I wrote earlier how I believed marketers and market researchers needed a more rational approach to that seemingly irrational subject, the measurement and analysis of emotions. As we better measure these “soft aspects” of human response, we risk losing sight of the fact that an understanding of emotion is not an end in itself: it has to be applied to specific business issues. I have to declare an interest here – we’ve recently tied up with a company that has created a very clever method of directly recording and analyzing emotional response (more about that later). Even so, I do not think that emotional research of any sort, no matter how science-based, stands up on its own. We all need to start thinking a lot harder about applications, not merely methods.
Fundamentally I think there are seven key areas where understanding emotion better can transform marketing. This is a subject I’ve tackled in a chapter on Emotional Research in a book to be published next year called “Leading Edge Marketing Research” (edited by Bob Kaden and Gerry Linda of “More Guerrilla Marketing Research” fame).
1. Emotions act as triggers and create change. Strong emotional response is more likely to create a ‘moment of change’ for consumers than any rational evaluation of benefits. Marketing is becoming increasingly granular as Point of Sales and Guerrilla Marketing tactics supplant top-line advertising. Understanding and describing precise emotional tipping points is vital. We need to get better at understanding how emotions operate in very specific real-world choice situations, so emotional research needs to move beyond both “general purpose survey” and “laboratory” settings.
2. Emotions reinforce and drive improvements in brand equity. Brands building up longer-term emotional connections with consumers enjoy higher levels of loyalty and improve their ability to charge a price premium. A lot of research has been done on how broad motivational states or generalised “feelings” about brands contribute to brand equity, but very little on how short-term emotional “trigger” responses interact with broader personality and needs. We need to do more to track series of short-term emotional responses, so we can start to predict how constant exposure to a wide variety of different tactical pressures accumulates and impacts long-term brand loyalty or customer satisfaction.
3. Emotions facilitate brand buzz and communication. People like to talk, twitter, share and recommend brands that evoke strong emotional reactions. In an increasingly connected world this is an important virtue (or potentially a major problem). The need here is to move from merely analysing the formal content and volume of “buzz” in one setting (e.g. social media) towards a much harder assessment of the emotional interplay underlying all forms of spontaneous communication about brands. Yes, some researchers are working hard in this area – but much more needs to be done.
4. Emotions are essential building blocks around which a brand can define itself. The bedrock of a brand’s personality, a key component in most major brands efforts to present a coherent and attractive image to consumers, is the emotional connection between the brand and the customer. Brand personality is hardly a new concept, but I think the idea of carefully building and nurturing brand values risks getting lost in the plethora of discussion on short-term emotional response. Understanding how emotions interact with other marketing variables (price, availability, social drivers etc.) is the big need here.
5. Emotions are navigators through an increasingly cluttered world of brands and media. One of my research interests is how all the work in recent years on consumer decision-making intersects with the new findings coming out on emotions. It seems that a key aspect of emotions in marketing is that a quick, superficial emotional response saves consumers thinking in-depth about every possible choice they are faced with, providing an instantaneous mechanism for choice. Such emotional responses reinforce habit, and hence the ‘leading brand advantage’. The key here is the ability to measure and analyse lots of quite small superficial emotional responses. It’s not just the big, dramatic emotions that matter.
6. Emotions can be used to define psychographic and similar segmentations. By defining consumers in terms of the similarity of their emotional outlook on life, or emotive response to a product category, advertisers have often been able to craft more effective campaigns than by relying on traditional demographic segmentation. But this is an area that could be much refined and expanded: many segmentation analyses still rely on relatively superficial batteries of generalised “feeling statements”, unweighted by importance of each to the respondent, and with no direct connection to key behavioural attributes. Advances in emotional measurement and statistical techniques mean we can do much better than this.
7. Emotions can help lower the cost and failure rate of new product development. New products are more likely to fail than succeed. Accurate reading of emotional response to a product or service must reduce this risk. More sophisticated methods of evaluating emotional reaction to visual and sensory stimuli (taste, tactile characteristics, aroma, etc.) open up better, faster ways of screening products. We can also now judge how branding triggers emotional responses that override purely sensory reactions. As some recent research has suggested, if Coke had access to more modern measures on how the emotions of their brand impacted choice, they might have avoided the whole New Coke debacle. Linking more accurate measures of emotion with decent marketing models will be a core component of the next wave of NPD research.
Seven important ways then, that understanding emotion can improve marketing and drive sales. Each of these are so important in my view that they deserve far better, far more focused response than we as an industry have given so far.
We live in the era of the “app”, where general purpose all encompassing software suites are giving way to a series of highly targeted, easily accessible software modules. Many of these are simply “variations on a theme”, driven by similar underlying programmes – yet they offer a wide variety of user experience, price and specific features. Successful apps are distinguished not by “power” but by things like good looks, ease of use and (vitally) being early to market. This, to me offers a lesson for MR generally, and especially for the new wave of emotional research. We’re moving beyond the era of big “do everything” services, but at the same time the concept of totally ad hoc customised research is less and less viable. We move towards the era of “research apps”. For those agencies studying consumer emotion this means it’s not the fact of being able to measure emotions per se that is key – it’s about the flexibility and “look” of your solution and most importantly being able to adapt research on emotions to a specific business need.
My hope then is that we’ll see research companies rushing to create carefully crafted “emotion apps” and hopefully, before long, we’ll see at least seven covering the areas above. Hopefully I’ll even be be able to download them to my iPad?
(Here’s the earlier post I mentioned: “Let’s Not Be Irrational About Emotions” )