Business of Emotion

What business are you in? What are you selling?

A Little History:

For the past 15 years, I have been actively involved in the Experience Economy and its principles originally expressed by Joe Pine and Jim Gilmore from their book, ‘The Experience Economy.’ Over the course of time, I have met some incredible business leaders and fascinating ambassadors of the Experience Economy. Each one has expanded my ideas of what an experience is and can be for customers and patients. I have seen the frameworks of the Experience Economy at work first hand and can share with you that they are time tested. Yet, I have always felt that there was something more, just out of range of the traditional thinking around experiences and experience design.

It wasn’t until recently have I begun to focus on another aspect of experience design. A path slightly different than my fellow experience designers and stagers. An approach for business that could create a new design principle. My approach would take me to see experiences from a whole new perspective. My method would be to stop looking for the traditional answers and solutions solely about the Experience Economy and begin searching for the questions that defined Experiences and Experience Design on a personalized level.

This idea of seeking the right questions was sparked by Hal Gregersen’s book, ‘Questions are the Answer‘. He asked the reader to use the idea of the right question to discover new opportunities and solutions rather than seeking an existing answers. A process he calls Catalytic Questioning.

This reverse thinking helped me to create a series of questions that could help others understand the economic value offering they provided based upon the initial questions they ask their customers. Where they stood in the economic progression could be defined by the initial answers sought by the frontline from the customer.

  • Commodities – ‘How much do you need?’
  • Goods – “What do you want to buy?”
  • Services – “What can we do for you?”
  • Experiences – “What would you like to do?”
  • Transformations – “What do you want to become?”

This very idea was shared in a recent book by Shareef Mahdavi called, “Beyond Bedside Manner” to help his readers understand what type of business they were in around healthcare.

There is a line that Shareef wrote in his book that would anchor the idea of a different design direction. It is a line about the one thing that most every doctor wants their patient to feel about them after a visit. The line reads, ‘If you could boil down to a single word what patients want to feel after meeting with their doctor, that word is Confidence.’ In that line were two key words that were at the very core to my thinking process.; ‘feel’ and ‘Confidence’. In these two words lies the intention and desired outcome.

Experience and Emotions:

“The happiest place on earth.”, is one of Disney’s most iconic emotional tag-lines. It communicates that you will be happy within this place, because it the happiest place in the world. That’s the outcome they are selling, happiness. Everything they do at their parks is designed around the customer/visitor being happy so they can create positive memories to share. Look at BMW’s slogan, ‘Designed for driving pleasure.’ Both of these statements promote an single emotion.

In the Experience Economy, value is created when it is customized and personalized for the customer. Each experience is unique to each person because it is internalized. This is the biggest shift from the previous economic stages. The idea of custom and personal is what makes an experience memorable.

So, my question to myself was ‘what is the most personal thing a customer can experience?’ The answer… Emotions.

Wheel of Emotions:

No, its not a game show or an app for your phone or even a new ride at your favorite theme park. The Wheel of Emotion was diagramed by Robert Plutchik in 1980 to illustrated the primary emotions of humans. The emotions that we all experience and different times.

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Wheel of Emotion

Plutchik defined in his diagram, the eight core emotions and the associated emotions that radiated out as the intensity diminished. (To avoid any confusion made by me, I’ll let you explore his thinking and his philosophy.) It is this idea of charting emotions that struck me as a possible tool for experience design. Could you design an experience based on a single or set of emotions? Design the engagement of customers around any emotion or feeling?

The answers to this question is not that simple. Emotions are very complex and the triggers to those emotions can be endless. It would require extensive knowledge of psychology to be able to even begin map and design with any type of certainty. Something any regular business would not spend the time or financial resources to create. Maybe.

What if the design criteria was not so exact or not so extensive. What if it is not about the engagement or interaction of a given emotion, rather the possible direction of outcome for the customer? As I shared about the line in Shareef Mahdavi’s book about confidence, what if you could use the emotion diagram in a another way?

Buying Tires, A Tale of Emotion:

On a particular weekend I planned to get some new tires put onto my car. The front were a bit worn further than I was comfortable with and one of the rear tires had a very slow leak. So, I scheduled a Saturday morning visit to my favorite tire shop to replace all four.

While at the shop waiting, I spent passing the time reading a new business book. Four tires would take about an hour given the number of people waiting. While reading, a young woman interrupted me to ask me what I was reading as I seemed really into the book. I shared that the book was about creating experiences for patients and customers and adding value over the competition. (my canned response.)

As with most people I meet, she looked confused. She asked, “You mean better customer experience?”

I began explaining by example. I shared with her why I drove across the city to get my tires at this particular shop. It wasn’t because they were cheaper, they weren’t. It wasn’t because they were the fastest either. It was because I trusted them like no other tire shop. The atmosphere was always friendly, the staff communicated with the customers throughout the whole process and even made suggestions of additional work that may be needed even if they didn’t do that type of work. The key reason is they made me feel safe when driving.

In that brief moment I found the key I was looking for. The question that could to be asked when designing an experience. Define the outcomes emotion you understand your customers seek. If the tire shop really wanted to elevate its offering to become an experience, it would need to leverage that feeling of safety for the driver.

The Experience Design Question:

By reflecting on experiences I have had in the past and those I am familiar with, I identified the possible right question to ask when designing an experience. That question is…

What Emotion Are You Selling?

Disney sells ‘Happiness’, Starbucks sells delight and Harley Davidson sells freedom. But what are you selling? What emotion do you want your customers to remember after they exit your place of business? What emotion dictates your designs, brand and culture with that emotional target?

This basic question of what emotion you want to sell comes with a lot of design thinking behind it. Knowing the emotion you are targeting before, during and after the engagement sets up many other variables around the need of staging, the correct props to use and even the proper employee training that goes into the ability to engage with a customer in order to achieve the emotional goal of the experience. One question can define the experience if you let it.

If you’re familiar with or use Simon Sineck’s framework of ‘Start with Why’ that he shared during a TedTalk and in publication, then focusing on the emotion draws you closer to the ‘Why’ purpose statement. Once you know the ‘Why’ of your experience, you can then begin defining the ‘How’ of the actions needed to be achieved, and eventually define the ‘What’ of tools and props will be used during the interaction.

By asking ‘What emotion do you sell?’, you frame the entirety of the experience. In this manner, I am not seeking which emotion to frame the engagement of the customer, but what emotional outcome do I want them leaving with after the interaction. It will take using other emotions to achieve the eventual outcome.

By looking at your business as selling an emotion, the goods, services and knowledge you provide are all merely the tools to a reach that emotional state. I don’t buy tires from my favorite shop because of price or the time saved, I take my car there because they know how to make me feel safe. I trust them because of their engagement with me as more than just a customer. They honestly treat me as if they truly care about my safety on the road. Everything they do and share is all about one emotion.

So ask yourself this question…

What emotion do we sell?

Can you identify a single emotion that your business embraces? Do your marketing messages reflect this emotion and does your brand promise this emotion to the customer? My suggestion, pick one and embrace what it means and how to engage customers

In addition, once you identify that single emotion, then you will begin to understand all the negative triggers and obstacles to overcome with the customer to build a deeper relationship. You will identify the spaces that are needed and the roles you employees will perform to fill so the customer can achieve that single goal. Designing with an emotion as the outcome, will change your how and what your business is in the eyes of the customer. You can take your business from a Goods or Service level to that of an Experience and add value.

There is a lot more to this thinking of an emotion as a design tool for experiences. The frameworks of the Experience Economy, Design Thinking, Behavior Science and so many others all come into play.

Let’s chat more…

#ExperienceEconomy #Designthinking #Change #Emotion #Design

The Mobius Method: Experience Event Design

First, what is Möbius? Möbius is a surface with only one side and only one boundary. A good example of this is M.C. Escher’s “Ants on a Möbius Strip” seen below.


How does this relate to Experience Event Design? The concept must be an endless and continuous movement.

Having had the pleasure to aid in many event planning sessions over the course of my lifetime which many were repeating, I realized early on that most plans only focus on a moment in time combined with a single characterized theming principle. Most events lacked any real purpose other than to host of notoriety, make money or to celebrate an occasion. But what if the event could be much more and possibly without any more effort or possibly even less?

There had to be some method that increased the impact and experience of any given event. An event had to be planned far beyond the constraints of the event moment itself. It had to flow with consistency, purpose, theme and direction. It was more than a single event disconnected from any other. It could be like a Möbius strip, seemingly without beginning or end.

Before I explain any further, let me share that this post will cover four key issues around an experience event; Theatre, Experiences, Stages of Experience, and Ownership.


Theatre is defined so well by Peter Brook’s quote: “I can take any empty space and call it a stage. A man walks across that empty stage whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged.”

Every event you create, host or involved with is a production of theatre. You have your performers and your audience. You follow a script and each person has their role. Never treat it any less if you strive to make it a great experience, anything less is merely a service valued on price.

To be in the mindset of theatre one must focus on the Why and How and not the What. Service mindsets focuses solely on what work is performed; an experience mindset focuses on how the what is performed. Before you can even think of focusing on how the whats will be performed you must understand why you even doing it and for who, because the event is never for the performers, rather for the audience. So take the advice of Simon Sineck and “Start with Why”, then focus on the Who before you focus on the How and What.

When it comes to event experiences its important the theme or motif of the event should not be the focus of the planner, rather how the theme is expressed through the event experience.


Experiences exist in four realms and are anchored across two axises by the level of involvement being passive or active and the axis of engagement from absorption to immersion. These axises create four experience realms of Entertainment (passive/absorb), Educational (active/absorb), Escapist (active/immerse) and Esthetic (passive/immerse). Knowing which of the four your event should be structure upon is important. More important is developing with all four in mind creating a sweet spot of all four realms.

Is not to say that over the span of the event experience the type of experience can shift more in favor of one or more realms. A tool for this is to divide the span of the event into five distinct stages and use the experience grid with percentage of a 100 points per stage. This will help focus on the type of content and performances needed to stage the experience.

Stages of Experience

With all curated experiences, there are identifiable stages along the course of the experience. Typically there are five unique stages; Attracting, Entering, During, Exiting and Extending. My view, at each stage a planner should use the theme grid percentage tool to keep the overall flow on track to stage the complete experience theme.


Attracting happens before your audience ever arrives to the event or walks on to the premises hosting the event. Attracting is the time when you are creating interest in the vent. Invitations to a wedding, advertising for shows or even things shared on social media of previous experiences. Guaranteed, you may not be able to control social media and I never believe anyone can, yet you can add content based upon the four realms of experience to this stream to help in attracting and beginning telling the story of the event experience. It is the stage where expectations are established.


The Entering stage is the transitional stage or liminal zone to the event experience. At this stage, the audience is moving from the outside world into the space hosting the event. Cues need to support the expectations created during the attracting stage. Which of the realms of experience should be the focus during this transition? Which support and enhance the transition best?

A simple example of using the Esthetic Experience (passive/immerse) in the Entering stage could be as your audience or attendees arrive the registration/ticket area is staged as an extension of the overall event. If the event is focused on music, than maybe the space is walled with blank oversized music sheets used as messaging boards, agendas or event highlights. Maybe there are sitting areas with instruments so visitors can huddle and play music while waiting.


During is the event itself. It is the action and performances occurring as the main activities. This stage of the experience holds the most weight of the experience. When using the Experience Realm focus on staging on the sweet spot of the grid, the center where all four realms come into play. That is to say, you can not focus on one or more types of experiences at various times or overall, just be aware that “During” is the stage to create the greatest impression and experience of the event.


Exiting is another transitional or liminal zone. The stage is useful in building memories of the event experience. the audience is transitioning from the experience(s) you have created back into the everyday world. You do not want them to transition abruptly or without reinforcing their experience. Look to the four realms once more, what type of exiting experience will enhance their overall experience as well as create a positive memory as the exit? Could the exiting space be gift bags arranged on a display that highlights the events activities or some area for reflection before departing? Whatever it maybe, it needs to be less that main experience, but still extend from the experiences already engaged in.


Okay, everyone is gone, the space is cleared of the previous event it’s over right? No! Extending the experience is the critical piece of the memory around the experience. Having something to extend beyond the experience to help remind your audience of their time spent, since time spent with you or your experience is what is at stake.

Take a ballpark ticket stub. This is a natural extending element of the experience. Each time you see that ticket it brings up the memory of the experience. It is a piece of memorabilia or token of your time spent. Crete a unique piece of memorabilia that your audience can take with them or receive later to remind them of their time with you or your event.


So I shared a lot on experiences, staging of experience, stages of experiences and even the realms of types of experiences, but the real challenge to planning is knowing who owns these experiences? Do you the stager/planner, the performers who interacted with the audience or the audience members who the event was created for? In reality everyone involved, because experiences are unique to each person and are held internally. Each person experiences differently. All a planner can do is plan with a purpose, stage with direction and reinforce with strong performers, a good script and the right props.

Back to the Möbius Method

So why is it called the Möbius Method? Because all experiences flow into the next and each staged experience moves from internally curated by the planner,stager to externally experienced by those in the audience or getting involved. Like the Möbius strip which rotates and twist so it becomes endless and transitions from being internally to externally facing and back again, so to is the role of the event experience planner.

Before you close out this post, take a moment to reflect, not on the events you stage, rather on how you stage your interaction with clients. These too are events and follow the same rules of theatre that your offering does. How are you leading your clients through the stages of experiences and which types of experiences are you using at the various stages.

Interacting with each client and moving from one client to the next is your Möbius Strip of Business, stage it well because you are creating memories on the time your clients spend with you.

mobius strip 1

Here is a Visual Strategy tool to help when planning.