled?  He feels irrelevant, uncared for, and lonely.  He would like the respect that other hard working people feel, the dignity that comes from those living in houses or staying in hotels.  Truckers want to be proud and honorable, yet unique, confident and self-assured.  The emotion categories of content, proud and confident are some of the important categories that capture these emotions and set the  strategy for Navistar’s International Truck brand to “challenge convention” in their industry.

To execute their strategy, Navistar’s International Truck developed and introduced LoneStar, a paradigm-shifting truck that uses future-retroism characteristics in the external styling to engender pride and bold confidence for the driver.  Inside the cab, behind the driver’s seat where the driver lives, the truck engenders respect and dignity with a couch to relax in, a table to eat and work at, a kitchenette to prepare a healthy though modest meal, a fill size Murphy bed to get a good night’s sleep, and hardwood flooring, just like they might have  – or want to have – at home.  LoneStar not only delivered the emotion strategy to its customers, but it reformulated the company’s perception in the industry as a leader with exciting products, a company to watch in the future.

As for the city manager worrying about the city’s sewer system, she or he seeks services that engender confidence in the results, validation for determining the physical condition of the sewer pipes, and the pride of being a thought leader for choosing to do so.  Pride, independence and confidence are some of the emotion categories critical to RedZone Robotics, a small company with leading-edge robotics technology, that lead to such emotions and an emotion strategy based on these and other key emotion insights: “Customers should feel confident in their new information, validated in using RedZone’s service, thought leaders for committing to this new paradigm, well cared for by the company, and connected to the company, its new technology and the infrastructure that RedZone maintains.”  Note that RedZone’s resulting product strategy is not independent of technology; such technology is critical to the success of the services that it provides.  However, technology is considered in the context of the emotion it engenders to deliver the service and not the focus of the company’s product offerings.

To execute their strategy, RedZone Robotics developed a service using their unique robotic technology to map out sewer systems and deliver detailed information to the city manager, alleviating the nagging worry.  Prior to RedZone’s service, inspection of the sewer system was difficult at best: a sewer system could be turned off for only a short amount of time before upstream buildup occurred; or people donned in diving gear could go down to inspect the systems – an undesirable and dangerous endeavor.  RedZone changed the paradigm.  In one instance a regulatory agency told a municipality that they needed to build a temporary parallel sewer system to divert the sewerage to while the main system was inspected and possibly repaired.  Instead RedZone proved that the system was intact and did not require repair, saving the municipality $2 billion, validating the engagement with the company and certainly making that city manager feel like a thought leader.

Emotion is critical to the long-term success of any product – physical, service, software – that customers interact with directly or indirectly.  Prior to focusing on their emotion strategy, Navistar’s product strategy was to be the low cost provider, fighting hard to derive acceptable margins.  Without the emotion strategy there would be no LoneStar and no rejuvenation of the company.  Prior to the emotion strategy, RedZone was focused on the functionality of what it could do – rehab sewers – struggling without business traction.  The emotion strategy refocussed the company on services that met emotional needs, growing the company from 7 to 70 employees with significant business contracts.

“From consumer companies like Apple to business-to-business companies like Navistar and RedZone, emotion is the differentiator and the enabler of higher margins, loyal customers, and reputations for leading products.”

From consumer companies like Apple to business-to-business companies like Navistar and RedZone, emotion is the differentiator and the enabler of higher margins, loyal customers, and reputations for leading products.  This article was a start, a means to start you thinking about how to embrace emotion as a way of creating products.  Much more information and tools such as the eMap can be found in Built to Love.  However you do it, engage emotion as a partner to technology as a means for delivering the next marketplace products that captivate customers.

About the authors

Globally known for their rigorous and effective approach to product innovation, Professors Peter Boatwright and Jonathan Cagan collaborate in corporate consulting, research on innovation processes and tools, teaching and leading innovation teams, and speaking engagements on the topic of innovation. On the faculty at Carnegie Mellon University, Peter Boatwright is an Associate Professor of Marketing at the Tepper School of Business with an appointment in the Department of Mechanical Engineering (boatwright@cmu.edu) and Jonathan Cagan is the George Tallman and Florence Barrett Ladd Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering with appointments in Schools of Design and Computer Science (cagan@cmu.edu).    Boatwright and Cagan actively consult with companies ranging from Fortune 100 to entrepreneurial start-ups, with a focus on product strategy and innovation as well as brand strategy.  Their formal approaches to opportunity identification and problem solving have been integrated into a diverse range of companies; they also co-lead executive training sessions.
At Carnegie Mellon, They co-teach practice-based courses in product innovation. They also actively collaborate on research in innovation methods and have co-authored two books: Built to Love – Creating Products that Captivate Customers and The Design of Things to Come – How Ordinary People Create Extraordinary Products.

More details can be found at
www.BuiltToLove.com

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