Evolve A “Beginner’s Mind” to Confront Business Challenges

“The biggest threat to an economy is lack of creativity It’s really a question of innovate—or die” (Bingham 2001)


“We know about our customers. This is what they need. You just skin it” – Most of the times, we have incorrect perceptions and myths about our consumers and users. Many entrepreneurs/marketers chose a problem to solve due to their personal experience and assume other users are like them. They fail to recognize that the “fact” in their mind is just an assumption.

As a designer, the first mindset taught to us is “Beginner’s Mind”. When a client approaches us with a brief – Activate beginner’s mind, learn to convert the familiar to an unfamiliar environment, so that we could listen fully to their views without interrupting with words, “Ya, I know it”.

When we prepare for user research – We activate “Beginner’s mind” – we throw all assumptions about the user, avoid any bias – Keep a blank mind, so that we can observe in detail, listen to every word, collect the right insights.

Idea generation phase – Keeping a beginner’s mind, helps us to generate radical ideas(Not incremental ideas) to solve the problem.

“Beginners Mind” used in many stages of “Design Thinking” process is one of the essential tools in a designer’s life.


Every business has many challenges and creative solutions needed to overcome those challenges. When someone is labeled as an expert, it signifies that he knew more than others, and he strives to fulfill that expectation by providing answers to those challenges by referring to his past experiences. Whatever has worked in the past, the expert repeats. Sometimes, we would feel stuck in coming out with an innovative solution.

A particular pattern of thinking gets deeply ingrained in our subconscious mind(becomes a habit) when we work for a longer period in a particular field. Breakthrough solutions for challenges are possible only when we break away from past experiences.

Past experiences force us to “Think Inside the Box” than “Think outside the box”.

A couple of weeks back, I attended a conference. When the speaker began the speech – I became restless, as I was familiar with the topic and the examples, which he was providing. The thoughts of “Why did I sign up for this conference?” “I’m wasting my time, I should have done something else” was running in my mind. I realized that my Ego Mind “I already know this” is influencing me. My rational mind told me to force my subconscious mind to have “Beginner’s mind”.

I closed my eyes for few seconds, and told myself that I would like to improve my “Listening Skills”, and it would be a wonderful utilization of time, even if I earn 10% extra knowledge. Moreover, I should not be judging the speaker based on few minutes of speech. As the speaker’s learning circumstances are different from mine, there would be something to learn. Even If I could not learn anything new, it will improve my confidence level and encourage to move further in my path. Thus I kept a “Beginner’s Mind”, put away my experience, knowledge aside and started listening to the speaker.

To my surprise, I could see the some of the known examples in a different perspective. He also used examples from his own company culture to a couple of topics – Those examples were wonderfully relevant – which you could not get it in any books/the internet.

  • A Dubai TV Station was struggling to create a new soap opera because their ideas were predictable and dull. They approached Rod Judkins(An author and a painter) to help them create a new soap based in Dubai. He told a team of scriptwriters, cameraman, production staff, soundmen, set designers, costume designers to scrap their ideas and start fresh. He swapped their roles – cameraman to write scripts, costume designers to write up characters, the soundmen to think of locations and so on. They no longer had a reputation to protect because they were doing differently from their fields. They had fun. New original ideas poured out. The soap went on air – it was unique and a success.
  • Alexander Flemming accidentally discovered the Penicillium – How? – In 1920s scientists generally threw away the contaminated culture dish. In September 1928, after Fleming came back from vacation, he was looking for cultures which are not spoiled. Before throwing the contaminated cultures, though he was aware of the contamination status from his past experiences, he keenly observed the spoiled culture and was surprised to know that colonies of staphylococci immediately surrounding the fungus had been destroyed. Thus Penicillium was discovered.


Isac Newton – Everyone before and after Newton were aware of falling objects – What is there in it? Why stars, the sun are not falling? Why is the sky blue? Do we question everyday things? He asked a question which everybody thought was a stupid question. But his stupid question discovered gravity and laws of motion? – Unless we keep a beginner’s mind, we cannot question assumptions residing in our sub-conscious mind.

Unilever observed that low-income consumers in Brazil could not afford Unilever’s premium Omo brand and they were not buying their low-end Campiero brand. Through research, Unilever discovered that these consumers were not looking for a low price, but a good value for their (limited) money. Unilever threw out their previously held assumption of “Lower the cost people will buy”. They developed a new brand, Ala, that was very focused on just getting clothes clean and came at a price lower than Omo and slightly higher than Ala, with a new packaging and innovative promotions.

The first step in being creative to solve any problem means challenging assumptions about how things have always been done in order to address either a new problem/need or an old problem/need in a new way.

  • How to remove or suspend assumptions about a problem in our mind? I’ll discuss a couple of options. One of the ways is “Talking it Out”. Whenever I could not figure out a proper solution for a problem, I explain the problem and a proposed solution to my colleagues from the other department. The less familiar the person with my problem and the subject, I need to explain more – it brings out all those subconscious assumptions from the mind, which I could take note of. Many times, I had got a good solution while conversing with them about the concept. Once, I could not understand a business concept tool – Next day, I tried to explain them – Wah! Things just fell in place, I could connect each and every element of the tool, and the reasons behind the connection, how it helps to solve the problem, and what kind of problem it solves. Yes! A good way to learn something is to teach somebody!
  • “First Principle Thinking” – The idea is to seek fundamental truths that will always remain true after you remove all the things that don’t necessarily have to remain true -by Osama A.Hashmi
  • Elon Musk on “First Principle Thinking”
  • “I think it is important to reason from first principles rather than by analogy….First principles are kind of a physics way of looking at the world. You boil things down to the most fundamental truths and say, “What are we sure is true?” … and then reason up from there.
  • Somebody could say, “Battery packs are really expensive and that’s just the way they will always be… Historically, it has cost $600 per kilowatt hour. It’s not going to be much better than that in the future.”
  • With first principles, you say, “What are the material constituents of the batteries? What is the stock market value of the material constituents?”


How do you feel after watching a funny, hilarious movie? Energetic? How do you feel after watching a tragedy movie? Sadness with energy sucked out? When you are depressed, your thoughts are quite different than when you are happy. Research shows that people are more creative after watching funny movies than watching movies with negative emotions. Funny movies relax your mind – energizes you – makes you forget momentarily some of your past experiences. A relaxed mind is open to fresh possibilities, unconventional ideas.

Alexander Fleming liked to play very often and had dedicated time slots for sports and games. He changed rules of games at times to make the game interesting. He believed that play is most crucial to get creative solutions.

A substantial amount of psychological research suggests that positive affect improves creative output among individuals.

The emotion of joy has been shown to create “the urge to play, push the limits, and be creative” (Ellsworth and Smith 1988, Frijda 1986)

The emotion of interest creates “the urge to explore, take in new information and experiences, and expand the self in the process” (Csikszentmihalhyi 1990, Izard 1977, Ryan and Deci 2000, Tomkins 1962)

Instead of trying harder, getting agitated and desperate in trying to solve a problem – learn to relax for some time and then come back to solve the problem. If you have too much knowledge and takes everything seriously in life, it is tough to be creative and come out with radical solutions. Learn to be silly, naive, playful at times.

Have fun with friends often. Spend time with Kids – They are an inspiring source for having “Beginner’s Mind”.

I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me. – Sir Isaac Newton

This is the mind of a child inside the discoverer of gravity.

Go for a walk – Walking is like an everyday habit – Your visceral and behavioral levels in the brain will take care of the walking habit and your reflective mind will be free to think about the problem without any pressure. Pressure or Anxiety increases focus on the problem leading to a tunnel vision, blocking generation of alternate ideas.

Have unusual working environments – Hanging cycles, airplanes Similar to IDEO workplace, toys, gadgets, puzzles all around to stimulate and relax the mind.


Being in other’s shoes – Think like them. Can you think a solution to the problem from your kid’s perspective? Once you understand what knowledge they have – you may throw out many assumptions from your mind- leading to interesting solutions.

I agree we need to focus on business results, but in focusing and remaining in shoes of other people, helps us to take inspiration and influence from things outside of business context. Empathy is a good tool to help us have “Beginner’s Mind”.


Being busy, we get lost in our everyday activities and move away from creativity. Our activities have become automatic and mindless.

When a process becomes automatic, like using a checklist to get things done, we’re not being mindful about our work. We’re going through the motions, and doing what’s most efficient. While this can be the right approach, there are many ways to solve common work problems. By being mindful, we’re much more likely to find a new, innovative approach, rather than repeating the same old processes – Langer, Harvard Professor in Forbes magazine.

We need to create an environment for helping people to switch from Mindless to Mindful to foster creativity

  • Autonomy or freedom in taking decisions
  • Fewer work interruptions
  • Less work pressure
  • Encourage mistakes
  • Scheduling unstructured “free time” every day into the work schedule
  • Designing efficient rewards
  • Creativity an environment to provide positive psychological effect
  • Proper feedback system
  • Providing expertise
  • A natural environment or a playful environment to help them relax and restore their cognitive capacity

Though we need to be mindful, small doses of mindless work in our workdays, provide critical opportunities for reflection and rejuvenation of our mind. Our working memory is limited(Cognitive load) and these small parts of mindless work help us to release the cognitive load.

Rather than resting the brain, doing small mindless tasks that require no working memory or no cognitive thinking stimulate more brain function. For example, researchers have found out tasks, such as chewing gum, increase cognitive performance (Wilkinson et al. 2002). Engaging in a simple task allows the mind to free itself from continuous thinking of a difficult problem, thus opening new and more fruitful lines of thinking.

Southwest Airlines CEO Herb Kelleher, periodically scheduled the time to help load baggage for an hour(Freiberg and Freiberg 1998). These tasks could be quickly mastered, they do not tax one’s cognitive capacities when performed on a periodic basis.

Switching jobs for sometime creates an environment that encourages creativity by enabling a “Beginner’s Mind”.

CONCLUSION – Remain a beginner, forever.

References – The Art of Creative Thinking by Rod Judkins, Thinkertoys by Michael Michalko, Innovation Thinking Methods by Osama A.Hashmi, Breakthrough by Mark Stefik, Validating product ideas by Tomer Sharon, Enhancing creativity through Mindless Work by Kimberly D.Elsbach, Andrew B.Hargadon, Corporate creativity by Thomas Lockwood, INK talk by Saba Ghole, Beginner’s Mind-article by Jackie Barretta, Article from Association of Psychological Science, Beginner’s Mind article from Forbes.com

How Can Customer Empathy Unveil Pain Points? – A Sample Scenario

Empathy is to be in the shoes of the customer to understand his emotions, passions, behavior, the attitude in various situations.

To design the best experience for customers in any product/service, we need to become genuine users(Observe users in such a detail that we become them). Following is one of the sample user scenarios in a supermarket to understand pain points so that we can design a better experience. In italics, pain points are highlighted. Images shown are for representation purpose only.

Customer’s State Before Entering the System

7 pm. The traffic was moving slowly. I was tired(Cognitive tiredness and physical tiredness), after a long day at the office – now an hour of commuting. On the left side, I saw a board “CARE supermarket”. I remembered that I needed to buy some rice, wheat flour, and other items.

Customer’s Pre-Entry Experience

I slowly steered the car to left and finally entered the parking space in front of the store – I cannot call it as parking space – The space is an empty ground – as shown in the image below.

Bikes were parked in front of the store. I was confused where to park the car – in which direction should I keep the car. I finally parked behind the line of bikes, leaving enough space to take the bike out.

Customer’s Entry Process and Experience

The store was on the first floor like shown in the image. There was a rail in the center of the stairs – maybe left side for going up and the other side for coming down. I started climbing up on the left side of the stairs – saw a woman with a wider body coming down the stairs and carrying shopping bags in both hands. I realized that width of stairs is not sufficient for two persons to cross. I turned and got down from the stairs. When I was about to climb the other side of stairs, I saw an old man coming down the staircase with shopping baggage. He was moving slowly. He would take more time than the lady. After a minute or so, I climbed up using the left side of the staircase and reached the entrance.

Customer’s Welcome Experience

The security guard opened the door and let me in. I smiled and thanked him – No response from him – Perhaps, he did not see me smiling and hear my words. He had a cold face and was in some deep thoughts I suppose – Maybe, he was not expecting people to wish him(Sorry, No judgment).

Customer’s Experience Immediately after Entry

As soon as I was inside, I saw a rack(height up to my shoulder level) filled with fruits and behind that another rack full of vegetables. These racks are kept parallel to the closed door. I could not see what lies behind the vegetable rack. On the left side, I saw Dhal Sacks stacked over one another. Behind that, there was a rack with bread packets, cookies, and snacks. Billing counters were on the right side.

Looks like I need to spend the time to explore and locate the items. I did not want to waste time, as I was already tired. I could not locate any helper. Two guys were busy in the billing counter – I didn’t want to disturb them, as they were serving the other customers. I’d be indirectly interfering with their buying process and delaying them. I was not comfortable doing that.

In-Store Movement and Experience

Should I move left or right? The way on the right side appeared zigzag, due to the arrangement of the freezer and a fridge. Too much cognitive load on a tiring day?

I moved to left and turned right. Saw stacked bags of rice on the floor – Stacked height maybe around 1.3m approximately.

I saw random boards over the rice bags announcing discounts on different brands, different quantities of purchase. I’m not familiar with brand names – I did not want to strain my brain to understand what is written. I looked at the top rice bag of the first column. To my surprise, the front side graphics did not show the type of rice inside the sack. I wanted to buy 20kg “Raw Rice”.

I had to lift the heavy bag, turned around to see what is written on the backside. After struggling for a couple of minutes, finally, I located the type of rice – Boiled Ponni. I looked at top bags in other columns of stacked bags too. Different rice varieties – No “Raw Rice” yet.

I had a doubt whether each column would be of mixed rice varieties rather than a single variety? I kept the first bag on the floor – Checked the second bag by turning around – Idli Rice – Kept the second bag down. Took the third back and turned around – “Raw Rice”. Vow! Finally, got the required rice. I kept the “Raw Rice” bag down. Oh! I needed to stack the other two bags back to the column. I kept those 20kg bags again in the same place.

I needed to buy 10kg wheat flour. Surprised and relieved to see that the wheat packet flour was nearby. I took it. Fortunately, graphics in the front communicated the type of wheat flour.

After taking rice and wheat flour, I realized that I needed a trolley to carry this and shop around. I was wondering why he did not take the trolley while entering the store? If I had seen the trolley near the door, I would have got reminded and took the trolley.

I looked around, but could not locate the trolley. I saw one store attendee, asked him about the trolley. He told me to collect from outside the entry gate. After thanking him, went out to collect the trolley. The trolley was kept in a hidden corner, which was not readily visible. Another customer too came out of the store to collect the trolley. I’ve got a company!

I went and tried to pull a trolley from the set of trolleys – Oh God! – The trolley was not coming out – I tried again – What to do? – God, Don’t embarrass me. After struggling for a couple of minutes, pushing & pulling with legs and hands, I managed to pull a trolley out from the group.

As security guard was occupied, it was challenging to open the door and take the trolley inside. The width of one door was not sufficient to let a user open the door with one hand and move freely with a trolley.

I reached the place where rice bags were kept – shocked to know the bags I’ve chosen are back to the stacks. Thanks, Guys! This time, it took less time, as the chosen sack was on top of one of the stacks, and also I had become familiar with the location of “Rice name”. I kept the rice bags in the trolley and tried to move – What now? I could not move the trolley properly. When I checked, a couple of wheels is not working under the load. Cursing myself at not checking properly before taking the trolley, I decided to adjust and move.

I moved behind the Vegetable rack and tried to enter one of the cross aisles. The aisles were narrow. In the first aisle, I saw a lady with a trolley and a kid. The aisle width was not sufficient for two trolleys to cross. I skipped the aisle and moved to next row. In the next aisle, a couple was standing and discussing what to be bought. It appeared that the discussion would not end soon. The guy was fat too. Really tough to move around with the trolley. Skipped that row and moved to next row.

In the next aisle, a shop attendee was standing on a ladder and stacking up items in the racks. There were boxes on the floor waiting to be stacked. No sufficient space. I skipped again and moved to another aisle – saw the items in the last row were not relevant to me. Being tired, and with this trolley, I did not want to shop further.

Pre-Exit Experience of User

I moved to the billing counter area. Only two counters were active, as it was a weekday and each counter had 3 customers in line. Which counter should I choose, as I have a bad misfortune of getting stuck in a line, which doesn’t move? I chose a counter and joined the line.

One of the customers in line had a big list of items to be billed. Waited patiently. When my turn came – I took bags from the trolley and kept it on the counter table. The guy at the counter tried to prepare the bill – Murphy’s law – Computer developed some technical error.

“Sir, can you bill the items in next counter. It will take some time to rectify this problem”

“Ok. Thank You”, I took the bags back and moved to another counter. After 5 minutes, my turn came. Billed the items. There was an issue with the card machine. After a couple of minutes, I was on the way back to the entrance. Both entrance and exit are through the same door.

Customer Exit Experience

It was a huge challenge to move this trolley through the door with one hand trying to open and hold the door. When I was almost through the door, the security guard saw and came back to help.

He asked me for the bill so that he could note it down. I could not recollect where was the bill. I realized that I was blocking the way for other customers to enter the store.

I signaled the guard to wait and I pushed the trolley to a corner. I searched my pockets, purse – could not locate. I asked the security guard to wait for a couple of minutes – went inside the supermarket, and reached the counter where I billed the items. 

The billing guy was busy with a customer – I waited for him to finish the billing of that customer, as any query would be disturbing the other customer. Once billing is completed, I asked him whether he gave me the bill, He searched around and saw a bill lying in one corner. Gave me the bill. It seems that I had forgotten to take the bill. Went back to the security guard and got the bill punched.

Then the mother of shocks – How would I move the trolley over the steps to reach my car? – at least 25 Steeper steps. I should have bought a couple of Kgs of rice and wheat flour. Why didn’t this strike me?

Cursing me, I took those combined 25 kgs of rice, wheat flour, and Dhal, climbed down the steps. Walking through parked bikes with those heavy bags were painful than moving the trolley inside the store. 

Reaching the car, I had to keep the bags on the floor – the floor is a wet sand. Do I have any other option? After opening the boot, I kept those sacks inside the boot and closed down.

After reaching home, I may have to make two trips from car to home which is on the first floor, as I had to carry sacks as well as my laptop bag, lunch bag and a couple of books. Too much for a tired body.

After closing the boot, I turned around and shocked to see the bikes and a car surrounding my car. How to take the car out? Do I have to wait? I was not sure how long I had to wait?

I looked around and saw that If I move those couple of bikes, I could take out my car. After 10 minutes of struggle(moving locked bikes, too many forward and reverse movements of the car), I was finally out and joined the traffic to move towards home. Slow moving traffic appears heavenly compared to the shop experience.

Inferences and Conclusions from the scenario will be covered in another blog

Difference between Good Brand and Great Brand is “Attention to Detail”

The details are not the details. They make the design – Charles Eames

To provide a great user experience, a designer’s focus is on attention to details of a product. He/she examines each and every element, if it is needed, then try to transform, optimize the same.

Priority is given to the places or points where user interaction happens. Those points of customer touch points can be Sizeable interaction moments or smaller/momentary interactions. Some brands may focus only on larger or substantial touch points and leave out smaller touch points. Great Brands focus on even smaller interaction and detail it out to provide a wonderful experience to the user.

Great Brands continuously seek out opportunities to express their brand. They see even those minor customer touch points as an opportunity to provide the best experience. Great brands believe that finest detailing in those minor touch points communicate a valuable message to the consumer and helps to build an emotional, loyal bond.

Attention to detail – the focus is just not on products alone – the entire value chain wherever customers interact – External Packaging while in the shelf as well as in the home, Customer care, Showroom, Store layout, Furniture, lighting, coupons, marketing advertisements – Every step, aspect of customer touch point.

The difference between something good and something great is attention to detail – Charles Swindoll

Below is an image of Door Handle of Ford All New Fiesta(Image on the left) and VW Polo (Image on the right) – VW polo’s door handle is sturdy and well-built. Even the thickness and width are comfortable to hold. There might be reasons for Ford’s handle dimensions – not getting into those details. The problem with ford’s handle is – Gap between the two surfaces as marked – When we hold the handle tighter – those two surfaces move towards each other(Attaching a video too) and part of our finger’s skin gets stuck for a few million seconds – We can feel. In Polo, we do not feel any pinching effect. (All new fiesta(2012) priced 11 lakhs INR and VW Polo(2010) priced 6 lakhs)


Look at the bottle holder detailed part in Ford – It is not strong as in Polo. This is another main user interaction point.

Below is the top cover Ford’s Instrumentation Cluster.

In VW Polo, this part is molded as part of the dashboard – it is stronger, In Ford, It is a separate part and attached as a cantilever support.

See the Hinge detail of Wiper water Refiller lid – Ford (Image on the left) and Polo (Image on the right). Ford’s lid is very flimsy – it feels like it’d come out any time.

We may not refill water every day – Even though the frequency of interaction is less, VW Polo has made sure that we do not feel the flimsiness. It is stronger than Ford. See the lid of Coolant lid.

During rain, when we lower side window and raise, those rubbers are designed to wipe the water from the window, so that we can see the road, when taking 90 degree turns. Every touch point Polo has detailed in such a way to provide a better experience – dashboard glove box door to steering wheel sturdiness to 3 stage opening of doors to seat belts.

Let’s look at the mac products

Apple has remarkable user experience in their products. The software has many touch points to surprise a user. Let us see some of the external minor touch points in an Apple product.

Magsafe power connector – Made it easy to plug in/plug out of the power connector to support our hand’s natural angular movement, rather than forcing us to move the connector perpendicular. Another important benefit – If someone unknowing trips of the wire, the laptop will not fall off. Strong enough to hold on, but weak enough to avoid taking the MacBook with them.

Magsafe Adapter

External Battery Level Indicator – without opening the laptop, we can figure how much battery power left

CD – Just insert the CD, it goes inside. Press a button – CD ejects out. No sliding tray to hold the cd.

The seamless surface around the screen – No Step around the screen. Camera merged with the form – Visible only when needed.

Only a few points are covered here.

Starbucks – Great coffee taste, Packaging, Interiors, Wooden countertops, Lighting, Furniture, Entrance, Graphics, Clean environment, TOILETS and above all Customer service. Starbucks has worked on each and very detail of consumer’s touch points.

The interior design varies from store to store -part of heritage design and a blend of local culture wherever possible – It is a mix of organic products and manufactured components.

I’ve collected some images about Starbucks store at Orlando from the below link


Display of Antique Products – Organic inspired elements blended with sleek, modern touch, Lighting, Color of antiques, the contrast wooden border mimicking coffee tone, Wall – smooth surface finish, the natural lighter tone of wood nicely finished, Handcrafted appearance for table edges to communicate quality to user, Finishes on the table

Green roof filled with hundreds of lemon grass plants

Large Community wooden tables, Stained concrete floor, metal stools – club chairs – evoke heritage feeling

Handwritten format – Board with a wooden border – Heritage concept

Moss art installation to bring nature inside the coffeehouse

Mix of modern elements – coffee tones – Lighting too in coffee tones – in the side, video showing history, coffee procurement

Murals – They tell a kind of story – Maybe a story of a coffee bean – storytelling hooks a user and it is easier to position our brand strongly in mind by story association. Hand- crafted visual story are valued more and makes the task much easier.

ZAPPOS – A lot has been written about this brand. Great customer care. Often I’ve heard stories how representatives have spent hours talking to customers. If a customer wants a product and it is out of stock, the representative would search competitor’s website and direct the customer there.

NEST, when first launched, they shipped three types of screws. Soon, the team realized that the users were not having a great experience. The team started reworking on the design. Investors got frustrated “Why are you spending so much time on a little screw? Get out there and sell more”. The team’s response “We will sell more if we get this right”.

Great Brands may talk about bigger benefits in media, but they would have already taken care of smaller things. Every minor user interaction counts and it is an occasion to enhance the brand’s value.

References: Wired to care by Dev Patnaik, Designing for Growth – Time Ogilvie, Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, Unconscious Branding by Douglas Van Praet, What Great Brands Do by Denise Lee, Marketing Aesthetics by Bernd Schmitt, Meaningful by Bernadette Jiwa

How to Hook Customers with Emotion? – Emotional Branding

“It is easier to do complex things, but complicated to do simpler routine tasks” — One of the hardcore Apple fans agreed upon about one of Apple’s products. Nobody can deny the innovations from Apple. It is not a perfect product. Yes, there are alternate products, which can do more or less the same. It is not that you have a strong edge in your career or business because of Apple products. Even then, Apple has a cult following, A Halo Effect — Every apple user is considered as a cool, stylish, easy-going, technocratic person.

How Apple built such a loyal fan base, the community who are ready to ignore the shortcomings, who serve as brand promoters? How did Apple emotionally hook the users? Brands no more talk about the functional benefits of a product


Emotional branding is a highly influential technique to hook the users. It is a consumer-centric approach(Or User Centric Approach), driven by stories to build intense, heartfelt, eternal relationship between consumers and the brand.

Emotional Branding is to be like a life partner – provide a self-identity in front of society, treat them as people rather than buyers, provide them with an experience, inspire them to have dreams, help them to accomplish those dreams, create a shared community(Harley-Davidson community, Apple users), help them to create stories with your product/service, become part of their memories and grow to be an important part of their Social Life.

Once the user is emotionally hooked by a brand, he or she will not look for a replacement product, does not like adapting to anything new(Higher switching costs). If given a chance, people will try to avoid unknown. It’s not easier for the competitors to break into their minds.

How Brands Hook consumers emotionally?

Many factors need to be considered to create a holistic emotional bond to the consumer. I shall focus on main elements.

Emotional Branding is of two types – Extrinsic and Intrinsic.

Intrinsic Branding – What needs to be done inside the product or service to create an emotional bond and hook a user. In other words – It is called “Consumption Experience” – Delivery of feelings when consumers use our product/service. If this part is not taken care, the whole process will fail.

Extrinsic Branding – Contextual Branding – Branding around the product or service – Websites, Tagline, Name, Marketing Communication, Advertisements. Let’s focus on essential requirements for “Extrinsic Branding” in this blog.


Every brand’s starting point is cultivating a strong internal corporate culture that resonates with the brand. Employees of a company act as brand ambassadors, they are the interface between internal and external environments. They influence the powerful perception of the brand in consumer’s mind. Their behavior can reinforce the brand value, and if it is inconsistent, it will undermine the credibility of the brand.

The Employees need to know the values of brand, feel inspired by them in their hearts, and then put them into action – Denise Lee

If your brand cannot inspire your employees, then you cannot inspire your consumers emotionally. The founder’s vision, passion has to be imbibed throughout the company and a constant effort to be incorporated to maintain the culture, which could evolve based on the cultural shifts.


Lara Lee, Harley-Davidson’s former head of services “We don’t spend a lot of time talking about ‘what customers want’. We are them and they are us”

“You are Them, and They are You” – Unless you become your users, it is difficult to understand their feelings, inspirations, aspirations, unarticulated needs, behavior, attitudes in different circumstances. Each and every person in your company, be it a stakeholder, vendor partner, employee – Need to have an empathetic understanding of the user. This is a foremost important step in creating an Emotional connection with your user.

If you care for people to whom you are designing the product, people will care for your product

To practice Empathy- You need to have beginner’s mind – No Cognitive Bias. It is like carrying an empty baggage and collect whatever possible – the collection can be compartmentalized later.


Empathy or spending time with users would change your perception. Empathy would help you to talk in your consumer’s language than in your brand language.

Earlier Pantene categorized their products for normal, dry or oily hair, but sales were not happening as expected. The reason – customers were misdiagnosing their own hair. They then rethought from user’s perspective and new collections were designed – Volume, Curly Hair, or Straight Hair. User-focussed thinking will make you communicate in your consumer’s language(prospect’s language)

If we become users, it is easier to talk in consumer’s language. Marc Gobe’s Ten Commandments of “Emotional Branding” can guide further in changing our perception.

  • From Consumers to People/Humans (Consumers buy, but people live. Call your customers as people)
  • From Products/Services to Experience (Products/services fulfill needs, Experiences fulfill desires)
  • From honesty to trust (Honesty is expected – talks about the brand. Shift this to user’s benefit – Trust -to be earned – by engaging and intimate to the users)
  • From Quality to Preference (Quality for right price is default requirement, Preference creates Sale)
  • From Notoriety to Aspiration (Notoriety – Being Known, Aspiration – Being Loved)
  • From Identity to Personality (Recognition Vs Character, Charisma)
  • From Functionality to Feelings (Practical Utility to Sensorial Experiences)
  • From Ubiquity to Presence (Ubiquity is seen, Presence if felt)
  • From Service to Relationship (Service is selling, Relationship is acknowledgment)

Change in perception helps us to reframe the problems, solve the right problem and help in creating innovations.


A lighting product – Just provides a light – doesn’t create a new meaning in consumer’s life. If you understand the user well, you may create a lighting product which can alter the room temperature, provide ambiance to enhance the mood, reduce stress, inspire him to think creatively, soothe him with pleasant memories.

It’s not the new meanings of a product, but the new meanings for a user’s life – how we are supporting him to create a new sense of life, feel new experiences, find new expressions and move towards new values.

Nike’s “Just Do It” tagline inspired many to start a fitness routine, leave boring jobs, break irrelevant relations. It created new meanings in others life. Nike’s product is not about shoes, but to awaken an athlete in a consumer.


In Nike’s “Just Do It” TV ad, every athlete spoke with EMOTION about what they do, what EMOTIONAL rewards they gain and why they do in their own EMOTIONAL words. It was all about stories.

Emotional Brands focus on telling stories that inspire and captivate consumers. Stories demonstrate that you had got a genuine understanding of your consumer’s aspirations, goals, lifestyles, dreams. Stories help to communicate how the brand is going to enrich the consumer’s life.

Brand stories should not be about the brand, but about your consumers, Example – Nike “Just Do It” and “Find your Greatness” ads. It has to celebrate the user. How a user transformed himself? Challenges faced? How he overcame? The end – should be an interesting and an emotional one. It should clearly say how the user is happy, how there’s a new meaning in his life.


Co-Creation is an active, creative and social process, based on collaboration between producers and users, that is initiated by the firm to generate value for customers-Prof. Thorsten

Co-creation does not mean involvement of users – They become enthusiastic partners – owners of a solution. The user’s participation improves Empathy, make stakeholders understand the realities of Consumer emotions and the motivations behind those emotions. Co-Creation helps to create mutually beneficial, identity enhancing sustainable meanings.

Co-Creation creates sustainable shared communities (Apple group, Harley Davidson Riders group), who act as brand missionaries, promoting the brand through their personalized brand stories.


Triggers refer to environmental cues or events that can initiate or elevate brand associations. Any association with users happen with the initiation of triggers which is of two types – Internal Triggers and External Triggers.

Many brands have started telling User stories in their advertisements – Emotional stories. But are they helping the brand? If the stories are focussed on emotions of rarely happening scenarios – How will it help in recalling your brand? If the chosen scenarios or stories doesn’t happen in a large section of your target segment, you will loose the value of your emotional branding.

Emotional Branding should be designed with triggers connected to frequent scenarios in life and their associated emotions. When the scenario happens in their life – the Emotional memory of the ad associated with the scenario gets activated resulting in the brand recall over a period of time.

Triggers can be about People, place, situations, socialization(family, social group), Customer Values, Sensory pleasure, Socially oriented goals, self-oriented goals.

The frequent the triggers, quicker the brand recall, swifter the emotional attachment, energetic the brand loyalty.


This article touches only certain primary parameters for Emotional Branding. Emotional Branding provides a competitive advantage in a saturated market by enabling distinctive associations that will increase your consumer’s satisfaction, increase their commitment to your brand, increase repurchase behavior and create them as brand missionaries.

Emotional Branding is nothing but caring for our consumers – It has to start from within us – spread to our team -feel empathetic relationship with our consumers – change our perception – think as ‘we are them’ – create new life meanings for our consumers – create their success stories – design those emotional stories with triggers which happen frequently with a large section of target segment -Build associations – Build community – Build a long lasting relationship – Be a life partner.

References: Wired to care by Dev Patnaik, Designing for Growth – Time Ogilvie, Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, Habit by Neale Martin, Unconscious Branding by Douglas Van Praet, Emotional Branding by Marc Gobe, Emotional Branding -Article by Craig J. Thompson, Emotional Branding-article by Ali Ekber Kocoglu, What Great Brands Do by Denise Lee, How Brands become icons by Douglas B Holt, Hooked by Nir Eyal, Well Designed by John Kolko

Great Brands – Sell Emotions, Not Products

Nike is one of the most lauded brands. It’s “Just Do It” tagline and its accompanying advertisement challenged people to achieve their goals and aspirations.

In 1987, NIKE’s ad agency made a new TV spot celebrating Nike’s early role in founding the jogging craze. The videos had the visual image of tracks where NIKE started, clips of famous runners, with a voice over “It all started here” followed by “Fitness revolution that changed America”.

People from Nike and the Ad Agency felt that the ad is striking and provocative. But when they previewed it to a group of consumers, the Ad met with silence. Nike’s founder Phil Knight was upset.

He felt that the ad celebrated Nike Products, not the customers.

Ad agency came out with revised ads showing all kind of athletes doing what athletes do. Every athlete spoke with EMOTION about what they do, what EMOTIONAL rewards they gain and why they do in their own EMOTIONAL words, followed by “Just Do It”.

The ad was not about sneakers, superior performance or breakthrough innovation of Nike products. It was about Emotional rewards about “Just doing it” motivating many to take it up.

If the tagline was, “Get down and go jogging” would have resonated with users like “Just Do It”? This tagline inspired many to take up fitness, quit bad jobs, leave bad relationships.

Nike’s competitor ADIDAS was one of the prime sponsors for 2012 Olympics. The Adidas’s ads during Olympics had fun quotient but highlighted it’s products and benefits. Their marketing communications were linked with style and innovation.

On the other hand, Nike’s Olympic commercials were quiet, moving and roused hearts. The voiceover says

Greatness does not reside in any special person or special place. Greatness is wherever somebody is trying to do find it.

A simple ad emotionally connected the brand to users. This ad got 10 times more hits than Adidas’s ad.

Nike doesn’t consider it as shoe manufacturing brand, but a brand to inspire people to become an athlete. Nike’s focus is more on fulfilling user’s aspirations, helping them to achieve their goals and celebrate their success(Yes, it is their success, not Nike’s).

In 1997, Pampers, though it is a superior baby diaper with an ultimate benefit of “dryness”, was losing their market share to Huggies. Since sales were sluggish, Pampers did a user research. They realized that Parent’s concern was Baby’s Health and Development than “dryness”.

Pampers changed their communication from ‘dryness’ to ‘Sound sleep for babies, Help baby sleep better, Good health’. They targeted emotional concerns of the mother and showed how they could help the well-being of baby and support in development. They came out with product categories – Swaddlers for infants, Cruisers for toddlers, pull-ups for toilet training.

Rather than having a narrow focus on product benefits, Pampers focussed on delighting the mothers, assuring them of a child’s development.

Walt Disney Company’s mission is to bring joy to many people. To take everyone to a different world for few hours, so that they can be momentarily happy without any worries. They like people to create own pleasant memories and help you to live a successful life.

Volkswagen is called “People’s car”. When they launched Beetle in America, they came out with a tagline “Everyone needs a Better Car” – Note the difference with “Everyone needs a Car”. Former quote is aspirational – Brand is saying that every user deserves a better engineered good quality german car. The tagline shows an emotional concern for the users. People are emotionally attached to the brand and they remain loyal. No one remembers or knows the negative points of original cars – how the lights did not work properly, how the seats were stiff, and the frequent breakdowns.

Great brands don’t sell products, they sell emotions.

We think we are rational decision makers, but our decisions are controlled by the intuitive mind(Emotional mind) rather than the rational mind. They are more influenced by heart than logic.

Our decisions are based on how products make us feel, what identity the brand makes me experience and express, and to whom we are dealing with – all are of emotional feelings.

The brands have learned to tap those emotional feelings to make a consumer loyal to their brand.

Emotional Branding is to be like a life partner – provide a self-identity in front of society, treat them as people rather than buyers, provide them with an experience, inspire them to have dreams, help them to accomplish those dreams, create a shared community(Harley-Davidson community, Apple users), help them to create stories with your product/service, become part of their memories and grow to be an important part of their Social Life.

Once the user is emotionally hooked by a brand, he or she will not look for a replacement product, does not like adapting to anything new(Higher switching costs). If given a chance, people will try to avoid unknown. It’s not easier for the competitors to break into their minds.

To conclude, to get longer lifetime value from your consumer(Sorry, people), you need to treat as your life partner, care for them, nurture them.

References: Wired to care by Dev Patnaik, Designing for Growth – Time Ogilvie, Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, Habit by Neale Martin, Unconscious Branding by Douglas Van Praet, Emotional Branding by Marc Gobe, Emotional Branding -Article by Craig J. Thompson, Emotional Branding-article by Ali Ekber Kocoglu, What Great Brands Do by Denise Lee

How Great Brands Anticipate Trends?

Collect latest consumer product images as much as possible – Arrange them – Find a pattern – Understand the latest styling trends – Present the visuals, insights to the client and tell a story of the latest FAD …sorry…Hottest style sense. Incorporate those elements in our consumer electronic product. The design was done. Yes, many of us are still doing this.

Pinterest is a designer’s porn site. Inspiration. Lemanoosh – Great textured surfaces to get inspired. If we design based on the visual insights from other products(Not related directly to our field), are we not just following the trends rather leading the trends? If we are a Trend responder than Trend driver, how can we make our brand a leader in our product category?

Following trends –

  • It’s a huge temptation to go with the crowd, an easier one to do. When everyone’s doing it, how wrong can it be? – An effect of SOCIAL PROOF
  • The most direct and simplest way to gain short term revenue
  • Quicker to the market
  • Minimal risk involved as the product has been already tested in the market (You’ve got an original idea, but dump it…. The idea may be great. But my confidence is low)

Seeking Trends, following insights from those trends, may bring novelty to the product, but it kills Innovation.

Do you think Apple looks at other competitor product’s Visual language? The company creates its own design language every time and makes sure that they are new, distinct from the competitor.

Look at the difference in design – Apple’s G3(launched in 1998) was radical in design in those times. Nobody visualized computer in such a form. Translucent plastic – Nobody could imagine the remote possibility of using the plastics shown by Apple.

G4 in 1999 – Even now this design can make heads turn. If they were collecting images of other products in the market, do you think they would have created a product like G4?

The beautiful anodized aluminum finish on Apple Macbook

Similarly, Nike, southwest airlines, Cirque de Soleil, Starbucks etc.. ignore the existing trends and create a new one.

All great brands are good Trend Drivers.

How to drive a trend? What are the parameters to guide us to create a trend?

The answer is –

  • Follow and Anticipate CULTURAL Movements
  • Track changing Behaviour and Attitude
  • Focus on Next generation of customers
  • Focus on Non-Customers (Steve jobs himself was a non-customer for those existing competitor products in the market)
  • Be the extreme User – (Steve Jobs was an extreme user for Apple’s products)
  • Identify the new meanings in people’s life
  • Follow the technology – in 1960’s mouse was invented, but launched in the 1980s. So, keep tracking.
  • Look at the innovations in other fields – How Uber killed traditional taxi services


Cultural movements play a major role in driving the trends.

NIKE encourages its designers to run in the footsteps of young athletes so that they can think and feel the same way a 16-year old. This empathy has helped designers to develop a passion for meeting the needs of users. This passion helped to see Nike itself as not just making the shoes, but inspire the athlete in all of us.

In 1980s Nike commanded a majority of the market share. Its dominance in the performance market left little room to grow further.

When you are the number one athletic company in the world, there are only so many people left who aren’t already buying your shoes. – Dave Schenone, NIKE

NIKE team focussed on “Next generation of Young Athletes” to understand the next cultural movement. By continuous observation, the designers got following insights

  • College students love to express their identity through what they wear
  • Nike has to reframe its business from making sports gear to making the gear of sports culture
  • Nike team observed that the fashion world that time had a phenomenon of black everywhere. “Window displays – Black, Suit, Shirt, Tie, Handkerchief -Black. It was weird”

NIKE team looking at the black phenomenon movement guessed that the people are going to soon become interested in bright colors again. How about a shade of bright orange or green to an all black outfit? They anticipated the next cultural movement.

Nike team create the shoe with eight individual colors, including bright red, orange and green. They called the concept “Nike Presto”. As soon as it is launched, it was an overnight sensation.

STARBUCKS noted the cultural movement of increased isolation in American Society. They anticipated that there would be a need for casual social interaction. Starbucks caught hold of the movement and became a driver. In the last decade, they have been using digital tools to help them build a more integral relationship.

MacLaren noted the movement of changing parental roles in taking care of newborn babies. More men are staying at home to take care of babies. Men influence purchase decisions which used to be controlled by women. Maclaren understood this cultural movement and designed BMW Buggy Baby Stroller with a focus on Men.

References: Wired to Care by Dev Patnaik, Designing for Growth by Tim Ogilvie and Jeanne Liedtka, What Great Brands do by Denise Lee, Brand Portfolio Strategy by David A. Aaker, Unconscious Branding by Douglas Van Praet, Blue Ocean Strategy W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne,

20 Things We Need to Know About Our Consumers

  1. Due to unique individuality, varied environments, our decision-making processes are complex, messy and full of surprises.
  2. We think we are rational decision makers, but our decisions are controlled by the intuitive mind(Emotional mind) rather than the rational mind. You cannot logically fall in love with someone. You can love somebody only when you feel. These feelings are emotions residing in the subconscious mind. No amount of reasoning will change how you feel.
  3. Intuitive mind or the subconscious mind is quicker to react in taking decisions with reference to past experiences and memories. The sub-conscious mind is a domain of emotions, the feeling of good or bad. These associated feelings of good or bad with events, things help intuitive mind in making decisions.
  4. Rational mind or Deliberate mind is slow to react and gets activated only when there is a break in our pattern recognition. When the intuitive mind is unable to arrive at a solution, the rational mind takes over.
  5. Our emotions drive daily behavior. It controls our choices, loyalty, people we chose to be friends, activities we prefer to engage.
  6. Habits are formed by the gradual learning of associations between an action and their outcomes. A cue in the environment unconsciously activates the behavior, before we are aware of what’s happening. Our conscious interpretation of the behavior occurs after it happens. Our conscious minds are engaged only when we are in a novel situation or when there is a break in pattern recognition in habitual action.
  7. Conscious mind of consumers is not driving the behaviors. Many processes in the brain occur automatically without involvement of our conscious mind.
  8. Many consumers were not aware of their likings or dislikings. During the blind taste test, many preferred Pepsi, but the purchase history showed increased sales for Coke. Users are not aware of their emotional needs and rational thoughts. When you question and ask reasons, the users most often post-rationalise and make up evidence, offering some logical reasoning that seems plausible.
  9. Though unconscious dominates – conscious mind is the gateway through which any new thought concept can enter.
  10. The conscious mind is designed to think up stories to try to explain the action of subconscious mind and make logical meaning of the hidden forces that guide the behavior.
  11. Consumers may say that they don’t care what others think of them. They say advertisements don’t influence them, but research says otherwise. One group of people were shown Concepts of a car. Everyone liked the car with head turning looks -Deep down he or she really desired recognition and attention. This is the same case with buying a branded shirt and trying out in front of a Mirror. What people say is different from what people do.
  12. Social science experiments indicate that people consider themselves as inherently righteous and consistently overrate their abilities, contributions, generosity.
  13. Conscious Mind cannot handle too much information at a time(Called ‘Cognitive Load). Working memory is limited. Any cognitive work needs significant mental energy and soon he or she will feel tired. Our emotional mind tries to automate the behaviors as much as possible so that our cognitive load will decrease.
  14. Due to the above limitation of cognitive memory load, our mind uses many mental shortcuts or heuristics to respond to various scenarios. Eg. Contrast principle, Anchoring, Authority Bias etc.
  15. Human minds plan future behavior by relating present experience to past memories or past experiences and their learned associations
  16. People are hard-wired to avoid pain more than gain to seek pleasure. Example – When I’d like to change a phone, spending the time to shift contacts, other data is considered as pain and it plays a major role in my decision.
  17. It’s easier to recognize the information than recalling it – Due to limited working memory
  18. The most vivid memories are wrong. Memories are visually constructed in mind everytime you think of. Gradual change happens everytime you think about the event. After few years, your memories would be entirely different from the fact.
  19. When there is a situation of uncertainty, our subconscious mind calls conscious mind. If the Conscious mind is not able to provide a rational decision, then the subconscious minds take a decision to follow others.
  20. When the question is difficult, Subconscious mind asks conscious mind to answer. If the conscious mind is not able to find a skilled solution, the intuitive mind will try to answer. Example – Should I invest in Ford stock? – Difficult – Then, subconscious mind tries to answer an easier and related question – Do I like ford cars?-This question readily comes to mind and determine the choice.

References: Influence by Robert B Cialdini, Wired to care by Dev Patnaik, Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, Universal principles of design by Lidwell, William, Emotional Design by Don Norman, Design for behavior change by Stephen Wendel, 100 things every designer needs to know by Weinschenk, Susan, Habit by Neale Martin, Unconscious Branding by Douglas Van Praet, The art of thinking clearly by Rolf Dobelli

The Grand Illusion of Consumer’s Rational Mind

As an entrepreneur, businessman, marketer, Are you basing your strategies on ‘insights’ gained from the conscious mind?

Imagine you found a random beautiful girl, awestruck by her beauty. Though you have no intentions of offending her, do you struggle to control your mind from a small desperate gaze at her?

At the end of Buffet in a restaurant, the waiter brought you a Dessert – nice looking chocolate ice-cream. Immediately your intuitive mind or emotional system lights up with good feelings associated with the ice-cream. Though your rational mind provides you reasons to avoid the dessert, reminding you the fat, calories, You go, take and eat the ice-cream. You have fallen victim to intense pleasures of the cake. Did things similar to this have happened? Our brain values our feelings more than the facts(Rational thinking).


Can we do a simple exercise? While sitting in a chair, lift your right leg and make a clockwise circle. Easy? Now life your right hand and draw “6” in air using right index finger? What happened?

Two things would have happened. Your leg would have frozen or your leg started circling in the opposite direction. Why did this happen?

Making a circle with a foot is a conscious activity. Drawing 6 is a habitual activity(Learned behavior) – we are used to this – this activity is controlled by our unconscious mind. From this exercise, we can understand that our sub-conscious or unconscious mind has greater control over our conscious mind. Dominant unconscious mind easily overrules our conscious side.


Don Norman in one of his books, mentions an example. Take a 6m long 1m narrow plank, keep it on the ground and walk the plank. Do you fear walking the plank? No. Perhaps, you would be fine to dance on them. Lift the plank 3m off the ground. You may still walk now….but with a little caution. Right? How about lifting the plank 100m off the ground? Though walking the plank remain same whatever the height of situation, do you feel confident to walk? Does fear dominate for some people? Though the rational mind(Reflective part of the brain) may tell you that it is safer to walk, your emotional and intuitive mind controls the mind against walking the plank.


A social science researcher did a blind test on taste. He gave two cups with one having Pepsi and the other having coke but didn’t label them. Most people preferred the taste of Pepsi than coke, but when they go out to shops, they purchased Coke? How can one brand preferred in taste and another in the purchase? Coke visuals are stored in our sub-conscious mind, associated with past memories, experiences and taste.


The first time, when you saw the following image, you would have felt that the top line is longer than the one below it.

As you can easily confirm them by measuring with a ruler, the horizontal lines are identical in length. Our intuitive mind jumped to the conclusion immediately stating the top line is longer in length. Once you were made aware of the fact, by waking your conscious mind, you could create a new belief. Our conscious mind or rational mind is slow to react.


A group of Japanese people was shown the images of Volkswagen Jetta. Everyone told the researcher that he or she considered the car as a utility vehicle to take them from A to B. He or she was happy with Toyota and proud of Japanese culture focusing on functionality.

Then the researchers asked the users to estimate the price of Jetta after showing them the car. They estimated the cost to be around 20k. When the researcher announced the cost is around 15k, everybody was surprised. Some of the users went ahead and bought the Jetta.


One researcher did an experiment by showing a video clip of car accident to a group of people. She then asked the following question to some users- How fast would you estimate the car was going when it ‘hit’ the other vehicle? To other users, she asked the questions – How fast would you estimate the car was going when it ‘Smashed’ the other vehicle?

People who heard “Smashed” word estimated the higher speeds.


Habits are formed by the gradual learning of associations between an action and their outcomes. A cue in the environment unconsciously activates the behavior, before we are aware of what’s happening. When you are in the supermarket and you are conversing on the phone, you would have sub-consciously picked up some products from the shelf. Our conscious interpretation of the behavior occurs after it happens.

A fast food restaurant wanted to increase sales. Looking at the consumer’s health conscious trends, studying the focus group, the restaurant developed a low fat/low carbohydrate sandwich. Taste tests with the focus group were successful. After spending enormous amounts in advertising, promotion, the sales of the healthy sandwich was dismal.

What happened? In focus group interviews, consumer’s rational mind knows that healthy food is better for her. Rational mind answered truthfully to the researcher’s questions. He or she told that she would eat the healthy sandwich.

In reality – When he or she enters the fast food restaurant – there are many cues to activate a habitual behavior. The smell of french fries – Smell of the burger – Visual images of nuggets – People eating pizza in the nearby table – One of the cues force me subconsciously activate the habitual behavior – he or she goes and order whatever they are habituated. Before the conscious mind engaged, the behavior has happened.

When the restaurant is crowded, you will just go and order combo lunch. Again, a habit based on the environmental cue.

From the above examples,

  • It is clear that many processes in the brain occur automatically without involvement of our conscious mind.
  • Most of our daily behavior is governed by our intuitive mode. Once you see the cue, behavior happens automatically due to the learned behavior.
  • Conscious minds are engaged only when we are in a novel situation. The conscious mind is the gateway to enter sub-conscious mind as we saw in Illusion example.
  • A Conscious or rational mind is in control is an illusion.

Most of the marketers are focusing their product or communication towards User’s conscious mind. As Pepsi and Jetta example illustrates, many consumers were not aware of their likings or dislikings.When you question and ask reasons about their likings, the users most often post-rationalise and make up evidence, offering some logical reasoning that seems plausible. You cannot rely on those replies. The conscious mind is designed to think up stories to try to explain the action of subconscious mind and make logical meaning of the hidden forces that guide the behavior.

Marketers and researchers have to dig deep to unearth desires and motivations. Our communications, products have to cater to sub-conscious mind.

Research shows that people whose emotional mind or the limbic system is affected by accident were not able to make decisions in life. So, If you are focussing only on Conscious Mind, let me bow down to you.

References: Influence by Robert B Cialdini, Wired to care by Dev Patnaik, Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, Universal principles of design by Lidwell, William, Emotional Design by Don Norman, Design for behavior change by Stephen Wendel, 100 things every designer needs to know by Weinschenk, Susan, Habit by Neale Martin, Unconscious Branding by Douglas Van Praet, The art of thinking clearly by Rolf Dobelli

One Crucial Requirement to Make Your Brand Stay Relevant

In 1960’s when DEC launched mini-computer, IBM who was dominant in the digital world selling huge mainframe computers, termed it as irrelevant to his market and his customers. Gradually, mini-computers grabbed the IBM’s mainframe computers.

When desktop personal computers were launched, DEC announced that “Desktop PC has limited applications and it will not affect its Mini Computers Market”. Unfortunately, Desktop PC came to rule the computer world and DEC lost its relevance in an important growing segment.

Nokia was a market leader in mobile phones in early 2000’s with a huge customer base and designs to meet the customer needs. They had an efficient research and design team. Their designs were user-friendly and made after an extensive research. Nokia thought they were keenly observing people, finding out opportunities and solving the problems. Unfortunately, they became irrelevant sooner than they could predict and respond. They were not complacent as mentioned in some magazines.

Polaroid, the name synonymous with instant photography, controlled 100 percent of the instant photography market and it was always been a technology company. In fact, Polaroid had developed one of the best digital cameras, but lost its relevance to the market.

Kodak – created one of the best digital cameras ahead of its competition in the 1990s, but then lost the market and it’s meaning.

Xerox was a leader, but then lost relevance in Desktop printing, and lost its ground.

Challenges in remaining Relevant

  • Markets are continuously shifting
  • New trends emerge
  • Change in customer’s behavior, attitude
  • Changing rational and emotional needs of customers
  • Market disruption, Competition

There are some brands – which consumer sees as honest, reliable, dependable, accessible, often innovative, but the same brands are considered as Old-fashioned, out of touch and boring. This is called a “Graveyard Brand” – It’s not a good situation to be in.

How to make a brand Relevant to changing times and manage market dynamism?

Samsung, Apple, Nike and many other brands continue to reposition themselves to meet the needs of customers on their own terms. Nokia had also observed the users but then missed.

Clayton Christensen says, “Best firms succeeded because they listened responsibly to customers, invested aggressively in technology, manufacturing abilities, designed wonderful products to meet the next generation needs. Same best firms failed after some time, because they listened to SAME customers, invested again, designed again to meet next generation needs”

As a brand, you need to obsessed with users. You need to listen to them, observe them t identify the hidden needs. But to be relevant in future, you need to focus on “New generation or Next generation users”. If you are just focussing on existing users, you may soon become irrelevant. As the users are getting older, you need the cycle of new generation users.


Let me demonstrate with a simple example of the fall of the “Maxwell House”. In 1950s America was a nation hooked on coffee. In 1953, a loss in production capacity of good quality Arabica coffee beans had resulted in higher prices of coffee, which infuriated American consumers. American coffee companies discovered that Arabica trees, though expensive to raise, is highly unreliable and vulnerable to weather and parasites. They saw Robusta as a possible option, which is reliable, cheaper and they were plentiful. They also taste bad.

Maxwell house, to overcome the competition and consumer’s price sensitivity, decided to add a few robusta beans to existing coffee blend. The company ran sensory tests in which people tasted both maxwell’s coffee blend and robusta mixed coffee. Nobody could find a difference. The company launched the blend, and things were going well. Other coffee companies followed this method.

Demand for coffee was growing and the Arabica beans remained scarce. To remain competitive, Maxwell House managers again added some more Robusta. The company ran another round of consumer tests. Consumers could not tell the difference between the slightly increases levels of Robusta and the previous blend.

Every year, the percentage of Robusta were increasing in coffee blends, as there was consistent pressure on profits. Every year, as consumer tests showed acceptable levels in coffee taste, as the blends are compared to their previous blend.

In 1964, coffee companies realized that sales were declining, though testing showed that long-time coffee drinkers were satisfied with the product.

The reason – Any consumer business needs to attract new generations of the customer to replace the old and become relevant to them. Otherwise, the brand will appear old-fashioned, out of touch and boring.

If a customer had been drinking coffee for a while, a cup of high Robusta blend would seem tolerable. But if you had never drunk a coffee in your life, a coffee with Robusta tasted horrible and it was intolerable.

Starbucks keeps it’s brand relevant by continuously assessing the needs of next generation, making subtle changes in the environment, artwork, aroma, interiors, blends, experience, menu boards etc…

Nike’s culture remains young and it is not inspired by the founder’s passion or culture. Nike’s founder knew that he would grow older soon and the culture has to be independent of him or another founder. Nike’s culture is an evolving culture based on the new requirements and aspirations of next generation athletes.

In a Nutshell, To Stay Relevant,

  • Focus on next generation of customers along with existing line of customers
  • Focus on cultural movements to predict the future trends (Shall cover in another blog)
  • Focus on Non-Customers to create disruptive innovations
  • Keep evolving the brand, and keep creating new categories
  • If new category is going to be completely different from your existing brand ethos, personality, create a sub-brand
  • Make sure the Category communicates proper value to customer

References: The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen, Wired to Care by Dev Patnaik, Designing for Growth by Tim Ogilvie and Jeanne Liedtka, What Great Brands do by Denise Lee, Brand Portfolio Strategy by David A. Aaker

Internal Brand Culture – The Secret Ingredient Behind Unique Customer Experience

An Amazon’s customer recently bought an item in the USA before leaving for India. After reaching India, he observed that the product didn’t work. He called Amazon India customer care and informed them the situation without much hope. To his surprise, they immediately refunded his money, provided him additional coupons, and they allowed him to keep the product too. It’s surprising to know that Amazon customer care executives have freedom to take decisions over the phone and provide a quick solution.

Employees are responsible for breakthrough customer experiences and those employees are shaped by the company’s culture.

Employees of a company act as brand ambassadors, they are the interface between internal and external environments. They influence the powerful perception of the brand in consumer’s mind. Their behavior can reinforce the brand value, and if it is inconsistent, it will undermine the credibility of the brand. Whatever the brand perception a senior management like to create in a user’s mind has to be reflected in their employees. It simply means “Great brands have Strong Internal Culture”

Brand’s culture is shaped by the Vision – Brand’s core purpose- the reason for existence and its core values. Vision is the system of guiding principles that communicate values to employees, inspire them and help them to know how their roles create an impact.

Amazon’s Vision is to be “Earth’s most customer-centric company” and main strengths of work culture are

  • Customer obsession – start with the customer and work backward
  • Employees are owners
  • Speed matters(Customers appreciate the quick solutions)
  • Dive Deep, Invent and simplify.


In 2002, IBM was struggling and had a stagnant, insular culture. IBM’s new CEO Palmisano determined to put the company on a new path.

Palmisano recognized,”Clever advertising or freshened-up logo will be a pointless exercise if there are cultural problems within the company that prevents delivery of any new initiatives”.

So, his starting point was to cultivate a strong, shared internal culture that aligns and integrates with new brand promise, which can be delivered to customers. Palmisano collected contributions from every employee regarding the values underlying the IBM brand.

The outcome of the research was

  • Dedication to every client’s success
  • Innovation that matters
  • Trust and Personality in all relationships.

IBM went on impart those values to every employee to make IBM brand distinctive and valuable.


“We’re in the people business serving coffee, not the coffee business serving people.” -Howard Schultz, Founder, and CEO of Starbucks.

His vision inspired Starbucks to provide a social environment where people not only come for great coffee but also to connect to a certain culture – Nurture the human spirit; one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.

Starbuck’s Vision drives the culture –

  • Connect with, laugh with and uplift the lives of our customers – even if just for a few moments, it’s really about human connection
  • Stores to be full of humanity – should be a break from the outside worries for a customer, the place where they can enjoy with friends, can be savored with wonderful memories.
  • No compromise on quality – Exhibited through Lighting, furniture, fixtures, artwork, music, aromas, colors, menu boards, counters, localized experience, cleanliness, transparency with vendors, open communication, environmentalism, shared social responsibility, taste.


“To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world. *If you have a body, you are an athlete” This statement was the driving force behind Nike.

“The culture is sort of like an individual’s personality. Nike’s culture is not the same as me. Nike’s culture is young and irreverent and I’m neither. It comes from the people, comes from the athletes we’ve dealt over the years.” – Phil Knight, Founder, Nike.

Nike fosters a Creative, Innovative culture, stresses every employee to gain knowledge on sport, athletes and understand the needs of athletes. Nike encourages the employee to stay fit, look after wellness of families and strive to create a positive working environment, which inspires employees to get involved and be brand ambassadors.

Nike’s “Just Do It” tagline inspired millions of users to achieve their goals and aspirations. Nike’s working environment was designed to reflect the “Just Do It” attitude – A place to explore, go beyond the boundaries – seeks people who are ready to take the risk, create & pursue greatness, who like to dream and grow as visionaries and leaders.

At Nike, it’s about each person bringing skills and passion to a challenging and constantly evolving game

How will you know that you have imbibed the culture?

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy was visiting NASA headquarters. While touring the facility, he introduced himself to a janitor who was mopping the floor and asked him what he did at NASA. The janitor replied, “I’m helping put a man on the moon!” (This maybe a story -Not sure)

When anyone asks my employee, “What are you doing?” and he says “I’m a design engineer working as a plastic part designer”, then I haven’t imbibed the right culture to my team. If he has said that he is working towards “Transforming life of people, building a sustainable environment”, then the vision has transferred to the culture.

One evidence is when former employees remain proud of their earlier association and contributions to the brand’s success.


Research shows that brands with strong internal coherent culture have outperformed brands that do not have those cultural traits by a huge margin. When your company culture aligns with your brand, it provides a lasting positive impact on all your areas of business.

Reference – What Great Brands Do by Denise Lee