The times are a changin”. It is only been 10 years since Vargo and Lush described the shift from a product-centred view of markets to a service-dominant (SD) logic. Since the goods themselves are never just ‘goods’ but service providers, this marks the definitive shift from tangible to intangible assets as the major sources of value.

The reason is simple: the ‘Homo Oeconomicus’ went extinct. As mere consumers we needed ‘utility’, so we were always looking for goods and services in order to maximize it; as humans we need ‘feelings’, and we are willing to embrace all the things that can enrich and nourish our experiences.

Digital customers are at the forefront of this evolution, but it is not just about the millennial customers. The phenomenon is cross-border and goes beyond the demographics, underpinning the idea of the emergence of a new ‘Experiential Customer’.

People buy experiences, not just products”. A leitmotiv, a matter of facts. Several psychological studies show that people live happier when they spend their money on intangible experiences, rather than material things. Even when they buy something tangible, they judge the value of a brand based on the quality of the customer experience.

The race to relevance is paved with information linked to psychological, emotional, personality and lifestyle-related dimensions. This simple evidence underlies a drastic change in people’s needs, and the nature of this shift is primarily psychological.

Given the premise, what are the consequences for companies and brands? That’s the point. We are entering a new era where the idea of being in customers' mind involves not just the abstract concept of market positioning.

Since our needs are not stable and can vary at any second, understanding the feelings and emotions that motivates your customers becomes the most important challenge for your company, as it provides valuable real-time information - potentially for every moment of truth.

Human communication is a combination of both verbal and nonverbal interactions, and this is especially true when it comes to the communication of the emotions. Recent studies have shown that 93% of affective communication takes place either nonverbally or para-linguistically through facial expressions, body gestures, or vocal inflections.

Technological innovation has helped the researchers in the discovery of this fascinating field, and giant steps have been taken in a relatively short time: feature extraction and 3D modelling, bio-sensors (ECG, EEG, EMG, GSR, eye tracking, wearables), pattern recognition, Natural Language Processing (NLP), machine learning, records management, big data analytics, to name a few.

These new technologies have made possible - and feasible - the detection and recognition of emotions, and more and more companies have shown interest for a wide range of purposes, sometimes known, sometimes not. In the field of marketing and advertising, as you would expect, the ability to capture and predict the emotive responses from customers can lead to many interesting applications.

Today’s emotion detection and recognition systems incorporate touch and touchless-based technologies, and comprise a combination of various software tools, such as facial expression recognition, speech and voice recognition, bio-sensing software tools and apps.

The increasing interest leads to the increasing number of tech companies focused on fulfilling this need: Detecting human emotions by analyzing these meaningful non-verbal cues.

For example, at the beginning of 2016 Apple has acquired Emotient, a San Diego-based startup that uses artificial technology to detect emotion from facial expressions. Though it is not clear yet what Apple plans to do with it, the company's technology has primarily been used by advertisers and retailers.

Technological giants such as Tobii, Google and IBM, along with key innovators such as Affectiva, Noldus Information Technology, Kairos, nViso, RealEyes and others, are continuously shaping and nurturing an ecosystem of Emotion Detection tools and platforms.

The emotional side of the customer represent a whole new world of business opportunities. The aim is to work with brands and retailers to help them with a variety of tasks, such as the prediction of customer behaviors, the real-time measurement of interests, preferences and feelings, to figure out what a shopper (or a supershopper, maybe?) thinks of the display of merchandise.

This is happening right now. Even if you are not doing it, someone else is. What will happen in the next future?

No simple answer here. What is certain is that people ask for compelling customer experiences and fulfilling emotional connections. With other human beings, with products, and with organizations.

The future of brands is heading towards an increasingly close link with customers as humans, non mere consumers; all these technologies will be at the centre of this new, deeper relationship.

Stick with us, as we will explore this topic even more in our future articles.

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