The product is the feeling

Life’s meanings are often concealed behind facades of what we perceive to be reality. I have observed through time that what we perceive through our senses are just veiled representations of the underlying motives, emotions and patterns of truth. Just as there is a story beneath every piece of art and every classical symphony, there is a story behind every human, every facial expression and every action.

In seeking to understand how this could apply to the domain of business and product management, I arrived at the following two sentiments. The first being that the best products exist to evoke emotions in the people that use them, and secondly that people seek products that evoke emotion within themselves. And in this seeking, there is a story;  a primal craving, whether it is of an identity, belonging, status, love or sex. It is in seeking these emotional gratifications that humans derive purpose and meaning in their lives.

Humans don’t buy products, they buy gratifications.

In essence, people don’t buy products, they buy gratifications, and gratifications lead to positive feelings. People pay for products that make them feel good, or that provide solutions which forge a path to this same result.


The theory of Gratification states that humans align their time and energy in accomplishing just two main goals; subsistence and gratification. Subsistence (the definition of which has been broadened for this article) entails doing necessary tasks for basic comfort and survival (e.g. jobs, commuting, managing finances, administration and other tasks of necessity), whereas gratification is centered around activities from which we derive pleasure and meaning in life (jobs that bring satisfaction and meaning, entertainment, love, sex, ego validation, status and more).

The theory of gratification states the following:

Humans will forever optimise their lives to minimise energy spent on subsistence, and maximise energy spent on gratification.

The evidence of this traces back thousands of years through the evolution of the human species. As neanderthals and hunter-gatherers, our predominant focus was on survival and subsistence; finding sources of food and shelter. It is only through time as we developed farming, irrigation systems and settlements did sociological constructs such as stratification begin coming to the fore. With the basic humans needs met as a collective society, religion, art, writing, music and social hierarchies began to form. Savage wars raged, empires were built and mankind flourished, scaling every corner of the globe.

The trend is still apparent in the modern day, where people dedicate increasing proportions of their free time to sources of gratification (e.g. entertainment, dating, Facebook, Tinder, Snapchat, Netflix etc) [source], while innovations in science and technology continuously seek to minimize workload on tasks of necessity (the Internet of Things, autonomous drones, self driving cars, etc).

Within the context of building a product or business, the theory concludes that the success of a product or service lies in its ability to either instill gratification in a human being, or to significantly reduce time and effort spent on subsistence.


Gratification is simply feeling.

Gratification (from gratus, which means “pleasing, thankful.”) is synonymous to a positive feeling, and feeling can be emotional or physical (sensory). Some of the drivers of gratification are explained below, although this list is not exhaustive by any means. The aim of this article is not to criticise these drivers, but simply to highlight these psychological patterns. We are all equally susceptible to seeking gratification, and what differs is only in the specific gratifications we seek. There are no drivers of gratification that are more noble or worthy than others, as they are all simply means to the same end.


Social validation is the affirmation of ones self-worth through seeking continuous approval of other human beings. We are all prone to seeking validation, whether it be from  our friendship groups or colleagues at work, but the advent of the internet and mobile computing has enabled social validation to be more easily accessible, and from a wider range of sources.

Products that satisfy and accentuate the ego through constant social feedback, and invoke a higher sense of self worth among an individual are among the most successful. Here are a few well known examples:

Like all other drivers of gratification, social validation is not a new phenomena. It is in play in the reality of every day life, where we are gratified when others respond positively to our interactions (whether it’d be agreeing with our opinions or laughing at our jokes). We habitually learn the interactions which have had the most positive social feedback and persist these behaviours in future interactions. This is no different in cyberspace.


Gratification through status is obtained through the attachment of labels to oneself. These labels are forms of social currency that are universally recognised and valued in a community. For example, these could include a degree, a job title, hierarchical position, qualifications, position in the leaderboard, or some sort of statistic attached to a person’s social profile. The current social framework dictates that these labels are to be compared against others’ to determine an individual’s importance, and gratification is gained in elevating ones’ importance by collecting more labels.

In similar vein to social validation, it is now easier than ever to collect social currency in comparison to the pre-computing era, where the options were limited to the more difficult to obtain; war medals, degrees or wealth. Some good examples of the effective use of status labels include:

Our desire to create an impact on the world is no doubt a desire for gratification through Status, albeit one that has had tremendous positive and negative effects on mankind. The driver that has enabled us to scale societies and build prosperous civilisations is the same driver that has caused the historical annihilations of the same.


In addition to status labels, there is another form of an identity label that is derived from the association of oneself to a brand, group or cause. This is one of the more perplexing drivers of gratification, and there are two specific branches that protrude from this:


Sensory gratification is among the most primal of the bunch because it is accessible to any living organism that has sensory input, whether it’d be vision, touch, smell etc. It can be gained through something as simple as the gentle caressing of the skin by an afternoon breeze, to the breathtaking sight of a beautifully carved and ornamented landscape.

In the domain of modern technology,  the importance of beautiful, simplistic design, whether it is of a physical product or a software interface, cannot be overestimated. This is because the advantages are two-fold. Firstly, the simple pleasure of experiencing and interacting with beautiful design in itself can evoke gratification as well as instill confidence in a product. Secondly, good design can simplify a person’s path to a goal, reducing the time spent on subsistence and allowing more time to seek gratification.

Beyond aesthetic appeal, there are several other sensory routes to gratification at ones’ disposal, including touch and feel, taste, sound and smell. Examples of how companies have been able to capitalise on these include:

Personally, there are few things that gratify me more than the experience of soaring the skies in a small propeller plane. It is the resonance of sensory pleasure, brought on by the breathtaking beauty of the landscapes, the ant-like insignificance of vehicles as they creep along winding strips of grey, and the heavenly rays of sunshine that filter through broken clouds, all accompanied by the soothing hum of the propeller. The gratification is such that I can spend an inordinate amount of money in seeking it, and with a gladness unfitting of a rational man.


Man shall never feel such an uncontrollable deviation from rationality as whilst in state of infatuation over the beauty of another human being. The vigour with which love can grip an individual, regardless of how unflappable one’s general disposition may be, is astounding. Whether one interprets love as a cognitive blindness, or the source of all of life’s meaning, it cannot be denied that love and and the craving for connection with other humans, whether platonic or otherwise, is an incredibly powerful force.

It should be of no surprise thence that the greatest driver of happiness in humans is not money or success; it’s good relationships (See Ted Talk). And neither is it a surprise that allowing friendships to fade is among the top 5 regrets of those who lay on their deathbed [source].

It is a sad irony that, despite the vast array of friendship and dating apps that spring each year, humans could be trending towards having less close friends and less meaningful relationships. While these apps may be instilling some sense of gratification, as indicated by their significant usage, it is likely that they are more aligned with satisfying the ego and social validation rather than genuine human connection.


Gratification may also be obtained in simply alleviating or preventing anxieties that can deafen and distract the mind from its main goals. As I know from my own experience, anxiety can be a debilitating mental state which, contrary to popular belief, is responsible for a sizeable proportion of drug and alcohol abuse [source].


When an individual’s life is riddled with the mundanity of constant subsistence, gratification can be obtained through seeking temporary escape; in immersing oneself in a parallel world that is altogether more exciting and free. Two well known routes of entry into this are entertainment and illicit drugs, both of which happen to be multi billion dollar industries, irrespective of their legality.

I feel it is not necessary to elaborate on Entertainment, as the examples are obvious (Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, etc). The latter route is however particularly fascinating. Such a promising route to gratification, that it is the reason for the imprisonment of more than 25% of US prisoners, and directly responsible for more than 1100 homocides each year. Many of the most vicious and savage gangs in the world are built on the economic foundation of drugs trafficking. These organisations operate with a level of ferocity that can only be explained by the desire for gratification running amok. Our own surrender to the craving for gratification is our biggest enemy.


To live a life without feeling is to not live at all.

Feeling is ingrained in the human psyche. I often joke of my robotic demeanour, but I cannot imagine my existence without feeling, for it drives a great deal of my investments of time and energy, whether it’d be my choice of career, the people with whom I spend my time or my fondness for travel. No doubt, I would not have written this article if I were not to gain some sense of gratification from doing so.

Feeling underpins all of human energy, and it is important not to ignore its importance in all scopes of life. Leadership, influence and emotional intelligence are all simply management of feelings, whether in yourself or others. This is no different in product and business management. In order to build a product that people want, one must build an experience that dispenses the same gratifications that humans have sought for thousands of years, and will forever seek.

The alternative is to make tasks of subsistence substantially easier or lower cost, thereby allowing humans more leverage to spend on seeking gratification. Hence, the elemental human problem is always gratification.


As much of a clichéd example as it may be, Apple is the epitome of gratification done correctly. Steve Jobs’s ingenuity lay in his understanding of the full spectrum of the drivers of human gratification, and this is what has driven Apple to be the highest valued technology company in the world. The whole Apple experience is beautifully engineered to dispense gratification from start to finish:

Redefining THE MVP

In order to offer something tangible along with this post, I would like to propose a slight change to how the concept of the Minimum Viable Product is interpreted. Instead of seeking to build an MVP, seek to build an MVP that evokes the emotion you seek in customers:

This website is archived and will not be updated regularly.
Feel free to get in touch if you'd like to discuss this topic with me.