Predictable Magic: Designing Around Customer Emotions to Reach Beyond Existing Markets

Design thinking is a solution-based innovation approach that has become critical for new product development. In this episode of Mastering Innovation on SiriusXM Channel 132, Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School, Deepa Prahalad, author of Predictable Magic: Unleash the Power of Design Strategy to Transform Your Business, discusses design thinking frameworks that can create strong emotional engagement and forge connections between firms and their customers.

Prahalad underlines the importance of hitting what she calls, “a sweet spot between that human desire to evolve, and trust and predictability.” Understanding one’s customer and one’s category well allows one to determine where expectations are not met and where relationships can be developed. Some methods Prahalad introduces in her book include mapping out customer preferences, personifying customer needs, and defining the opportunity space. Furthermore, Prahalad delved into the sharing factor of new products, explaining how firms should excite and engage their customers to the extent that they themselves will market the product to others.

An excerpt of the interview is transcribed below. Listen to more episodes here.


Deepa Prahalad (Author of Predictable Magic)

Deepa Prahalad: It’s incredibly important to see who is not using a product. What are the unseen barriers? Almost everybody looks from an advertising mind frame: “What are the benefits that I can articulate?” But great design does two things. One, it makes people feel good about themselves. Today, the other critical component is making sure that whatever you create is something that’s shareable, that creates evangelists and that allows your audience to do some of the sales for you.

It’s a real problem for companies to be seen as overtly pushing too aggressively because that leads to this perception of a lack of authenticity, or sometimes even corruption. There’s a problem when only the company is able to say, “I’m the best.” You need your customers to be able to say that. In order to do that, you have to think about design not as a secret language, but as a shared language. How do I make sure that people are able to talk about this freely, able to articulate the benefits as well as somebody in the company? That has to be designed in. We have to look at what the user experience is.

If you look on YouTube now, there are thousands of people who even have unboxing videos: “Wow, I just got this. Here’s what I’m going to do.” They want to share that excitement from the first moment of purchase. That’s something you didn’t see earlier, and it’s become quite commonplace. But you also have to design in a way that people can create personalized experiences, even in products that don’t cost a whole lot. You’ll see women using makeup in different ways, or children posting, “This is how I combine these two toys.” It’s less about drawing a wall and more about saying, “How can I expand the use cases and scenarios that I imagine and make sure that I widen my audience that way?”

“You have to think about design not as a secret language, but as a shared language.” – Deepa Prahalad

Harbir Singh: Very interesting. In some sense, what you’re saying is that people often map existing products to existing markets, and they don’t really think to, as you said, personify the customer, to understand what might be the needs that no one has addressed yet.

Prahalad’s book, Predictable Magic: Unleash the Power of Design Strategy to Transform Your Business

Prahalad: Yes, and putting in the time really matters. Sometimes, those things can be addressed in the business model. I remember one interesting case during the financial crisis in 2008. All the car companies were stalled, no matter how many incentives they offered. Hyundai was a pioneer in creating what they call the Hyundai Assurance Program. They said, “Even people who, today, can afford a car, lease it easily and pay cash, they all had this anxiety of, ‘What happens if I lose my job, and I can’t keep up with payments?'” So they created a program that worked out to be cheaper than a lot of incentives others were offering. If you had a job loss, they would take back the car under a set of circumstances without any reporting to the credit agencies.

They were understanding the underlying anxiety. What was the barrier to adoption? It wasn’t necessarily a flaw in the car. It was something beyond the control of a car company, but they addressed that, and therefore, it was quickly copied by others. That propelled them to be the number one brand that year.

Singh: I was struck by your chapter on engaging emotionally. How do you bring not only a certain level of passion for the product among the designers, but also a passion for the product among users? Can you give us a sense of how you actually help companies to develop a way of engaging consumers emotionally?

Prahalad: One thing that’s really important to remember is that when you’re offering an innovation and you’re giving people something new, on some level it’s threatening emotionally. You’re telling them that whatever they were doing until this point was somehow lacking and could be improved. For people to accept that, they need to be incredibly inspired and excited about what you’re doing. Usually, even if something is really well done, they don’t get to that place until they’ve been involved in the process, and they feel that their voice has been heard or reflected in some way in what you create. In the tech world, ironically, in the early stages, all this beta testing was something that was really critical.

When you’re giving people something new, on some level, it’s threatening emotionally. You’re telling them that whatever they were doing until this point was somehow lacking and could be improved.” – Deepa Prahalad

Today, what’s exciting about technology is even if you’re an entrepreneur, if you’re designing for people halfway around the world, if you’re an NGO, or if you have a social mission, everyone talks about technology lowering the cost of communication. For me, what’s really exciting is that the cost of learning has gone down. You can get at the same kind of big data for rich and poor alike if you care to ask the questions. You don’t have to guess at preferences as much. You can really ask directly.

About Our Guest

Deepa Prahalad is an author, business strategist and consultant specializing in opportunities at the intersection of consumer experience, technology and strategy. She has worked as a management consultant with firms from start-ups to large multinationals. Her work includes writing the first business plan for MyOwn.MD, (now Anvita Health), a real-time clinical decision support system and Google Health partner. Deepa is co-author of the book Predictable Magic: Unleash The Power of Design Strategy To Transform Your Business (Wharton School Publishing) and writes for the Huffington Post, Harvard Business Review and other publications.

Deepa speaks at business schools and industry events on design strategy, with a special emphasis on emerging markets. She also works with several initiatives that support the work of her late father, CK Prahalad, such as the Prahalad Center for Emerging India in Chennai and the Prahalad Initiative at the University of Michigan. Deepa is a B.A. in Economics and Political Science from the University of Michigan and an MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.

Mastering Innovation is live on Thursdays at 4:00 p.m. ET. Listen to more episodes here.