Customers want to FEEL something!

Mad Men – Season 2, Episode 1:

Peggy Olson: Sex sells.

Don Draper: Says who? Just so you know, the people who talk that way think that monkeys can do this [marketing]. They take all this monkey crap and just stick it in a briefcase completely unaware that their success depends on something more than their shoeshine. YOU are the product. You – FEELING something. That’s what sells. Not them. Not sex. They can’t do what we do, and they hate us for it.


emotionsI have taught hundreds of students this core marketing principle:   “Feelings” – emotions and desired emotional states – are the foundation for all customers needs and wants.  And yet, it is the minority who “get it” and seem to integrate it. Some even outright reject the notion! They have clearly stated to my face that they don’t want to see the world that way. They want to believe they make rational, unemotional decisions and that the world is constructed in a rational mechanical way.  All my students are really smart people, but the concept doesn’t seem to stick with most of them! Intelligence is not the issue here.  Something else is going on that is simply beyond the scope of intelligence to explain.

So why is it, as Don Draper says, that “They can’t do what we do…”?

This primer on emotions and marketing is my attempt to bridge that gap.  I believe everyone can understand and use this idea to more fully understand themselves and how they want to participate in our consumer driven society, as a customer or as a marketer.  It doesn’t matter if you are marketing professionally or simply marketing yourself into a new job:  Emotions are the basis of it all.

Foundation Truth: We really only want to buy emotions

We do not want things, such as shiny new cars, beautiful clothes, delicious food at a restaurant, 4k TV’s, or new iPhone models.  We do not want services, such as a car wash, a hair stylist, great service at a restaurant, 150 channel digital HD TV service, or 4g cell phone service.

Instead, we want to experience certain feelings, and we look to the world outside of our mind for some thing, some process, or someone to trigger those feelings in us.

Examples of the things and services we think we want and the emotions we really want:

What we think we want –> What we really want

In marketing a new car is an "emotional delivery device"...
In marketing a new car is an “emotional delivery device”…

A shiny new car  –>  The feelings of personal freedom, having “made it”, starting fresh, hope for the future, being seen by others as wealthy, modern, successful, young, desirable, …

Beautiful clothes –> The feelings of being attractive, confident, sexy, respected, honoured, desired, seen as successful, …

A hair stylist –> Someone who can help make me feel fresh, new, attractive, desired, beautiful, self-confident, …

Delicious food at a restaurant –> The feelings of happiness, treating oneself, pleasure, reward for having worked hard, …

A 4K TV –> The feelings of status, being rewarded for your hard work, feeling modern and up-to-date, feeling proud of your belongings, status because of your wealth, feeling the need to escape into another reality so very clearly available on a 4k TV, …

Buying a new model of iphone - an emotional rush!
Buying a new model of iPhone – an emotional rush!

A new iPhone model –>  Feelings of status, control, power, fitting in, empowered to excel, being seen as attractive because you are “with it”, rewarded for your hard work, deserving, excited, delighted, entertained, …

Accepting that you are a bundle of walking and talking desires for emotional states is the first step to understanding how emotions rule marketing…and rule our lives. Ignoring the surface level – the “artifacts” and “manifestations” of our conscious and unconscious desires – and looking for the underlying emotional drivers and causes of these artifacts and manifestations showing up in our lives is a habit worth cultivating.

Why is it so hard to see the world through the lens of emotional desires?

Earlier I noted that some students outright reject the notion that emotions are the driving force in how consumer buying decisions are made.  I think there is conditioned thinking happening:  Math, logic, and the scientific method are “true”.  Emotions and non-linear logic are “false”.  Emotions are messy, messy things and perhaps this simply scares a lot of people – and maybe men more than women, if I can be excused for a bit of stereotyping.

And I think it is also because we are scared of ourselves – of what might be lurking under our own illusory logical, rational beliefs about who we are.

Foundation Truth: Most people are not able to see below the surface

We live in a world where personal reflection and the seeking of truth are not valued, appreciated, encouraged, or supported.  Instead, they are actively discouraged by parents, teachers, friends, the media, marketing influences, and even our own ego, which fears what the truth might mean.  The tiny voice in the back of your mind which is calling you to seek truth is tiny indeed, and very much hidden in the background of our day-to-day thinking.

No, this is not a value judgement where I am shaking a fist at the bad people doing this to you.

No, this is not even something that is necessarily bad.

It just is.  It is truth.  Most people cannot see below the surface and you cannot make them do so.

However, once someones decides to start digging – once they are good and fed up of being a puppet whose strings are being pulled by their unconscious mind and the current circumstances they find themselves in – all the tools are ready for them to begin deconstructing their minds, lives, and how the world of marketing works.

Are you ready to see below the surface?

(Warning: Once you dig deep enough, you can never go back into the proverbial “Matrix”!)

We all get glimpses of truth now and again.  The veil of illusion shifts slightly and we see into the backstage for just a second.  This is not good enough.  These glimpses are just that:  glimpses. Your habitual way of thinking is to focus on the illusions of the world, which are the artifacts and manifestations you think are real. Now you must practice and habituate seeing through the veil – parting it, ripping it down, and walking through it – in order to see your own truths and the layers of truth under the illusions you think are real.


Grocery StoreExercise:

1.  Shut off your cell phone. Remove your ear buds.

2.  Go to your local grocery store by yourself.  No cell phone, no smart phone, no ear buds, no distractions.

3.  Pick up a hand basket.  Do not put anything into this basket. This basket is a symbol of your free mind – empty and open.

4.  Walk through all the aisles of the store, pausing and letting your mind trigger into thoughts and emotions for each item that your eyes rest upon.  Allow your mind to fully form these thoughts and fully imagine the scene that plays out. Do not try to close down your thoughts or move on until they are fully formed and played out.  If you feel emotions of any kind, “be” with them as best you can.  We are not accustomed or encouraged to letting emotions flow through us.  It takes bravery and practice to allow them to be a powerful tool we can use.

My real example:  “I see the potatoes in a big pile. I think of my father, who loved potatoes.  He wanted them every day. They reminded him of the tough times he had during WWII when there wasn’t enough food. Eating potatoes made him feel safe.  I remember feeling his hurt when he talked about his experiences of being hungry during the war. My father is dead now. I miss him. I wish I could give him a hug right now. ”  (I am feeling a lot of emotion)  I pick up a couple of the nicest potatoes and put them into my basket, understanding now that they are not potatoes to me in that moment, but symbols of my love for my father and my honouring of him and the experiences he went through.  By buying those potatoes, I am actually buying a bit of a memory of him and triggering my desire to feel loving…

The whole store and this exercise too big and uncertain?  Try just wandering by these specific items:

– Lettuce and salad ingredients

– fruit

– canned soup

– seafood

– fresh baked bread

5.  When you are exhausted mentally and/or emotionally, stop the exercise.  If you have been open to the experience, you will likely get tired and emotionally overwhelmed very quickly. This is natural and it means you are doing the exercise correctly. No, this does not mean that seeing below the surface of things is always exhausting and emotionally draining. It only means that you have little practice with doing so and no-one has ever told you that this takes time and practice to build up the strength to allow the undercurrents of your mind to become conscious and to see the truth of how emotions drive your thinking and behavior.

The grocery store and food items were specifically chosen for this exercise because of the powerful role that food plays in our lives and the often very emotional states and stories that are connected to specific food items.

6.  Go for a walk or engage in another physical activity immediately after this exercise to let the truths you have exposed settle and clear from your mind. Maybe you need to sit quietly for awhile instead of physical activity. All good.  While walking or sitting quietly, embed in your memory the path backwards from the physical item through your “story” and to your underlying emotions.  In effect, you are seeing what every artifact you focused on means to you and how your behavior is the result of the emotional drivers as they pass through your “story”.

How does marketing work? It triggers your emotions by guiding you through a story that is presented to you, with an artifact at the end that you are encouraged to buy because you want to connect to and experience the underlying emotions that the marketing story has triggered in you.

Marketing is creation. It is the creation of needs for artifacts and manifestations through the triggering of your largely unconscious emotional needs and a “story”. if you don’t have this story within you, marketers will gladly supply it for you.

Want to do some more of this kind of exercise to see how pervasive emotions and stories are in your life?  Try exposing yourself to the following:

– A new car lot (from the sidewalk so that no salespeople interrupt you)

– A 7-11 or other convenience store you have frequented.

– A park with a playground.

– A movie theatre

– A shopping mall.

– A swimming pool

– A natural area that you love – maybe a path beside a lake or in the forest.

If you are brave enough to let the stories and emotions flow, it will literally change who you are. You will “wake up” in a very profound way.

Struggling to understand this? Watch the video clip I quote at the beginning. It might help:

Part 2:  How to discover the emotions that others want to experience

Once you see that emotional desires are the foundation of how you generate needs for things, you can make the logical leap that everyone else must also operate the same way (they do).  The best businesses do not try to sell you things. First they figure out what your underlying emotional needs are and then carefully construct a story that will engage you into wanting an artifact or manifestation (experience) that will give you those emotions.

The problem?  No-one talks this way! You can’t ask someone to share their “emotional desires”.  Finding out what people want, so that your marketing efforts can trigger the correct mix and temperature of desired emotions, is actually pretty tricky.

In Part 2, we start to look at how to discover the emotions that individuals and groups of people want to experience…


Starbucks got it right: Their “Third Place” works for me

A “Third Place”

When Howard Schultz was building the Starbucks brand, he wanted each location to be “a third place between work and home”.  To this day, I tend to spend lots of time socializing, reading, working, and drinking chai lattes in one particular Starbucks location. This one is the most comfortable coffee shop among the several I have to choose from in the urban village that I like to call home.  To be clear, not every Starbucks is designed and arranged the way this location is – spacious, warmly lit, comfy seating, and friendly.  But there are many locations, like this one, that live up to Howard’s vision and desire for Starbucks to be part of the communities they operate in – a “Third Place”.

Why a “Third Place”?

Every generation needs a place to be.  Not home, which is safe and nurtures who we are,  and not work which defines other feelings, such as labeling what we do. A third place, then, is a place where we can be in community with others, express ourselves, and transition between work and home so as to not bring one into the other.

“I want to go where everyone knows my name!”

(Cheers:  TV – 1982-1993))

“No one drinks anymore!” When I heard this statement , it startled me.  To the 50-something year old person who spoke it, local bars, taverns, and pubs were their Third Place.  When I was young the television show called Cheers was all the rage, beloved by many. In this sitcom, a group of people make a pub in Boston, MA their place to be.  For some reason, the show Cheers never really resonated with me.  To this day, I don’t really drink much alcohol and don’t associate it as a social connector between myself and others. I don’t have any particular beliefs or judgements around alcohol, to be clear.  Alcohol, and establishments that make it central to the experience, are simply not my Third Place.

The Club

“We are going to the [yacht/tennis/golf/curling or whatever] club.”  If you have a specific  activity, belief, or passion that you want to identify with, and want to spend time with others who like the same thing, these clubs are for you.  Once you are “in”, you feel like you belong and can “be” there. Wonderful! I am happy that people can find these feelings from such clubs. But while I do many activities, I don’t really identify myself with any one activity. I am not “a golfer”, for example.  In one startling experience, a checkout person at a department store stated to me “You are not a shopper, are you?” when I declined joining the store’s “points club”.  No, I am not a “shopper”.

The Library?

The venerable library, once quite a comfortable place to be for young and old  alike, is now an often uncertain mix of internet access terminals, videos, study space, and what feels like oddly outdated books.  It is a place to hang out during the day for people in transition,  the homeless and semi-homeless, and an eclectic mix of others who are not engaged in  a daily 9-5 job.  Can you “be” there? Sure. Many people make it their place to be, and the diverse mix of folks in a library make it an interesting place to observe human behavior.  But you are watched. Carefully. The central branch that I use has a security guard posted strategically so that you won’t steal videos.  And in the end, a library still feels like a library.  Despite having visited dozens of libraries around the world, I have only ever found one that didn’t feel like a library, but felt rather like a community “place to be”.  It was in Ohio.  I don’t live in Ohio.

Ahhh…the Community Center, of course!

What about public community centers? Well, some are really sports clubs. Others are places where seniors hang out and hobby courses are run in the evenings. Some, a rare few, actually have nice space to hang out – places you can “be” without paying to get in. Open lounges, couches,  activity rooms that don’t have to booked and paid for – you can simply use them. Nice.  I don’t have access to one of those kinds of community centers where I live.

A new realm

Young people have found a new place to be.  It is called “online”.  I have observed that they can be in your living room, but not “be” there with you. They are elsewhere mentally, socially, and in spirit.  The first time I experienced this in an extreme form, it stopped me in my tracks. A young person, who was visiting my son for a couple of weeks, was in my living room alone and in the dark.  This person was doing something on their laptop, with earbuds in place.

Said to me in a startled fashion when I said hello upon entering the living room:

“Oh, sorry. I am watching a movie with a friend in Toronto.”

In response to my utterly confused look they hastened to add:

“On this site we both watch the movie and we [text] chat with each other on the same screen.  It is like we are in the same room.”

The eyes went back to the laptop, the fingers continued chatting. I ceased to exist to them.  I stood there for a minute.  I felt like a stranger in my own living room.  Then I left the dark room, not quite knowing what to do there if I stayed.  In the time that followed during their visit I observed that rarely a live, in-person contact took place between them and myself.  However, online interaction seldom ceased, day and night. And it was not that there was any problem between us – it was simply that I didn’t exist in their reality. I was a ghost, floating in and out of their experience and occasionally startling them from their online interactions by speaking at them in-person.  And this, despite the fact they were physically in my home for an extended period of time.

The “connected young” make a significant part of of their life online.  In the extreme it seems the physical world is only a distraction from their “real” life online.  And while I find the online world enjoyable and useful, I don’t live there. It is wonderful to connect and chat online or by text message at times, but then the technology gets put down and I continue what I feel is my “real” life, in the flesh.

So, where can I “be”?

I am not a drinker. I don’t define myself by any particular activity or belief system. I do not see the current form of the library as a place I can be.  And I am not a senior who uses community centers – and won’t be for a long time.  I don’t live my life online.

So it has been Starbucks for me.  And it has worked pretty well.

A new place!

Today I visited a co-working space. Google the term “co-working” if you haven’t heard of what it is. This co-working space is a very cool place to work, hang out with independent peeps like yourself, and really feel comfortable in.  It has a coffee lounge complete with couches,  “hot desk” areas to work with your laptop, bike storage, lockers, meeting rooms, and more.  You pay for your time being in the co-working space, but unlike a commercial transaction, you pay a form of rent by the day or month that covers the cost of the communal space.  So you feel more like a citizen than a customer.  It is another place to “be” for people like me. Oh, and this co-working space is called The Hive.  As in “bee hive”.   Or “be” hive!  Delightful.

Now I have two “Third Places” I can be in. My favourite Starbucks, and a local co-working space similar to The Hive that I found the next day.

My lifestyle is getting richer.