Beyond Seiko – defining emotional technology
There isnt a definition for emotional technology, despite it being used as a brand name and scant references in postmodern discourse.
Yet in 2007 Japanese watchmaker Seiko began referring to its watches as using emotional technology. Since then press releases and advertising clips have described how: ‘Seiko’s technological development is focused on the creation of emotional technologies. Emotional technology creates the interaction between the wearer and the product.’
From here it’s easy to deconstruct a definition from Seikos text, set it within a meaningful context and even go beyond. First, technology is the product, not the mechanical or electronic drivers used to build or drive it. Second, emotional technology is defined by the creation of emotional intimacy between a user and the technology. Finally, this is measured by the level of comfort and efficacy derived from the technology and from the experience of closeness with it. For Seiko or any other technology brand, this occurs on between user and brand as well as on a collective basis.
Intimate engagement with technology is gauged by both degree of closeness and time. Technology needs to meet user expectations across the full span of a relationship, not just at purchase. Apple’s high rate of product innovation is not only the commercial imperative of in-built obsolescence but also the emotional commitment by users to its product. There is no better confirmation than hysteria surrounding the iPhone release or the opening of a new Apple Store. Each demonstrates Apple has a much better understanding of its users than most technology makers (think Sony’s Walkman failure and more recently, Motorola’s struggles) and has constructed this with real purpose.
The level of association between user and technology requires constant and increasingly intimate communication. Overt and expressive it includes visual branding, general advertising, promotion and communication. It also occurs by non-direct forms via personal proximity, audio and kinetic branding and technology design. While most technology branding does the former well and most do some form of the latter – the visual ubiquity of Apple’s white iPod headset, audio branding by Sony Ericsson or the distinctive design of a Dyson, all come to mind – few are exemplary in generating a high degree of intimacy.
Like all good relationships the success or failure of an emotional technology is affected by its nature, trust and the culture in which it operates. Mobile phones are more able to build trust and therefore a higher degree of intimacy than a washing machine, simply because the level, degree and type of relationship is different. Culturally, as Seiko notes, this ‘reassuring and emotionally satisfying bond’ with a mobile phone is also going to be different for the 14-year-old Gothic Lolita in Tokyo and the Gossip Girl fan in Manhattan. For each the basis of a more intimate engagement is determined by both usage and degree of customisation.
Importantly, emotional technologies need to ensure brand and product attributes are clearly defined, understood and shared. To see this is linked to brand success take a look at Saatchi’s Love Marks top 50. Without spelling out the obvious, the idiosyncrasy of this list is almost wholly dependent on the degree of intimacy and identification people feel between themselves and brands. Apple, the iPod and Google all occupy top 10 positions, while the Technology top 50 has Sony, TiVo and Sonar top 10 followed by Atari, Nokia, Nintendo, Canon, Blackberry and Nikon.
Seiko, for all its investment in its ownership of ‘emotional technology’ is yet to make the list. Ironically it’s an old technology watch brand that does. No surprises, it’s Rolex.