Your product. Your users. Your emotional design to connect the two.

Just a few month ago, I made one of the most out of character purchases in my life. It wasn’t necessarily spontaneous or impulsive, in fact, it was incredibly thought out and pondered on for many months – I bought a new car, a brand new luxury car, to be specific. As someone who is careful with their budget, buying a car in that price range had to have important reasoning beneath it. The main purpose for a higher end car in my mind was the performance and power I desperately needed to tackle steep and curvy city streets in Seattle’s rainy weather. However, there is the desire in the corner of my mind that wants the sense of power and status that comes with a nice car – a feeling that undeniably played a role in my decision.


Emotional benefits add richness and depth to the brand and the experience of owning and using the brand.

– David Aaker, Vice Chairman of Prophet consultancy

In the modern market, where great quality products have equally good reviews and pricing, there are many factors that draw product value and affect people’s decision to buy. Connection to the brand will play an important role in that decision.

How do you create this connection? – Emphasize the experience buyers wanted. 

Your product and its value for customers.

A while back I was in a meeting where one of the newly hired marketing leaders was talking about strategy and future perspectives. At some point the conversation circled around product innovation and services improvement. There were many great ideas shared, but when a question was asked “How to get there?”, I was waiting for one keyword: “Research”. In my opinion, innovation or any changes we try to implement should always start with research, the first and critical step in any improvement process.

Build research team.

Authors of a Harvard Business Review magazine article “Business Marketing: Understand What Customers Value” say that “the first step in understanding what drives value for your customers is to put together the right kind of value research team. The team should include people with product, field engineering, and marketing experience, and salespeople. Having salespeople involved at the start is particularly important. They know both the product and the customer; they also know which customers might be willing to cooperate in value research”.

This is simple and brilliant: people who are your product experts will understand every aspect and nuance of customer-product interaction, on every level that is most relevant to their expertise.

Research “what they say” vs “what they do”.

I believe that no tool is perfect for every situation, but selections of research methods should always target both customer’s perception of what all the relevant elements are and actual observation of what affects the customer’s decisions. Why? Because, to rephrase David Ogilvy, “the trouble with market research is that people don’t think how they feel, they don’t say what they think, and they don’t do what they say”, you need to observe what they do to understand.

I’m not planning to elaborate on the details of User research methods in this article. User interviews, surveys, user feedback gathering, focus groups, direct observation of user actions and reactions – all of those methods (and more!) are tools that are used based on the situation and the researcher’s mindset.

To buy, or not to buy: components of a product’s value.

A return on investment not based on the work you put in but on the value you are creating to get there.

– Andrei Cimbru, the owner and writer of “Rule Your Way”.

There are a few main components that to different degrees define the product values for customers. With available research results you will have quantifiable data on which of those components draw the most “votes”. You will also determine how customers compare their perceived values for similar products when making a decision. Here is an example list of drivers that impact a customer’s perception of value:

  1. Functionality and specific features
  2. Services
  3. Performance
  4. Points of differentiation
  5. Quality and reliability
  6. Product cost
  7. Repair and maintenance cost
  8. Usability and accessibility
  9. Brand and design
  10. Previous or existing experience
  11. Personal beliefs and bias

Determine which of those “voted” the highest poses a surprisingly daunting task, for one huge reason – variability. For each customer they will rank differently in importance. Take for example the purchase of a winter coat. For one person the style and the fashion aspects are the highest importance while others might be looking for durability, or how warm it will keep them, or the quality of the product, or price, or specific brand and other potential criteria.

Know thy users: profile your audience. 

We are not all things to all users. “By identifying groups of people with shared values you can start to create products and messages that resonate” – says Dani Mansfield, the author of a great article “Understanding the Customer Story”.

“By identifying groups of people with shared values you can start to create products and messages that resonate.”

-Dani Mansfield, the author of “Understanding the Customer Story”

Knowing how your customers weigh their options and make a choice, you know the spot between users need and the product solution’s capabilities. And now, bringing the topic back to design and content of your site or campaign, you target that exact combination of customer need and product solution with the right representation of that solution.


Of course, a design campaign is a very complex process, and visual design of the customer-facing interface is a part of it, albeit an important and powerful one.

Target combination of customer need and product solution with the right representation of that solution and you will create that emotional connection between your product and your customer.

Do you validate results?    

What do you measure to know that something has been improved? Marketing leads? A number of content consumes? Customer satisfaction? Is it possible to measure the design impact alone?

There are opposing expert opinions on whether a design impact can be measured or not. I think that even if “design measures” are hard to get into a database, the design is always a part of a complex strategy process and should be measured as such. Because “if we succeed, we succeed together”.  And if we not, well, it goes back to the beginning and starts with a research.


Suggested reading:
  • Erika Hall. “Just enough research”. 2013
  • Kathy Baxter, Catherine Courage, Kelly Caine. “Understanding Your Users: A Practical Guide to User Research Methods”. 2015
  • Aaron Walter. “Designing for emotion”. 2011
  • Dan Brown. “Practical design discovery”. 2017
  • Mikael Krogerus, Roman Tschappeler. “The decision book”. 2012
  • Dani Mansfield. “Marketing Theory: Understanding Customer Value”.  2014
  • Harvard Business Review magazine.”The 30 Things Customers Really Value”. 2016


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