unlocking long term value by using object relations


This essay explores how attachment to objects, rooted in early childhood experiences, can be leveraged to establish internalised relationships with products. The discussion will broadly revolve around aligning product vision with target customer segments, enablers for a satisfying consumer experience, opportunities in consumer marketing, potential value propositions and uncovering revenue models.


“Object Relations” is a -primarily psychological- term that refers to the dynamic internalized relationships between the self and significant others (objects). The way people relate to others and situations in their adult lives is shaped by experiences during infancy. Object Relations theory aims to uncover early mental images that may be affecting interactions and adjust them in ways that may contribute in benefitting relationships.


So called “Objects” are usually internalised images that relate to parts of certain significance in an infants world such as a breast or unrealised emotions. They are initially comprehended in the infant mind by their functions. Later experiences can reshape these early patterns, but object associations often continue to exert a strong influence throughout life.


Implementing object relations theory into practice in designing inanimate objects require analysis of the target segment of population. Upon identifying a consumer profile, product team has to understand underlying motivations that guide choice behaviour. Utilising big data and consumer behavior could prove useful at this stage to uncover mental attachments that are influencing behaviours.


If designers can portray certain features in the designed product, that is able to regenerate positive affection, consumers will have an effortless process associating the interaction with a pleasant experience. Striking this connection will establish a strong relationship with the designed object (object attachment) and its owner.

To carry this theoretical framework (image 2) into commercialisation, decision-makers have to decide whether to adapt to the existing customer profile, transform the current customer base or explore a new market.




Establishing this value proposition, however discrete it might be, yields potential for attachment to inanimate objects. Successful and sustainable realisation of this attachment is the requisite for maintaining a long term commitment and competitive edge. With the addition of a mendable brand ‘tabula rasa’, consumers’ positive associations could increase brand loyalty.


As discussed above, primarily due to primitive psychological connections with their past and in-part due to “endowment effect” suggested in behavioral economics, users are inclined to keep possession of their objects. A long term value proposition enables an arena for novel experimental business models. Certain service models can be adapted to capitalize on the future demand, the continuous desire to own the relation to an “object”.


Consistent value generating subscription models, long term payment plans such as loans or credits, other leasing or renting agreements are some examples that can be adapted to take advantage on continuous demand on an immaterial commodity. Direct-to-consumer sales with low up-front financing to purchase the physical inanimate object, with the option of paying back over time is an other derivative model that could be explored in detail.


Lengthened possession of a “blank canvas” which is the inanimate object may offer platform capabilities, and an avenue for advertisements. This discussion accepts there might be more opportunities within the spectrum of long-term possession of a physical inanimate object as a medium for mental attachments. No further inquiries will be made.


This discussion, similar to any preliminary outline, is built on the foundation of assumptions. One of the large assumptions made here is the continued dependance on mental objects. Essentially a bet that consumers will not be able to easily detach from the established relationships they have with objects and mental representations.

avenues for further research

Discussing the feasibility of assigning a monetary value to continue the possession or impermanent ownership of “object” attachments.


Researching the economic viability of assigning a monetary value to object attachments and testing in laboratory settings as well as real world scenarios.


Description of ethical considerations of leveraging psychological tendencies and ethical concerns regarding the exploitation of psychological attachments.




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