Why my favorite products offer more than a digital connection

Anthony Di Bitonto

It’s a cold winter’s day, and you just took a shower. Although the house temperature previously felt fine, you now feel a chill. Understandably, you crank up your thermostat setting. Of course, an hour later you begin sweating, because you forgot to turn the heat back down.

The memory of this common scenario is what inspired the creation of the Comfort Boost feature in Schneider’s Wiser Air thermostat — allowing you to instantly put the system into full-on heating or cooling mode, while reverting back to your usual temperature setting after a designated time. When Schneider initially conceived Wiser, their first connected consumer product, their instinct was to create just another energy-saving smart thermostat. They were following the familiar path that many companies take in shifting from traditional analogue products – being primarily driven by the additional functional benefits that a new connected product might provide consumers.

It’s the combination that makes it delightful

This is where many of these brands miss the opportunity to create a remarkable connected product. It is equally important to focus on designing for emotional benefit, since this is what will encourage adoption and provide people with a truly memorable experience they will love. Delivering a quick blast of heat at the push of a button gives me a feeling of instant gratification, knowing that comfort is around the corner for me and my family. A gentle ambient light around the unit glows so that I know it’s responding, increasing my satisfaction.

I also enjoy being able to read weather forecast highlights on my way out the door, so that I can plan to take an umbrella if the weather is likely to turn. Although my thermostat does a bunch of really cool cost saving things which I enjoy geeking out on — like demand response and advanced scheduling – this functionality has become table stakes among connected thermostats like Nest. Instead, designing for these signature emotional connections ensures that we have a product that makes us smile and feel good, a key differentiator that continues to encourage homeowners to switch from their old thermostat to the Wiser one.

Emotional connections build loyalty

All year round, I enjoy running and like to keep track of my athletic accomplishments. Having had access to many wearable product samples through my work at Smart Design, I have enjoyed testing a bunch over the years. Yet, there is only one product I’ve truly fallen for; Nike+Run. Nike originally started out as a running shoe company, but over the years it has transformed into a performance company driven by technology advancements. Nike+Run monitors my runs equally well as any other platform or device, but has the added simplicity of only requiring my iPhone for tracking. What really makes it special is the great feeling I get when I use it, much like having a running buddy who encourages and cheers me on when I have set a new personal record. The competitive side of my personality also likes to measure up against other runners in my community; if I see that I am no longer at the top of the leaderboard, I am spurred on to achieve more miles and overcome that day’s lazy feeling.

While most tracking solutions focus on quantifying my achievements, Nike considered my broader running experience — motivating me, and incentivizing and gamifying the feeling of being in a running community — ensuring it is fun to complete more every day. This continually feeds my emotional connection to the product, evidenced by the fact that I have logged over 800 miles since I first started using Nike+Run!

Design for differentiation in a digital world

Technology enables us to make our lives better. It is what defines the next generation of products; ones that thoughtfully combine physical products with a digital connection. When making this transformation, the primary focus of R&D is usually to develop the functional or performance aspects of a product with new technology features. However, it is equally important to consider how brands can design signature emotional connections with the people they’re creating for. Without that combination, it will be a short time before your product is matched on performance by competitors. You’ll soon find yourself on a slippery slope to commoditization.

Empathizing with people is what will make you stand out in a sea of sameness. Your relationship with a product is similar to the one you will have with real people; if it is only based on functional needs and features, then it simply won’t last for long. Signature emotional connections lead to product love — a meaningful, enduring bond between people and their favorite products.