It’s clearly not enough to connect with consumers through emotional advertising alone. In their book Built to Love: Creating Products that Captivate Customers, professors Peter Boatwright and Jonathan Cagan of Carnegie Mellon University, US, argue that when a product is designed keeping in mind the emotions of people, not only is it valued more, even communication becomes easy. The book is dotted with stories of products and services that intrinsically connect with people because they are “built to love”, right from scratch.
Boatwright and Cagan speak on innovation and product strategy, and consult with a variety of firms such as Apple Inc., Bayer MaterialScience and Nissan Motor. Their previous works include The Design of Things to Come and Creating Breakthrough Products. We spoke to them in an email interview about the science of product emotions and its effectiveness in the long run. Edited excerpts:
Could you explain product emotions?
Product emotions are those feelings that the product engenders in a person. For a consumer who is attempting to lose weight, the effectiveness of the weight-loss medication evokes hope that they will succeed in their goals. Such emotions powerfully affect a product’s success because emotions are so highly valued by customers. Imagine for a moment a weight-loss product that truly worked, yet dieters did not feel hopeful when using it. Or, for a different product altogether, a home security system would be a failure if the homeowner didn’t feel safe, even if the system actually did keep the home safe. Product emotions are what get customers captivated...because people value a product not only for what it does for them but also for how it makes them feel.
Building brands to inspire emotions is not new. What does ‘Built to Love’ bring that is new? How is it more relevant now?
Many have recognized customers’ emotional associations with brands. Yet products themselves directly evoke emotions in customers, even when brands are masked. In one research study we discussed in Built to Love, we documented the different emotions of different types of foods, both branded and unbranded. The same is true for all other products and services; the low profile of a sports car evokes a thrill even from a distance where the vehicle brand may not be apparent. In a world where customers are less accessible to brand messaging, the product itself becomes an even more powerful company ambassador, directly delivering its message through the customers’ experiences.
Built to Love: By Peter Boatwright and Jonathan Cagan, Tata McGraw-Hill, 169 pages, Rs 550.
You say word of mouth, with its benefit of authenticity, is the most powerful marketing tool. How does that work for or against brands built keeping the science of product emotions in mind?
Healthy and active word of mouth about your product— that’s the dream state for marketers. People talk about a product they love to some friends. Those friends talk about it with more friends, and product sales take off. No wonder marketers take any new product and try to find a technique or trick to get word of mouth going. But that’s completely the wrong way to go about it. If it is the product that gets people talking, you don’t create word of mouth with some marketing technique. Rather, you deliberately and carefully design a product that evokes those emotions that customers desire, a product that people love and can’t help but talk about.
On the one hand there is globalization, and on the other, there is design for local markets and cultures. How can product emotions bridge that gap?
Around the globe, as people advance economically, they desire to advance technologically and societally. While this often means acquiring the products and trappings of other economically advanced cultures, individuals simultaneously wish to maintain their identity and retain the traditions of their heritage. There is thus the need for a truly localized product, a product that is designed with both functions needed by the local market and emotions that are desirable to that market. Even for those firms that recognize what a local market needs in terms of product function, there remains the opportunity and challenge to the global company to understand the emotional expectations in each market. Only after understanding the culture and its implications will a company understand how to connect to the emotional wants of that local market.