Utility attracts customers but fun creates evangelists

Stephan Anderson on how emotion feeds strong consumer relationships.

light_connected_freddie.pngCustomer loyalty is the holy grail of most business ventures, and reliability and dependability are important qualities that lead to that end. But what about emotional engagement? Adding a bit of beauty or laughter to the customer-product relationship can turn loyal customers into passionately loyal customers, says Stephen Anderson, consultant and owner of PoetPainter.

In a recent interview, Anderson talked about how surprising survey results gave him fresh insights into how consumers perceive products:

I draw a distinction between loyal engagers and passionate users or customers. I think if we look at product design or environmental design, there are definitely products I could ask you about that would make your eyes light up — you’d get excited, tell me how you love it and how it’s part of your identity.

When I started surveying people and asking about products — startup web apps — that they’ve used for more than two or three years and why, it was a bit surprising. There were a lot of very utilitarian products that people use, but they’re not excited about them. They’re loyal, but their reasons were things like, ‘it’s reliable,’ ‘it always works,’ or ‘it’s what my friends use’ — it’s all these very boring reasons.

What I was looking for was, ‘I love it,’ or ‘it makes me smile,’ or ‘it makes me feel complete.’ Deeper things, and I didn’t see any of that. It’s not that there’s not room for it because there definitely is if you look at product design, industrial design and those spaces.

So that’s really where I’m keeping an eye out for web apps that engage people in an emotional way. If you look at a company like MailChimp, for example, I think they’re doing that — it’s a mail management system, a business app — but I laugh every time their mascot has a little quote or does something. They’re engaging me in an emotional way, and I think there are very few sites or businesses doing that.

I think that’s really the next thing we’re looking forward to — apps that people still use after three, four, five, or 10 years that they still love, enjoy, talk about, and share with others.

For more on Anderson’s thoughts on how play and exploration apply to businesses, check out the full interview in the following video:


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