Emotionally Preaching To The Converted

New Year, new start. As some of you who know us will realise, one of the reasons our blog postings have stuttered in recent months is that we’ve been far too emotional. Or at least far too involved in telling clients, MR and ad agencies about why emotional marketing matters, and why it’s not quite what they thought it was.

Preaching To The Converted: More Useful Than You Think?

We thought therefore, we’d start 2012 with a series of posts on what we think is the most important development in modern market research: our increasingly accurate ability to tap into consumer emotions.

In particular, we want to do our bit to move discussion of emotion measurement from methods and applications towards the more important area of marketing implications. Why measuring emotion accurately really matters.

One of our concerns is that too often emotional marketing is treated as more akin to alchemy than science. It’s as if researchers and marketers were engaged in a holy quest for a magic ‘emotional spell’ that would transform the most mundane marketing message into a vibrant, guaranteed to sell, proposition.  It’s a search for the dramatic “conversion moment”  that fails to take into account the fact that emotions are subtle and work in different ways at different points in consumers’ lives.

Let’s take just one example of this: post-purchase behaviour — well after the “magic moment” of brand attraction is over.  To quote J. Edward Russo of Cornell (writing in the MSI Relevant Knowledge Series) “one of the most robust findings in consumer behavior is the biased use of information after a product decision in order to bolster the buyer’s choice”. A recent purchaser often continues to seek out for information on the product they bought, and is subconsciously looking for materials, stories or emotional content that justify their decision. If they find such information it reinforces their brand preference, raises perceptions of value and increases the likelihood of recommendation. Pretty important stuff, arguably more important than simple brand trial, and incidentally an argument for clever brands to keep marketing strongly in the traditionally “quiet” period post holiday season when people are enjoying their presents, but need to justify (to themselves and others) their burgeoning credit card bill.

Marketing that plays to this post-purchase openness to the brand will be emotional of course, but a different quality of emotion is required. Here the brand itself is a primary emotional trigger (assuming you’ve delivered on your product promise, they already favour you) so the practice of “logo last” advertising may be less relevant. Similarly you’ll want to give people ideas, feelings and stories that both reinforce their biases and give them ammunition to repeat to others. At this stage marketing benefits from content, not just style. Words, slogans and information matter post-purchase, not because people suddenly become rational, but because emotionally they are searching for justifications and reasons to brag. That these justifications should be conveyed in a manner that resonates emotionally is obviously still important, but in measurement terms the issue becomes less about simply “is it emotional” and far more about the pattern of response – how specific emotions like Surprise, Sadness or Happiness interact with the marketing message as it unfolds.

Personally I think this means marketers should reconsider what they consider as “off-season” as such periods may in fact be when much of their brand equity is created. Not only that, it seems likely that these so called “off-periods” call for quite different campaign content than the peak sales periods. There is a lot of money to be made by preaching to the converted. But that is not the main point of this post. Emotion in marketing is about far more than creating change or conversion experiences. In turn measurement of emotion is more than simply testing the amount of emotion or “engagement” generated. The marketing and personal context that emotion is measured in matters. So to does the detail of how specific emotions are revealed and how these emotions interact with rational benefits and promises. Increasingly we have much more precise emotional data available – the task now turns to using it more wisely.

In the end we who study the role of emotion in consumers can’t transform lead into gold – but by careful analysis we can do far more to make marketing more subtle, more carefully directed and a lot cleverer. That, rather than the search for “magic moments”, should be the task of modern consumer research.


3 Responses to Emotionally Preaching To The Converted

  1. Great observation. The post purchase period is so important. We get lots of briefs for customer journey research and we keep having to tell clients that most of this journey occurs after purchase! Launching some nicely modulated post purchase advertising would be brilliant except for the two obvious limitations. Firstly most of our clients are struggling to make one ad at a time at the moment, so a special post purchase execution might not be viable. Secondly most people in a target audience remain potential purchasers so it is a bit hard to capture the small number of purchasers.

    That being said there ARE channels that lend themselves to post purchase communications (e.g. Direct) and perhaps more brand owners should work on warm glow opportunities for recent purchasers.

    • Alastair Gordon says:

      Thanks David. Good points. The size of the potential ‘post-purchase’ market is clearly going to depend on category, and obviously in designing such ads, you cannot ignore the impact on new purchasers. You’re probably not going to create a completely new campaign, more a tweak of existing ideas to recognise those that gave your product a go while they are particularly open to your brand. But in talking about this to clients I’d make a couple of points. Firstly, as we all know, the value of existing customers to brands is huge, and the cost of losing them very great indeed. Secondly, especially with the rise of social media, we see the role of recommendation as being bigger than ever. If you reach one positive post-purchaser you also indirectly reach several other possible trialists. Post purchasers may not be so numerous, but they are pure gold for brand development in my view!

      • agree there is a lot more that could be done – and if we can get clients out of the mindset of these linear purchase models that will be a major leap forward.
        For now they are all obsessed with social media but don’t really know what they are doing with it! I agree building stronger customer relationships could be a good start

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