Why Attention, Emotion and Cognition are the Currency of the Future

Written by Kyle Nel, Executive Director of Lowe's Innovation Labs

When you think of Lowe’s, you don’t immediately think of emerging tech like Tango. Yet, we’ve been one of the earliest collaborators with Google to bring their Tango platform to our customers through our Lowe’s Vision applications for in-home design and in-store navigation. Why and how did we get there?

Every organization on the planet says that they want to create disruptive tools, but that is harder than it seems. There are two things you have to figure out - what you’re going to work on, and what you’re not going to work on. 

So to figure that out, and to get people inside and outside of the company to work on those things, you need an intuitive way to help people understand the future. 

We do that through story. We create actual narratives about the future we want to build, then work backwards to bring it to life. 

This is a scene from our first story that we turned into a comic book, and it turned out to be the most disruptive tool we’ve built:

The Visualization Imperative

One of the hardest things about home improvement is that it’s really, really hard to envision how a project is going to turn out, and even harder to communicate that vision to someone else. It’s estimated that about $70 billion in projects every year never even get started because of this problem. 

We knew we could use visualization tech to build new tools that could help solve this problem, and we used the comic to show our executive team what that future would look like. We needed a way to communicate that our objective was to build intuitive solutions based on human behavior – not about building tech for tech’s sake. 

Our executives’ reaction was to tell us, go build it. 

So we did, and four years ago we brought the first iteration of an augmented reality design solution called the Holoroom to two of our Canadian stores.

It was early, and the tech was still rough, but we used our stores as living labs that would let us innovate based on real feedback, from actual customers and employees, to create not just solutions that worked, but solutions that worked for our customers.

And we talked about what we were doing, really loudly, to attract more uncommon partners – the people you wouldn’t expect Lowe’s to work with – that could help us achieve the narrative. 

Google was one of the earliest partners to respond to our call. From our earliest days exploring AR and VR, we’ve worked with Google to push the future further, and faster. In fact, in the second generation of the Holoroom we created Google Cardboard vending machines to give customers a takeaway VR experience.

 

Measuring What Works

The way customers visualize today is decidedly low tech.

This kitchen vignette is what you typically see when you come into stores.

When we are building experiences that are so far removed from what customers know today, how do we measure what’s working? We quickly found that the right tools didn’t exist to evaluate if people like something they’ve never experienced before.

My background is in behavioral science and I teamed up with some of my partners from academia to take the latest research and turn that into applied neuroscience tools. This work turned into a company, Neurons, Inc., who we work with closely to study all of our projects.  

It can be difficult – or impossible – for people to articulate their reaction to ideas or technology that are entirely new to them, so neuroscience allows us to tap into unstated reactions through a variety of subconscious measures such as attention, cognitive load and emotional response. We’ve completed hundreds of hours of neuroscience testing on different AR and VR technologies and learned that AR and VR tools can lack emotional engagement. 

However, when we tested Tango with consumers we saw, for the first time, that they had the optimal level of cognitive interest. They were more engaged, and also motivated in a positive way. All of this meant, we had finally hit upon a truly intuitive experience. 

Last fall, we celebrated our first-ever global launch with the Lowe’s Vision Tango app, which allows customers to measure their space and select virtual Lowe’s products to fit. At the same time, we launched the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro at Lowe’s, introducing a new generation of digital power tools.  They sold out a few days after launch.

A New Way of Looking at Home Improvement

Since launching Lowe’s Vision, we’ve had a really positive response from customers who are excited about how comfortable it is to design and personalize their homes using the platform. 

Now, we’re excited to be an early partner bringing Google’s Visual Positioning Service to our stores. We’ve launched in-store mapping in two stores to help customers find products faster, and are excited about the positive response so far.

To give you an example of what it’s like to use this app in store, check out this video.

Contrary to popular belief, innovation is not unknowable or pure serendipity. Using narrative and neuroscience, we aim to manufacture serendipity in a set of repeatable processes that is designed to change human behavior, first inside of the organization, and then to the end user. We’ve shown you this path in AR and VR, but also with the introduction of autonomous retail robots, the first store in space, employee exosuits and much, much more that we can’t wait to show you.

 

To read more of Kyle's articles or to follow him on LinkedIn, click here.