September 20, 2016
Destination Retail
September 20, 2016


A new wave of sophisticated emo-diversity is ushering in an era in which people are increasingly obsessed with how everything makes them feel. New media professor Judith Williamson discusses brands as “empires of the mind.” Her phrase captures how campaigns must now construct full realms of association. It is no longer about simply boosting dopamine, but about creating user journeys that work in concert with a full range of feelings.

Granted, emotions are difficult to quantify—they are subjective and diffuse quickly. But measuring feelings is here to stay, says Jesper Fousing Wilhelmsen, senior communication consultant at market research firm Epinion. Digital culture has spent 20 years teaching us to prioritize efficiency and speed. But it is time for a different retail journey focused on emotion and serendipity.


Consumers are exposed to nearly 5,000 advertisements per day, of which only about 12 will make an impression, according to a recent article in Entrepreneur. “Whether you are a Fortune 500 company or a recently funded startup, the best way for your business to stand out is by building emotional connections with your audience,” notes Jeremy Ellens, author of the article.

Case in point: In November 2015 the Harvard Business Review reported that when a bank introduced a credit card for Millennials designed to inspire emotional connection, usage rose by 70%, and new account growth increased by 40%.

The act of browsing, a fundamental part of discovery in brick-and-mortar stores, has been given a new twist as retailers tailor their offers to people’s personal moods. Brands are using emotional-quotient technology to capture emotional data and make personalized recommendations. Products are no longer organized by function but by the emotional response they elicit. Additionally, the spectrum of emotions that can be measured is growing, enabling brands to create even more personal experiences.

The result is a new set of trends, behavior patterns, and marketing techniques that brands plugging into the new E-motional Economy need to be aware of, including: Emotional Data Collection; Empathetic Experiences; Mood Retail; and Mood Manipulation.


Photo: iStock/Alija

Photo: iStock/Alija

  • The Polarity Paradox—People have fled to temporary states of emotional extremism. Following an overdose of dramatic single-note experiences, a new reactionary mood means people now want to experience a more nuanced spectrum of emotions, plus entirely new ones. Consider the emergence of services and experiences, which encourages people to vent their frustration in a physical context. The Rage Room, where visitors pay $20 for a 30-minute session with a set of five plates that are free to smash, is a perfect example of this trend in action.
  • The Optimized Self—The blending of wellness and pop psychology has made wellness a blossoming lifestyle industry. The consumer health market will be worth $737 billion by 2017, with 1.7 billion tablets and smartphones hosting apps for monitoring well-being, according to Accenture. This shift is resonant in food and drink also. Companies such as U.S. food brand Dr. Smood, whose tagline is “Smart food for a good mood,” now use the language of mind-body wellness. Goldman Sachs is in conversation with the brand’s founders to look at how mood-enhancing nutrition could influence the workplace.
  • Humanized Tech—The first wave of digital life was flat, but now it’s 3D, sensorial, and interactive­. We now find it normal to conduct the most intimate areas of our personal lives via our phones and laptops. Virtual reality and humanized technology have made immersive connectivity widespread, and consumers now look for more emotional fulfillment from digital interactions.

Emotional Data Collection

Today, websites already know how you feel, and so do the brands buying their data. The Feel wristband, launched at the start of 2016, gives users a way of being more in synch with themselves. “Hack Happiness,” says the website. The app measures and tracks the wearer’s feelings throughout the day through bio-signals, and then recommends actions that raise emotional well-being based on personal rhythms.

Eyewear brand Jins has released a series of everyday wearables that monitor mind and body. Multiple sensors transmit data to a smartphone app for live monitoring, and the brand’s comms place emphasis on the daily routines of ordinary people. The eyewear monitors the wearer’s health and well-being according to two metrics: Mind Age (focus, energy, and calm) and Body Age (movement, posture, and stability).

Empathetic Experiences

Photo: iStock/Vulkanov

Photo: iStock/Vulkanov

Designers are building virtual reality (VR) worlds in which people can embody abstract concepts and feel their way through a string of emotions. For example, The New York Times utilized the empathetic potential of VR when it used Google Cardboard to bring to life a November 2015 lead feature on the refugee crisis. Using Google’s accessible Cardboard headsets, which hold a smartphone, readers accessed first-person stories of refugees in VR through a New York Times app, enabling them to feel the contradictions of journeying like a refugee themselves.

Similarly, Gender Swap is a VR body-swap initiative using The Machine To Be Another project that lets users experience what it’s like to be someone else. The founders held a research fellowship at MIT, and wrote: “When people feel the actions, emotions, and corporeal sensations of being another body, it has deep implications in the development of empathy and social cognition.” Neuroscience studies now suggest that participating in VR body swaps helps people to reduce racial and gender bias.

Mood Retail

Brands are capturing emotional data to make more personalized recommendations. Products are no longer organized by function, but by the emotional response they elicit. To mark the launch of its autumn/winter 2015 collection, womenswear label Finery launched a microsite that enables customers to browse by feeling. Similarly, Hermès’ Hermèsistible platform, launched in November 2015, explores new ways of expressing the multiple emotions around experiencing desire.

UMood by Uniqlo is an in-store experience that makes recommendations based on reactions to emotional stimuli. Customers visiting the brand’s Australian flagship store could try on an EEG headset to measure responses to videos. The technology then suggested the perfect shirt based on the customer’s mood.

Swedish rainwear brand Stutterheim tapped into this by connecting its brand identity to the spectrum of melancholic moods associated with Scandinavian society. Taking Stutterheim’s co-opting of melancholy a step further, Volvo sets a great example with its Vintersaga campaign by playing with the Swedish word vemod, which roughly means melancholy tempered with optimism. Samsung’s See More, Feel More ad also taps into consumer desire for emo-diversity and emphasizes the emotional range that can be felt via the heightened experience they claim you get by watching digital content in HD.

Mood Manipulation

Evidence-based design, the science of understanding how users interact with the built environment, is spreading from fields such as healthcare into hotels, bars, and restaurants. For the interior architecture at Tuve Hotel, Hong Kong, marble and low lighting re-create the experience of cold and isolation felt around the Swedish lake after which the hotel is named.

This approach of blending mood notes to create a rich sense of brand association is emerging in product design, as well as interiors. Adventure wear brand Vollebak designed a restorative hoodie that calms the mind by relaxing the parasympathetic nervous system before or after extreme exertion. More than just brand language, complex feelings are at the forefront of product engineering here, changing how clothing is conceptualized and built.


The new emo-diversity is expanding customer expectations and opening possibilities for brands. Brands will need the following building blocks now to master the new language of emotionally vibrant consumer communications:

  1. Talk feelings. Speaking in the language of emotions will help people to connect with your message and feel in tune with the contemporary emphasis on feelings.
  2. Become emo-diverse. Brands must move beyond creating single-note messages to building “empires of the mind” that are rich with multilayered associations.
  3. Employ emotional tech. Take advantage of the latest emotional data analytics to tune into the journey your users and customers make as they experience your brand. Consider how virtual reality might open a user’s capacity to connect with alternative environments, social groups, and cultural situations.
  4. Create compound connections. When creating user journeys, keep the concept of emo-diversity in mind and allow for transitions between a wide range of moods and sensations.
  5. Categorize by feeling. Organize your products and services according to the emotional responses they elicit. Use personal data to make emotionally led recommendations.
  6. Bio-connect your branding. Harness facial-recognition technology to respond to user reaction in real time, and create products, experiences, or recommendations personalized for them.
  7. Sync head and heart. Help consumers make important decisions that are in sync with their feelings, especially in high-stakes sectors such as finance.

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