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Desire: the conative component

Country of origin effects create huge value in products and travel. How much are you willing to pay for a memory?The usual view of marketing is that it is, in essence, an exchange relationship. My view is that such a definition is not supported by the evidence, and that in fact the word “relationship” in this context is ambiguous and unhelpful. Think about it: do you really want a relationship with a company before they've earned your trust?

An exchange (not yet a relationship) between parties will have several components: cognitive, affective and conative are three usual broad terms used to group these components. (There are other ways to name these exchange drivers.) 

Loosely, the cognitive aspects can be known (measurable) and rationalized (talked about, and even prioritized, by the customer). The affective (loosely, emotional) aspects are harder to name, and are intrinsically non-rational. The conative aspects are the most interesting in that they tend to drive a person towards an action based on desire. To make a brand desirable, then, we must strive to understand the conative aspects of the offering. More on that in a moment.

In the meantime, listen to this NPR story about genuine French-style croissants being made and sold in ... Bethesda, Maryland. Did you want to taste the croissant? Why? Is this about product, service, or experience? And, if you were attracted to the story, how is this a conative process and not just an affective or cognitive one? Finally ... what's that music doing at the end? Is there an ecosystem of conative elements at play in the story? 

Is there an ecosystem of conative elements at play in what you offer to customers?

The right mix

The “right mix” of these components as far as a customer is concerned may vary from the way a marketing channel, or set of channels is set up by a company. That's a huge gap, but you see it all the time. When you want to dig into a product or service by reviewing its documentation, you hate seeing all those big, generic pictures of happy customers and handshakes. Give me something my cognition can process! And when you want to know that the jacket you're paying $800 for is a good buy, maybe you don't want a long explanation of the fabric's environmentally friendly production method. You'd rather know that Hugh Jackman wears it. 

But such gaps can be OK, if the overall customer experience needs are handled in a sensible way. If you know the gap you have to fill to create the right blend of cognitive, conative and affective responses in the customer, you can use a different special blend for each marketing channel, or for a particular phase in the person’s relationship with an organization. (Here I mean relationship as a connection that has a switching cost value, and/or for which disappointment or regret incurs genuine pain or cost.)

Let's take an example. Apple brand “feels” a certain way when expressed on packaging; it “feels” another way when expressed in an email exchange, or a phone call, or a greeting at an Apple store. And those Apple ads with PC and Mac: they "feel" very Apple, don't they? But you don't get that same smart-alecky-ness from that beautiful box your new MacBookPro came in.

Early in your exchanges with a prospect, they're wary. You have to build trust -- and depending on what you're selling, and the nature of your brand, you need to know the right magic blend. Later on, once they trust you, you can later the blend. After all, a loyal customer doesn't need rational convincing any more. So don't annoy them with it.

It's not just about the channel, nor about the phase in the relationship. A given customer may just have a style. It may be purely rational (I can get something of suitable quality for a fair price), or largely conative (gosh, I’d love to go to Italy this Spring). Check out the Sproles Consumer Styles Index ... and then ask me about how Wal-Mart lost billions by ignoring it. (Quick and free overview here.)

Pleasure and Desire

Let's turn for just a moment to the conative aspect of how people respond to things. One of the great things about this concept is that it captures our drives to do something, or to become something, or to be something, which inherently means that it involves both a sense of self and a sense of other. From a customer experience standpoint, your exchange design, or interaction design, should incrementally, convincingly (and I would add, ethically) help your customer clarify their sense of self, and their belief that you know what they want. And then, do NOT give it to them. In fact, giving the customer everything may be exactly the wrong thing. First, it's a waste of resources. Second, doing it is based on the incorrect assumption that people want to be satisfied. Third, if your product actually does delivery everything the customer desires, then you probably haven't defined your product in a large enough way. People's imaginations are huge; given them what they want today, and tomorrow they'll be imagining something even better. 

What you want is not to please them with a product, but to create a particular kind of desire for something larger, and to shape that desire so that it "feels" like your company? 

So, what's the difference between pleasure and desire? Do some research ... and get back to me.

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