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What's Behind Products That Customers Fall in Love With

You don't want customers to just buy your product--you want them to get emotional about it.
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This story appears in the February 2011 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

From the iPad to Pop Tarts, Southwest Airlines to Amazon.com, some products and businesses seem to have an almost magical ability to generate excitement and loyalty. Now a book by Carnegie Mellon professors Peter Boatwright and Jonathan Cagan--Built to Love: Creating Products That Captivate Consumers--is putting that magic under the microscope. We caught up with the authors to find out how to give customers the emotional experiences they crave--and how essential love is to success.

How can you tell if something is "built to love"?
It doesn't just do the right things, it also makes people feel the right ways. There are actually two dimensions for successful innovation: functionality and emotion.

The iPad is clearly "built to love." Can an unsexy product be, too?
Of course. Here's just one case study: Long-haul trucks. They're excellent business tools, but the living space behind the driver's seat is cramped and drab. Navistar recognized the opportunity and developed the LoneStar truck, complete with a Murphy bed that doubles as a sofa, kitchenette, table to eat and work at, and hardwood flooring. Drivers recognized the truck was designed not just for delivering goods, but for delivering a good and decent environment as well.

Is success actually about love?
To understand value is to understand the deep satisfaction and enthusiasm that comes from how a product fulfills people's needs and desires. The Nissan LEAF is replete with technology--but that technology fundamentally provides emotional value. LEAF consumers really enjoy the freedom from fossil fuels and the feeling that they are contributing to a better world.

Is advertising a big influence?
Advertisements try to create feelings by repeatedly showing emotion-laden content, hoping to associate those emotions with a product. But these are associated emotions, and often just a ploy designed only to get a sale.

So we're really after something deeper.
Yes. Imagine that nobody told you how you're supposed to feel about a product. And yet by using it, the product made you feel secure and safe, or maybe a little adventurous and excited. For example, GlaxoSmithKline has a weight-loss product called Alli. Alli acknowledges that losing weight requires effort. But Alli is designed to make your weight-loss efforts more productive--for every 2 pounds you lose on your own, you lose a third one because of Alli. So those who take Alli feel that they have a partner working with them toward their goals. And that feeling was engendered by the product itself.

Edition: May 2017

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