I came across something an old friend and colleague, Josh Baze, wrote a few years back about the growing importance of emotion in branding and retail. It’s something he and I talked about at the time and is something we continue to talk about today, though we communicate less frequently. In the article he wrote, he argued that when historians look back on the early years of the 21st century they will note a paradigm shift from the closing years of the Information Age to the dawning of a new age, aptly called The Age Of Emotion. Now, there are those that would argue that in a period defined by prolonged economic ennui ROI is the only thing that really matters and pricing is the only real consideration consumers think about – the rest is fluff. But I think the argument about emotion becoming the central factor still holds true. We’re not talking about trends here, which are ultimately short lived, but cultural patterns which are sustained and signal a shift in worldview.
On a fundamental level, we are more in tune with our emotional needs than at any time in recent history, or at the very least we have more time to reflect on them. We focus increasingly on satisfying our emotional needs and pop culture both reflects and creates this. It is a cycle. One needs look no further than the multi-billion dollar self-help industry as an example. Talk shows abound focusing on the emotional displays of the masses and the advice dolled out in front of an audience of millions.
And this growing focus on the emotional has extended into the shopping and retail experience. Increasingly we will see a subtle, yet profound difference in the way people relate to products, services and the world around them. Retailers increasingly focus on the nature of the in-store experience, converting the space from a place to showcase goods, to a location, a destination, a stage on which we perform. And indeed, shopping is as much about performance as it is about consumption. Just as fulfilling emotional needs has become the domain of brand development, it is increasingly becoming a centerpiece of the retail experience, at least for retailers focused on margins rather than volume. Rationality will take a back-seat to passion as we move from the sensible to the sensory. While ROI is the obsession today, Return on Insights and Return on Emotional Satisfaction will be the leading factors in the years to come.
For the developed world and the world’s emerging economies, time and money equate to an increased use of brands and shopping as emotional extensions of ourselves. Status, power, love, etc. are wrapped into the subconscious motivations for choosing one location over another. And while we are still bargain hunters, the hunt is less about price than it is about the experience of the hunt. Again, emotion drives the process, even when we SAY it doesn’t. “Experience” is emotional shorthand.
Successful companies will learn to pay more attention to how their customers react emotionally and how their brands can fulfill emotional needs. “In The Emotion Age, brands will either lead the way to customer satisfaction or be left in the dust of rational rhetoric,” Josh wrote. I believe he was right three years ago and I believe he is right today.