Driving Emotional Transformation

Digital technology might enable us to create better products, but they must continuously engage consumers

‘You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology, not the other way around.’ – Steve Jobs

How very true and seemingly evident Steve Job’s observation is. Yet today much of the conversation surrounding AI and digital transformation is about the speed and reach of technological advance and not about its ultimate role. Digital transformation should not be regarded as an end goal in itself, but as a means to the goal of perfecting human experiences, the process of which I call ‘Emotional Transformation’.

Public policy, consumer products

We can explore this topic from both a public and a private sector perspective, as the objective of technological application should be the same for both. The UAE, Singapore, and Estonia are three of the most digitally advanced countries, at the forefront of leveraging new technology in government services.

However, on the 2019 World Happiness Rankings published by the United Nations, they rank 21st, 34th, and 55th respectively. The ranking is based on surveys of citizens’ sentiment regarding their national environment across six principal factors impacting happiness.

From the results of this ranking, it is clear that public policies need to advance not just the adaptation of cutting-edge technology, but also leverage it to drive national happiness. This should be the ultimate goal.

The same is true in business. At the core of Apple Inc.’s phenomenal success is its ability to package technology into simple, attractive designs and transform their application into irresistible customer experiences. Just think how revolutionarily simple the iPod’s design was in 2001, or the way the touchpad of the first iPhone in 2007 simplified and invigorated the smart phone experience.

More iPhones, less interest

But here is where the concept of Emotional Transformation gets interesting. A thought-provoking article on Insider.com in October 2018 presented analytical evidence showing that customers are getting less excited for each new generation of iPhone. This phenomenon indicates that customer and citizen happiness is not a permanently attainable state, but a continuously moving target.

As a result, what Emotional Transformation needs to enable is not happiness, but the ongoing pursuit of the happiness of a target audience. This opens up a fascinating understanding of their experience – an understanding that is both ancient and largely untapped today by companies and governments alike.

For example, the First Noble Truth of Buddhism originating from the sixth century B.C.E. states: ‘Human beings are subject to desires and cravings, but even when we are able to satisfy these desires, the satisfaction is only temporary. Pleasure does not last; or if it does, it becomes monotonous.’

Echoing the same, basic view of human nature, psychology expert Tal Ben-Shahar recently coined the term ‘arrival fallacy’ to define people’s illusion that ‘once we make it, once we attain our goal or reach our destination, we will reach lasting happiness.’

How can these insights be converted into practical application, helping companies use technology to optimise customer experience? Similarly, how can public institutions harness the power of technology to bring new levels of lifestyle enrichment to their citizens, and create an ongoing cycle of rewarding, and fulfilling experiences?

A change of perspective

The first thing we have to do is to reorient our focus. Given that customer satisfaction and citizen happiness are neither permanent nor fully obtainable, we need a more accurate way of defining and measuring their experiences. A way that captures the inherent cyclicality of emotional stimulation and attachment. This is where the concept of ‘infatuation’ takes centre stage.

Infatuation is defined as: ‘An intense but short-lived passion or admiration for someone or something,’ with synonyms including passion, enchantment, obsession, crush, fascination, and rapture. Infatuation is the only word that simultaneously expresses a highly charged state of exuberance AND its transient, fleeting nature. Therefore, it provides the perfect lens for understanding the cyclicality of emotional transformation in customer relationships, and how to optimise them.

Any highly successful and well-received commercial offering elicits a strong emotional reaction on the part of consumers. This stage can be labelled the ‘Infatuation Interval,’ during which consumers are fixated on the offering’s novelty, seduced by its perceived benefits, and blinded to its potential shortcomings.

As the veil of infatuation wears off, consumers gradually take ownership of the offering, that is to say, they see it as the new status quo, and no longer consider themselves privileged but rather fully entitled to it. The perception of ownership therefore passes from provider to consumer. This is the start of the ‘Entitlement Period,’ during which consumers will take notice of and express all the things that bother them about the offering, and what they expect to be better or different in the future.

The McDonald’s Curve below illustrates the Infatuation Cycle over time:

One strategic target on the route towards maximising customer relationships therefore, is to fabricate Infatuation Intervals that are as long as possible. For example, think about the extended Infatuation Interval of Nintendo’s Wii, which captured the imagination and passion of an entirely new, massive consumer segment – that of previous non-gamers – for several years. Ponder the same for the book The Da Vinci Code, which became a worldwide cultural sensation for years after its publication.

Ongoing innovation

A second strategic target is to have an ongoing process of innovation so that you create a continuous stream of Infatuation Intervals for consumers. In other words, as soon as the current Infatuation Interval for your offering is nearing its end, you tweak its features and utility in a way that a new Infatuation Interval is created.

You can do this based on customer feedback from early adapters who have already transitioned to the Entitlement Period. Or, more powerfully, you can think about and anticipate latent consumer desires, which consumers themselves are unable to express. In this case you enter the realm of market driving rather than market driven, which allows you to occupy undiscovered market space. In the famous words of Henry Ford: ‘If I’d asked the consumer what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse.’

Notice that the same approach is equally applicable to government services. The concept of Infatuation Intervals can be the very engine to create and sustain emotionally elated citizens through the optimal application of new technologies.

Putting the ‘me’ into metrics

Here is the best part. You can harness the power of a new analytic companion to measure the emotional impact of your offerings as well as their cyclicality. This tool, called the ‘Infatuation Interval Index’ (or I³ for short), enables the real-time, aggregated measurement of consumer sentiment through directed monitoring of social media and big data.

It tracks your offering’s ‘infatuability,’ the depth, broadness, and duration of elation your consumers are expressing for your offering and brand, and turns it into a simplified, real-time metric of their level of emotional connectivity to you. I³ transforms the vague and elusive goal of consumer happiness into tangible and highly practical market intelligence.

In the same way, I³ can provide government agencies a way to accurately track citizens’ emotional response to new services in order to optimise their impact and timing. It establishes a breakthrough metric for measuring government performance and guiding the smart use of digitalisation.

When digital gets emotional

Let’s come back full circle to where we started. The goal of digital transformation should ultimately be to drive emotional transformation. The key to understanding and achieving emotional transformation is the concept of infatuation, which is equally applicable to commercial offerings and government services. As a result, your new mission, should you choose to accept it, is clear: Keep your target audience continuously infatuated.

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