Are you worn out by the frenzied pace of change in our new “whateveryouwannacallit” economy? Are you puzzled and aggravated by your suddenly impotent marketing and sales efforts? Do you spend sleepless nights wondering when the US economy will bounce back and raise your boat (along with everyone else's)?

Well, you can stop wondering. Fundamental shifts in commerce and consumer psychology have permanently changed the competitive landscape for years to come.

The problem, or course, is one of abundance: abundance of information, abundance of ideas, and abundance of technology. This wealth of opportunity has resulted in too many companies chasing too few, very well-informed customers. The consequent shift in power has put some serious hurt on even the most “customer-centric” companies as they struggle to understand the new value equation of these turbulent times.

Well, here it is. A simple Theory of Everything in Business: in an oversupplied economy, customer feelings drive purchase decisions and profitability.

Are you competing in a market category oversupplied with interchangeable products or services? Can customers easily (remember, this is subjective) switch from you to a competitor and get just about the same benefits? Do you find yourself frequently competing on price?

Welcome to the feelings economy, where planning what to make and how to market has changed dramatically—and permanently.

It used to make sense to pay attention to your industry and benchmark your direct competitors. It used to be enough to learn and diligently apply the latest sales and marketing tactics and techniques. It used to be prudent to treat business like war and try to kill your competitors.

But not any longer. It should be apparent to you by now that the status quo is not working.

Your new imperative is to assess and appeal to your customers' feelings—period. Feelings are the basis for all profit generating consumption in a market at the mercy of customer choice. Focus on feelings, especially the subtle ones that customers themselves cannot articulate.

What are feelings, anyway?

For our purposes, feelings are not the same as emotions. Rather, “feelings” refers to a very specific quality: pleasantness, unpleasantness, or neutrality in an experience. Pleasant feelings—excitement, fun, reward, increased self-esteem, etc.—habitually condition desire. Unpleasant feelings—pain, effort required, decreased self-esteem, etc.—condition aversion. And neutral feelings condition forgetfulness.

Given this definition, the purpose of every business in an oversupplied market should be to increase customers' pleasant feelings while minimizing their unpleasant ones. This goal should be systematically applied to every interaction a customer has with a product, a company, its communication, or its representatives. A comprehensive feelings analysis should be applied to every business process.

Johan Arndt, in his paper “Reflections on Research in Consumer Behavior,” published in Advances in Consumer Research 3 (Association for Consumer Research, 1976), identified five stages through which the customer moves during consumption: problem-recognition, search for information to evaluate alternatives, implementation of the purchase, physical consumption, and post-consumption activities. By examining these stages in detail, your business can see feelings through your customers' eyes, thus uncovering the real value of your offering.

For several decades, the mantra of marketing has been “USP” and “features and benefits.” This traditional view, however, concerns itself with a rational, analytical view of value. In an oversupplied market with an incomprehensible amount of conflicting information, rational decision-making is a myth. So instead of a Unique Selling Proposition, let's start thinking about our Unique Feelings Proposition.

Start paying attention to what people do (which is the best indication of how they feel), not what they say. And realize that the more choices there are and the more complex life becomes, the more people make decisions on what “feels” right to them.

Take this to heart and ours will become not only a more productive world but also a more pleasant one in which to live, work and play.

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Tom Asacker is a professional speaker, management adviser, and author of the new book, The Business of Belief: How the World's Best Marketers, Designers, Salespeople, Coaches, Fundraisers, Educators, Entrepreneurs and Other Leaders Get Us to Believe.

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