Unleash the Emotional Appeal of Your Product

By Rita McGrath

In our book MarketBusters, my colleague Ian MacMillan and I encouraged companies to think about how adding an emotional appeal to their offerings can create massive differentiation in an otherwise crowded field.

We enjoyed hunting down examples of this type of competitive differentiation. For example, consider the ordinary light bulb – you wouldn’t think there was much to get emotional about there, would you? And yet, pink-shaded bulbs for make-up mirrors (for those of us who are no longer in the first blush of youth), piercingly bright lights for security purposes, and lately of course the “feel green” appeal of compact fluorescents are all examples of adding a formerly emotional tag to a fairly mature product category.

Some companies of course have known this all along – after all, with one sneaker being pretty much like another, it’s the feeling of a Nike swoosh that makes for major advantage. And the Kodak moment? At one stage those soppy commercials could bring me to tears.

We call positive emotional appeals “exciter” features in our book, and encourage companies to think about how they might leverage the potential of an emotional element. It seems that more and more organizations are finding that as technologies are copied instantly and the web levels the playing field on things like local pricing, emotions remain a strong differentiator. What made me think of this was a recent article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “For Olympic Marketers, Emotions Pay.” The reporters note that unlike events such as say, the Super Bowl, or the World Cup, the Olympics are fertile ground for emotions. Surprising upsets, stunning victories, proud – if disappointed – losers are all delicious backdrops to the power of emotions.

So how do you get at the power of emotions in the things you offer?

First, think hard about your customer segments. Good segments reflect behaviors – remember that even customers who are demographically similar may have very different behaviors and preferences.

Second, you need to think deeply about the customers’ situation as they are interacting with your offer. What’s on their minds? What are they worried about? Looking forward to? Would they rather be doing something else than dealing with whatever issue you solve for them?

Third, consider what emotions you might legitimately play to – I’m definitely not advocating anything that is manipulative or inauthentic. Then do some brainstorming with members of your team – what could they come up with that might trigger that connective feeling.

Lastly, experiment – try the appeal out on representative members of your customer segment and observe how they behave. By the way, observation is absolutely key. Customers often won’t – or can’t – tell you what is really driving their behavior.

Source: Harvard Business Review

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