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The Importance of Emotion—and Action

Our experience shows that anticipating and responding to consumer emotions, rather than parsing demographics and focusing on market research, has proven to be the most reliable indicator of design success. Developing a simple, intuitive process for incorporating this emotional insight into the design process has involved vigorous experimentation. Over time, we discovered that factoring in emotion has not made design more complex but introduced clarity to the decisions and trade-offs that come with implementation. That clarity has enabled us to breathe new life into stale categories, help companies climb back from decline, and enter the market and seize share, faster, with more lasting results than we dared to hope for.

What does this mean in practical terms? How can a firm begin to practice this philosophy? What are the resources and skills involved in implementation? Based on our work with diverse clients, we have distilled the process into distinct phases that can be easily remembered with the acronym EMPOWER. The Psycho-Aesthetics process is a powerful catalyst in empowering clients and design professionals to innovate. Not coincidentally, EMPOWER also describes the experience that we aim to create for consumers. Empowering experiences create connections between consumers and brands. These bonds are the basis of market leadership and sustained financial performance.

  • Enable Your Stakeholders
  • Map the Future
  • Personify Your Consumer
  • Own the Opportunity
  • Work the Design Process
  • Engage Emotionally
  • Reward Your Consumer

The idea that emotional connections are the real drivers of growth and prosperity seemed radical when we began to use this approach. If the results from objective data can be misleading, it was hardly surprising that business people were once hesitant to base major strategic decisions on emotional considerations. But emotional insight translated into design creates real business results. Consider some of the following examples of this philosophy in practice:

  • In the mid-1990s, the Minimed insulin pump was a breakthrough technology that unintentionally reinforced the stigma of being a patient. By redesigning it to look like a pager (which were then perceived as "cool" and "hip"), sales went from $45 million to $171 million in 3 years and the firm was acquired by Medtronic for more than $3 billion.
  • An appliance engagement with Amana revealed that its products' high quality was not reflected in its styling. Enhancing badging, knobs, and graphics to reflect its brand raised costs by $0.30 but commanded a $100/unit premium at retail. The result was more than $20 million in profits and an acquisition by Maytag.
  • Collaboration with Discus Dental to create the Zoom! Tooth Whitening system began more than 2 years after Brite Smile entered the category and began taking market share. Psycho-Aesthetics was used to design all components of the professional tooth whitening experience (from the syringe to the whitening lamp). Today, Zoom! sells more than 100,000 of the patented syringes per week and ultimately acquired Brite Smile Professional to secure its market position.

Looking at design as a means to deliver empowerment was central to all these efforts. The credibility of many companies today rests on whether they actually deliver value to consumers as they produce profits. In an increasingly global marketplace, few opportunities can be understood with financial metrics alone (although these will always be an important measure). Many of these markets and new consumers can be better understood—and designed for—through a deep understanding of their needs, desires, and aspirations. In this way, Psycho-Aesthetics can help translate the good intentions of most businesspeople into tangible business results.

The poet Maya Angelou once observed, "People forget what you said, they forget what you did, but they never forget how you made them feel." The emotional impact companies have on consumers is perhaps their most lasting legacy...and the largest element of their brand equity. It certainly deserves to be at the forefront of everything the company does.

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