Imagine opening an innocent-seeming email attachment. Moments later, a message appears on your computer screen: Oops, your important files have been encrypted. Click here to send payment and unencrypt your files.
I sincerely hope you’ve never been a victim of a crime like last month’s global ransomware attack, in which cybercriminals take over your computer and demand a ransom to get you your data back.
Leaving aside its illegality, this attack plays on a basic human emotion. When we value something highly enough, such as the data on our computers, we are willing to pay almost anything to get it back.
Imagine if you could employ that same approach to creating and marketing a product. Of course, you’re not going to manufacture a problem by doing something illegal or unethical. But what if you made a product that customers wanted so desperately they were willing to pay almost anything to get it?
This isn’t as wild a fantasy as it may seem. My business helps companies create such products by starting the product development process not merely with the customer but with the customer’s problem. Your job as a product developer becomes uncovering problems that already exist and crafting solutions that feel as necessary as paying ransom.
In other words: you’re creating value.
So how do you do this? Here are some things to consider.
As the ransomware example shows, emotion matters when you’re trying to generate interest in and demand for your product. It matters more than ever given the sheer volume of messages, ideas, and offers competing for your customers’ attention. Potential buyers need not only to become aware of your product but experience an emotion that will bring them to an internal tipping point. The tipping point, as described by Malcolm Gladwell in his book of the same name, is “that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.” This can also happen inside an individual’s mind, when a series of small experiences or decisions brings a person to a point that spurs action.
A customer can have the facts about your product—it absorbs more water, it has a 99.9 percent accuracy rate, it goes from zero to 60 in fewer than six seconds—but if the product doesn’t connect with an emotional need, forget it. I care about preventing water stains on my heirloom dining table, giving a patient the right type of blood, and avoiding a head-on collision while passing.
Probing for evidence matters.
To uncover these emotional tipping points, you need the right kind of research. I think it goes without saying that you can’t just guess about what motivates your customers. A client I worked with recently, for example, was quite surprised to find that what they thought was getting in their customers’ way was quite different from what actually was.
The right kind of research involves probing and follow-up. Why? Tell me more? What makes you feel that way? Describe how it looks when… This kind of questioning leads to the reason behind the reason. A cold medicine customer might say initially that he’s looking for congestion relief. But when you probe, you might find that he feared missing his daughter’s wedding day because of a cold—a compelling emotional reason behind the reason.
Qualitative research is important; it’s how you gather the stories that lead to the emotions behind the product. But unless you confirm qualitative findings with a larger group, you won’t know if they’re valid. We always take initial survey results to a statistically significant sampling from the market. Sometimes we discover that what seemed to be a must-have requirement for the new product actually left potential customers indifferent.
In the natural world, an ecosystem is “the complex of a community of organisms and its environment functioning as an ecological unit,” according to Merriam-Webster. In the business world, ecosystem is everything that surrounds your product in the customer’s world. This could include things like charging stations for electric cars or the healthcare system into which pharmaceutical companies sell drugs.
To bring customers to the internal tipping point that prompts them to purchase your product, consider the ecosystem as well as the product itself. For example, when Kimberly Clark first introduced wipes for adults, it didn’t consider the “ecosystem” of the bathroom and the fact that people already had an established décor and a place for toilet tissue. Their new product, while it may have met a need, didn’t fit into the existing ecosystem.
A very different example of the importance of ecosystems is Keurig’s coffee pods, which essentially defined a new market for single-serve brewed coffee. However, customers have become more environmentally conscious and interested in reducing waste and recycling. As the ecosystem around the product has changed, Keurig will need to rethink its approach to fit in with the new customer consciousness around making coffee in an environmentally friendly way.
Pull vs. push
As with creating change inside your organization (the subject of last month’s Discoveries article, creating change with customers—i.e., getting them to take a risk and buy your product—is far easier if the impulse to buy comes from within (pull), rather than externally (push).
Think about how you can tap into the rivers of emotion already flowing through your customers—the desires, fears, insecurities, joys, and frustrations—that, when activated, will entice them to reach for your product as an answer, a solution, or an enhancement.