Emotions have been banished from business, and yet we all have them. Cindy Barnes explores how understanding emotions at work can create stronger companies.
How do we deal with the thorny issue of emotions in business? When I was writing my book, Creating and Delivering Your Value Proposition back in 2008, I had long debates with my colleagues about how I could discuss emotions within it. In my business training, I wasn’t taught about the role of emotions in business and, without it being a conscious thought, I’d assumed that emotions were for our personal lives only, and that somehow when we got to work, we must park them at the front door. This assumption was then modelled by most of the people I worked for and within my corporate life. Of course, the reality is not like that. Most of us are well-rounded humans who bring our whole selves to work – not just our heads, but our hearts, too.
In my book, I wrote about how our team at Futurecurve (a company that helps corporates create and understand their ‘value proposition’, which I’ll explain at the end of this article), research and analyse the customer experience, breaking it into rational responses, emotional responses and socio-political responses. But that was as far as I dared go in writing about the world of human emotions at work. My colleagues and I feared we wouldn’t be taken seriously if we focused too much on emotions. People would think we weren’t commercial enough and that we’d gone too ‘pink and fluffy’.
Fast-forward six years, and we are seeing a huge change in business and business language around emotions, empathy and, yes, even love. Just yesterday, I was with a client from a global business-to-business electronics company, who was showing me some proofs for a new marketing campaign that included the word ‘love’. What a huge departure from where they were, and where most companies were, even a year ago.
Why Has This Shift Happened?
There are 3 key reasons why this shift is happening in even the largest, most conservative companies.
1. From Push to Pull
Our whole approach to business in the West over the past 50+ years has been based on a ‘Push’ approach, which forecasts need and then designs the best way to get goods or services available at the right time and place to meet that need. You can see that ‘Push’ is not inherently customer-driven; it’s company forecast-driven. Many companies work hard to research what their customers need, sometimes even creating false needs, but the customer is still one step removed from the business. The business revolves around the forecast, not the customer. This is a crucial point to remember.
Competition is rife in a ‘Push’ economy as every company plans its customer need, forecasts demand and keeps this all within the individual company boundary. Life in ‘Push’ businesses is full of anxiety about meeting or exceeding forecasts and whipping the competition – it’s exhausting, stressful and still not truly focused on the actual customer.
In the space of a few years, due to government liberalisation of communications and global technology, successful businesses have begun to move from a pure ‘Push’ model of doing business towards more of a ‘Pull’ model.
‘Pull’ works by customers finding your goods or services when their need arises. A ‘Pull’ approach, by its very nature, has customers at the heart of the business. As a result, ‘pull’ businesses need to be very focused, as no single business is going to be attractive to all customers at the same time. This focus comes from really understanding your company’s true capabilities and value, and presenting them clearly and unequivocally while also having enough fluidity to bend to customer demand. This requires a flexible, open and creative organisation.
‘Pull’ is also about creating reciprocal value with all stakeholders, and not just taking a bigger slice of the fictitious forecasted pie for yourself.
Google is perhaps the clearest example of a ‘Pull’ platform. I want to find something or buy something so I Google it. I have ‘Pulled’ whatever I was looking for toward me.
Rather than the heavy competition we see in the ‘Push’ world, the world of Pull’ revolves around collaboration in the widest sense, across and through the company’s boundaries. In fact, the boundaries become semi-permeable membranes and the flow of knowledge between companies happens like osmosis.
When a company puts customers at the heart of their business, an understanding of emotions is key to working out what customers really mean, what they really want and how they really want to interact.
2. Customers Are Real People
Segmentation, targeting and positioning has been the marketing approach of choice since marketing was invented. A company will sell its products or services into a broad sector such as retail. To narrow the sector, sales feedback and market research will identify a number of segments, such as home furnishing, food and fashion. Then sub-segments will be found such as fast-food and fresh grocery; next, the companies within each sub-segment will be split by size, geography and other segmentation criteria. As this process is narrowed, the final part is to identify the buyers. However, it is usually the job roles that are identified, such as the Finance Director or the Chief Information Officer (CIO), rather than the actual customers. Broad assumptions will then be made about what CIOs in fast food companies are looking for and the campaigns will be designed accordingly.
In a ‘Pull’ model, customers are no longer part of a generic segment, but start to become real people. This is made easier and easier with new technology as companies can now track what customers look at, like, dislike and buy – moving closer to real 1-to-1 marketing.
To attract the types of customers they want, companies develop profiles of real customer behaviour in the form of ‘personas’. Developing good personas requires an understanding of both your customers’ behaviour and their emotions.
3. It’s Relationships, Stupid!
Positioning your business so it can be discovered by your customers when they have a need, and then having offerings available that are relevant to one or two customer persona types requires new skills such as deep listening and developing empathy which lead to customer intimacy. To do this on a regular basis, and have customers keep coming back to you, means engaging in a relationship with them. All of this is impossible to do unless you have an understanding of emotions.
To understand your customers’ behaviour you first have to understand their emotions because behaviours are the consequence of emotions, and emotions are the consequence of thought.
To turn your company or your offerings into something customers are interested in is the heart of your strategic ‘value proposition’ work. Your value proposition sits at the heart of your business: it is the repository of all those things customers actually want – explicitly and implicitly, rationally and emotionally – and will spend money on. It is the blueprint for how you articulate what you’re good at and what customers find attractive about you.
Emotions are key to harnessing those elements that attract customers towards you.
The ‘Pull’ model is about sharing power with your customers and not thinking that you know better than they do about what they want. Moving to the world of ‘Pull’ means being authentic with your customers and developing real intimacy with them. To maintain customer relationships well means having an understanding and a language around emotions. Mastering emotional understanding one day will be, I believe, as commonplace a business skill as mastering a spreadsheet.
We are all human and we are starting to realise that it’s our humanity that forges real connections and real business, not our intellect alone.
5th February 2014
CINDY BARNES (MBA) is a business and psychology consultant with a background in engineering, product and service innovation, marketing, business development and leadership. She is qualified as a counsellor in Transactional Analysis and is the co-author of the bestselling book, Creating and Delivering Your Value Proposition. As an engineer, Cindy has created, developed and sold many leading edge products and services. She ran large-scale, unionised automotive component factories for Smiths Industries, and led research and development for Panavision, developing a leading-edge product which is still their most profitable to date. Later, she led marketing and business development for Capgemini and co-created a new business unit that had sales of £83m and a pipeline of £309m in 12 months from a zero start. In 2003 she founded the consultancy ‘Futurecurve’, which helps companies navigate from a product ‘push’ focus to a true, sustainable customer ‘pull’ focus, enabling them to out-perform their peers by delivering genuine value to customers. Customers include global corporations, governmental organisations and not-for-profits. She is passionate about nature and sustainability and supports local environmental groups and social enterprises. She is also a graduate of the 7 Graces Foundations of Ethical Marketing Course and active member of the 7 Graces Community.
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Find out more about how changing the paradigm can help make the world a better place:
The 7 Graces of Marketing: how to heal humanity and the planet by changing the way we sell, by Lynn Serafinn, where you can learn how the 7 Deadly Sins and the 7 Graces impact the world through media and marketing. Brit Writers Awards Finalist eLit Book Awards Silver Medal in Humanitarian & Ecological Social Issues
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Get instant access to a free 90-minute Twitter marketing class at http://tweepelicious.com
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LYNN SERAFINN, MAED, CPCC is a certified, award-winning coach, teacher, marketer, social media expert, radio host, speaker and author of the number one bestseller The 7 Graces of Marketing — How to Heal Humanity and the Planet by Changing the Way We Sell and Tweep-e-licious! 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market their Business Ethically. She is listed in the Top 20 of the Top Marketing Authors on Twitter by Social Media Magazine and was a finalist for the prestigious Brit Writers Awards. She also received the eLit Book Awards Silver Medal in Humanitarian and Ecological Social Affairs, as well as the Bronze Medal in Business and Sales. Lynn’s eclectic approach to marketing incorporates her vast professional experience in the music industry and the educational sector along with more than two decades of study and practice of the spirituality of India. Her innovative marketing campaigns have produced a long list of bestselling non-fiction authors through her company Spirit Authors.
Lynn is also the Founder of the 7 Graces Project CIC, a not-for-profit social enterprise created to train, support, mentor and inspire independent business owners to market their business ethically, serve society and planet, and restore all that is best about humanity.
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