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Serious Beauty, Looks Matter

Maslow hypothesized that the human need for self-esteem and confidence is at the top of the pyramid in his now epic theory outlining a hierarchy of need. Way above the clear needs for food shelter; etc ... Of course Maslow never met an iPhone. As knowledge work gives way to a creative age, it appears also that beauty and the self esteem we derive from attaching ourselves to it, has come of age in a more meaningful way than Maslow ever imagined.

Far from being the premium non-essential element, beauty may be the only way to survive in the automated and abundant product and service market we are experiencing today. Said another way, the performance and function of products and services have reached such a high state of accomplished parity that beauty, both physical and performance/interaction based, dictates the success or failure of products. The same way I suppose that selection is a part of nature and serves to propagate species. Honeybees are drawn to the most beautiful flowers and fragrances first. Consider for example any tablet computer or e-reader device. As a group they are all fantastic and feature equal. Which will endure? I would suggest that the most beautiful one has the best shot.

A number of years back the well-known author Virginia Postrel wrote an amazingly insightful and beautiful book, The Substance of Style. Clearly a book ahead of its time, in front of the beauty tipping point if you will, well, that time is now upon us.

So how will business react in the design of products and services, of the way Brands talk about themselves recently reviewed a book called Built to Love by Peter Boatwright and Jonathan Cagan, each respectively a Marketing and engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University. The book is about heeding the impact of emotions including the notion that the opposite of emotion is metrics. In many ways it's about quantifying the beauty and performance of products. This to me is a clear indicator that the light bulb shining on the importance of this topic has switched on. In Built to Love the strongest message is that each experience element of a product or service—semantics, shape, color, texture, sounds, weight, feel, nostalgia, etc.—can be emotional to people based on different kinds of criteria. But no matter who or what, the play against emotion will almost never fail—and the payoff can be huge.

I you make a product or Brand consider what the expectations for success might be in your world. A 10 percent increase in sales or volume or profit? 20 percent? 30 percent, perhaps? Can you imagine 30 percent! What if an investment in making the offering the most attractive A was the only way to stay in the game and B, delivered 100% or 200% of expectation. In many ways this is the new normal. The bar has been raised. Incremental growth is no growth at all.

For the left-brain disposed, (which means most of business), who have been trained to evaluate almost everything in terms of metrics, the idea that beauty is the only thing that counts is terrifying because let's face it it's hard to quantify. That said buying into the theory makes one consider many new aspects of how we are all affected by beauty and emotion in every product or service we use.

Beauty is the trigger to the power of the emotional connection that consumers seek in the products they buy and use, whether they are physical products, services, systems, software products or brands. Connecting emotionally with a purchase is the new killer AP. Function is the new table stake. So if you company hasn't put serious energy toward it yet, it's time to get serious about the idea of beauty.