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How Product Emotions Can Captivate Customers

In a February 5 webinar based on his book, Built to Love, Carnegie Mellon’s Peter Boatwright discusses why product emotions are critical to the long-term success of a product. Pointing to industry-based research and laboratory experiments, he describes how to create products that engage the marketplace, providing insights that marketers can put into practice in their companies.

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Here are some edited highlights from his presentation:

Add value on all product dimensions, including emotional value. [Discussion at 14:05]

1. Is a focus on functional performance enough? “Eighteen-wheelers are business-to-business tools. The company is not making money unless the tool is on the road and moving forward. Their performance is really amazing. Engines, for example, last more than one million miles. Even the living space has been refined from the viewpoint of a business tool. You want to give [drivers] enough sleep to get back on the road. On the other hand, you don’t want to add weight. That costs money. Has this focus on function created an opportunity on the emotion side of things?”

2. What might the emotional value be? “Possibly the driver is treated with less importance than the job. Many truckers own their own truck or even a few trucks. Yet when we think of the word ‘trucker’, on a societal respect scale, that generally falls below words like ‘entrepreneur’ and ‘businessman’.”

3. What did Navistar do to create emotional value and build on functional performance?  “That’s what Navistar recognized as they were bringing out a new truck. They wanted to improve the emotional value that drivers were getting out of their trucks. The Lonestar is not only drop-dead gorgeous, it’s a smart business tool. When it came out, it was the most aerodynamic truck on the planet. It reeks of success and professionalism. The interior looks more like the interior of a private jet.  When they unveiled this truck, Lonestar had the foresight to bring a tattoo artist to the truck show. Truckers lined up to get a tattoo of the grill or the logo. But this is the truck that none of them owned. None of them had ever driven.”

4. Your customers value both function and emotion. “Value is not just tangible or functional; it is emotional value. If we’re going to captivate the marketplace, let’s add in value on all dimensions.”

Product emotions can be deeply meaningful to consumers. [Discussion at 22:59]

1. What GSK has done in a pharma context to deliver emotional value. “GlaxoSmithKline [created a] product for weight loss called Alli. Alli doesn’t claim that it’s easy to lose weight. But they’re going to work with you. For every two pounds that you lose by your other efforts, like exercise, like healthy eating, if you’re taking Alli at the same time, you’re not just going to lose two pounds, you’ll lose three pounds.”

2. What product emotions Alli delivers. “They’re making your other efforts more effective. It’s inspiring hope. You’re getting encouraged with your success in being able to stick with the regimen.”

3. The valued emotions are delivered by products/services themselves, not solely via marketing communications. “When creating product emotions, [you are] using your products directly to craft, create, evoke, provide, and deliver emotions that people value.”

4. When product emotions are genuine, the emotions can be deeply important to customers and therefore valuable. “There might be a tendency to believe [that] the emotion is secondary. And yet, think about the examples that I’ve chosen. For the truckers—societal respect, professionalism. That’s deeply meaningful in a society where they may feel not so respected. Or for somebody who’s trying to lose weight—hope, encouragement. [That’s] deeply meaningful. Very powerful. Here’s an opportunity for your products and services to really reach deeply and have great impact.”

Among top brands, high-emotion brands perform best. [Discussion at 31:09]

1.  One way to corroborate the book’s findings is to examine performance of firms that deliver product emotions. “Looking at the stock market to see how this played out empirically…We grouped these [high-performing] high-emotion companies together like you would a mutual fund, and we tracked the performance of this index, looking back from  2007 to 1997. The red line is our high emotion index, which performed quite nicely. Those blue lines that are skittering along the bottom there, those are your major indices: NASDAQ, Dow Jones, etc.”

2. The anticipated value of emotions is correlated with empirics. “If people value emotions, if they pay for what they value, we should see better returns for companies that are providing that emotional value. It’s confirmatory evidence.”

3. The value of product emotions endures in difficult economic seasons. “If times are tough, maybe all that fluffy emotion stuff goes away? We were curious. In 2008, everything tanked in the market, and yet, what recovers most quickly—the high-emotion index. So, it looks like the emotion pays off for those that invest in it, even through a bad economy. It’s worth your time.”

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