It’s no longer debatable that the lines between technology and the analog world have become permeable ones. For me, this reality is exemplified in the ways in which technology now facilitates daily consumer behaviors. Ridesharing apps to get from Point A to Point B. Food and grocery delivery that requires zero human interaction. Banks without physical branches or even their own ATMs. But would you consider these emotional products?

As this shift has occurred, I’ve seen a parallel evolution in what consumers expect from the digital products they invite into their lives. Yes, invite: I use that word because product managers should view the relationship between users and their product as a privilege they’ve been given. Because of the barely noticeable boundary between technology and day-to-day consumer behavior today, we as product managers need to build products that earn the right to be included in our users’ lives.

That right comes from something that can’t be built by code, or tracked succinctly in an A/B test: emotion.

Why emotional products connect

I learned this while running product at Havenly, an online interior design startup. Conversion was a hotspot for us.

How could we get more visitors to purchase an interior design project package? We tested a shorter registration process (which increased account creations, but not a comparable lift in purchases); clearer explanations of how our service worked (little impact); and ordering interior designer matches based on data points like tenure and availability (resulting in more designers selected, but not necessarily in projects purchased). After sending a survey to registered users who hadn’t purchased a design project, the feedback was clear: I just don’t see myself in your service.

For Havenly, “seeing myself in your service” meant understanding the user’s interior design preferences. Giving them a place to share the quirks of their homes. Reflecting those insights back to them throughout the conversion funnel and post-purchase product experience. Ultimately, we were looking to create a feeling of belonging and being heard—digitally. And while it’s tempting to view the end-goal of belonging and being heard as unique to a style-based product, it’s been effective in other contexts as well. For a financial service like Betterment, it’s about understanding a customer’s financial needs and their feelings about money before recommending a product to them or asking them to make a deposit.

The importance of understanding

I use the word “understanding” in both examples above, and not by accident.

Embark on a journey of human understanding. I’ve found that’s the best way to discover the emotional connection your users need from your product. This requires listening to your users describe why and how they use your product. Don’t attempt to achieve understanding from a few extra questions added to the end of a usability test; these need to be dedicated conversations that happen outside of the influence of your product’s UI (shameless plug: a diary study is a great way to do this!). You’ll hear words that aren’t ones you or your coworkers use, and write those down; after more conversations and some reflection, they’re likely to lead you to the core emotions you’re looking to capture. 

Above all, you’re looking for your product to be the one your users choose over anyone else’s. And because technology has become intertwined with the intimacy of consumers’ daily lives, that choice has become personal. Most importantly, winning products aren’t just valuable, usable products—they’re emotional products.

About the speaker
Katherine Kornas Betterment, VP of Growth Contributor

Katherine Kornas is VP of Product at Betterment, where she leads growth, mobile, and money movement product teams. Prior to joining Betterment, she was SVP, Product at Havenly, and held product leadership positions at Pandora and Autodesk. Katherine has also worked on product teams at and GreatSchools. Katherine is a graduate of the University of Michigan and currently lives in New York City