Embracing the Power of Emotion in Experience Design

Embracing the Power of Emotion in Experience Design

Emotions are one of the most powerful forces in our psyche. They operate at the subconscious level, controlling up to 95% of our instinctive reactions and instantaneous decisions, and are the largest driver of loyalty in customer experience. Despite a wealth of evidence around how much emotion affects peoples' experiences and impacts business performance, most brand strategies and experiences are not designed with emotional intelligence. 

Sudden Impact

Should I stay or should I go? That’s the question people are asking themselves whether or not they are even consciously aware. As people instinctively react to experiences in milliseconds, the behavioral impact is very tangible. A CMO Council/SAP survey, reported that 47% of respondents said they would abandon a brand that delivers poor, impersonal, or frustrating experiences.

A Harvard Business Review article on the Value of Emotional Connections reported that 'fully connected customers' are 52% more valuable than those who are just 'highly satisfied', on average across 9 categories. This is because emotionally connected customers buy more, visit you more often, exhibit less price sensitivity, pay more attention to your communications, follow your advice, and recommend you more. 

Even without a wealth of proof, we all know from personal experiences how our emotions affect our desire and behavior. Think about experiences you’ve recently had where someone treated you very well, where it was easier than expected, where you felt appreciated, where you felt understood, where someone respected your time, where you had an enjoyable moment. When we are made to feel these ways, it creates a desire to have that experience again. 

Contrast that to a time when you were left feeling frustrated, unappreciated or disrespected. After moments like these, we get offended, anxious or angry, or at minimum, we harbor negative feelings and minimize our future interactions. 

Emotional Intelligence

Why is the power of emotion so strong? According to Dr. Herbert Simon, American Nobel Laureate scientist, “In order to have anything like a complete theory of human rationality, we have to understand what role emotion plays in it. Every feeling begins with an external stimulus, whether it's what someone said or a physical event. That stimulus generates an unfelt emotion in the brain, which causes the body to produce responsive hormones. These hormones enter the bloodstream and create feelings, sometimes negative and sometimes positive.” As Dr. Simon and others have pointed out, emotions influence, skew or sometimes completely determine the outcome of a large number of decisions we are confronted with in a day.

Another way to understand the power of emotions is put forth by Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking, Fast and Slow. He describes the two systems that drive the way people think and make decisions. System 1, fast, intuitive and emotional, operates impulsively and subconsciously. With little or no effort, System 1 is responsible for as much as 95% of our decision-making. System 2 is slower, more deliberate and more logical, and is called into action far less often to rationally solve complex situations that require attention and concentration.

Getting Serious

This all leads to a very rational conclusion: We must embrace peoples’ emotions to maximize business results.

For some companies, it’s already happening. Deloitte’s Tech Trends 2019 says that reclaiming the human experience and reconnecting with emotion are on the rise, and that CMOs and CIOs partnering to elevate the human experience. It says that brands are expected to understand wants, needs, and previous interactions. An optimal brand experience demonstrates emotional sensitivity and sets the bar for all brand expectations moving forward, regardless of category or sector. As such, CMOs are allocating nearly a third of their budgets to marketing technology. 

Harvard Business Review goes on to say "At the most basic level, any company can begin a structured process of learning about its customers’ emotional motivators and conducting experiments to leverage them, later scaling up from there. At the other end of the spectrum, firms can invest in deep research and big data analytics or engage consultancies with specific expertise. Regardless, given the enormous opportunity to create new value, companies should pursue emotional connections as a science—and a strategy.” 

To truly commit to emotion-based strategy and experience design, it requires organizational commitment and cross-functional coordination. Data must be collected, insights must be unearthed, and all customer experiences - including products, services and marketing - must be adapted to positively affect peoples’ emotions. It’s no small task, but you can’t ignore the potential ROI.

Start by Asking the Right Questions

At this point, you must be thinking about how to get started, and you may be feeling stressed and overwhelmed by the potential enormity of the task. Let me set your mind as ease with a simple way to get started so that you can test-drive the approach. 

I’ve always found that the most important first step in designing a strategy or experience is to start by asking the right questions - ones rooted in emotion. As strategists and experience designers we are most often focused questions like: What do people want or need?  What do we want people to learn, get or do?  What will make the experience successful? Answers to these questions will be more rational, and will lead to Function-Based Design. While functional design may create ’satisfied customers’ it is unlikely to create the more valuable 'emotionally connected' customers.

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To truly create experiences that affect how people feel, we need to use emotive questions that will lead to Emotion-Based Design. First, we should understand the context of the environment. How are people feeling as they enter the experience? If they are entering hospital or airport or using a kitchen appliance, their predisposed feelings will be different than when entering restaurant or a museum, or using a smart speaker. These initial feelings should be understood and the role of design should be to minimize negative feelings such as anxiety, frustration or concern, and to enhance positive feelings such as anticipation, enjoyment or excitement. 

Next, we need determine how we’d like them to feel.  How do we want people to feel at different moments during the experience?  What is the feeling that we want them to have at the end of the experience? It’s important to recognize that peoples’ feelings won't suddenly shift, and that we must meet them where they are. We also have the opportunity to guide them through the experience and help them transition from one emotional state to another. Emotionally engaging experiences should be designed to stimulate the senses. The longer the experience, the more we may want to elicit different emotional responses at different points in the journey.  

It’s Time to Embrace Emotions

Simply put by Maya Angelou in one of my favorite quotes: 

“They won’t remember what you said. They won’t remember what you did. But they will remember how you made them feel.”

Emotions are in play in nearly all human interactions. They operate subconsciously, instinctively and conclusively to affect our desire and behavior in an instant. What’s incredible and surprising to me is that the power of emotion is so often under-leveraged by CMO’s, strategists and experience designers. Yet, positively affecting peoples’ emotions can be one of the most powerful ways to connect, and ignoring the power of emotion will come at a cost. 

The big question for you now:
Are you designing with enough emotional intelligence?

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