Getting all emotional can work wonders

Slowly but surely, the industry is learning how to measure emotional responses and use the results it gets to devise new marketing strategies.

“The first time I saw the new John Lewis ad, I blubbed,” says a consumer with the web name “TootingJo” on the Mumsnet community forum. The John Lewis “Never knowingly undersold” ad, created by communications agency Adam & Eve, depicts a woman moving through different stages of life to show that the retailer is relevant for people of every age. Accompanied by a cover version of Billy Joel’s tune Always a Woman, the ad has seen consumers expressing some very un-British emotional responses.

But predicting this sort of reaction to an ad campaign is extremely difficult. Getting consumers to articulate their feelings at all when researching what their brand means to their target audience is a challenge for marketers. Connecting with consumers on an emotional – rather than purely functional – level is very difficult to pull off.

To tackle this, the market research industry is finding innovative methods to tap into human feelings, including using images rather than direct questions and specially developed “emotion tools”. The challenge that both brand marketers and agencies face is that consumers themselves can’t often say how they really feel.

Understanding a real emotional response to a product and service can boost the bottom line, and is not just a nice-to-have piece of information, according to Guy Kemplay, brand strategy director at market research firm TNS.

“Emotion is very much hardwired into the human brain. Some people talk about emotion in marketing and branding as the ’soft side’. But actually, I think it’s the hard side. Increasingly, when there’s very little to choose from between products on the rational side, emotion simplifies choice and gives that connection to the consumer,” he says.

Daniel Keller, global brand director of telecoms brand Orange, says that it’s important to understand what emotive needs the company must deliver against. Orange has been working with TNS using its Needscope tool to find out consumers’ emotional response to the brand.

The method uses projective techniques to coax people into talking about the way they are feeling. Pictures of abstract paintings might be used, for example, to help people to talk about brand personality.

Keller explains, “The challenge in understanding customer emotions is that no one really talks about them. If you go about conventional market research methods, then you don’t really get the right answers or you will get a rational answer. Using projective techniques helps you to get a better understanding of emotional needs.

“Orange has been exploring what kind of emotions its own brand and competitors raise better than anyone else.” He claims that Orange has discovered that emotional perception of its brand is currently consistent across Europe, whereas other mobile brands have more fragmented images.

The challenge in understanding customer emotions is that no one really talks about them. Using projective techniques helps you to get a better understanding of emotional needs.

Daniel Keller, Orange

Needing to understand the emotional side of the brand “comes from the dilemma of commoditisation in the market. The more you are, the more these [emotional] dimensions play a role,” he adds.

Using pictures rather than direct questioning to help consumers to articulate emotions is something that market research agency GfK also advocates. GfK measures 22 emotions and uses scenario pictures to help consumers articulate their feelings.

“It’s trying to get around the difficulties that people face in expressing how they feel,” says Nick Nathanail, a consumer products and retail director at GfK, about the tool the firm has devised to reveal consumers’ emotional reactions to marketing campaigns, called the EMO Sensor.

Understanding emotions is not just about how people believe, he adds, but how consumers behave. This ultimately drives a healthier bottom line.

While Nathanail believes in the importance of understanding emotions, Anna Cremin head of research and consumer insight at cinema advertising business Pearl & Dean, says that brands must not get carried away with soft emotional measures. She says: “When it comes down to our clients, the cold hard numbers are what are important. Emotion becomes something nice to have, rather than an essential.”

Roger Sant, vice-president at market research firm Maritz Research Europe, isn’t convinced that some of the non-direct methods of understanding emotions are better than direct questioning. Sant says he is still personally sceptical about using pictures in research rather than asking questions.

David Penn, managing director at market research agency Conquest, which uses visualisation tool InfeXious to find out what makes something contagious

Market research has always done well at understanding people’s rational reasons for doing things. But rationality isn’t the real motivation for why people do things.

It’s very difficult to get true emotional responses from people because emotions come from the unconscious mind, so we’re not really aware of what’s going on there.

Direct questions can be very misleading as they encourage people to rationalise. We find with visualisations, people respond quickly, don’t think very much and they like doing it. The respondents like it because they’re not being asked silly questions like/ “Why did you eat a particular breakfast cereal?”

We’ve used this visualisation method a lot in advertising research. When you look at campaigns that do engage people, such as the Compare the Market “Meerkat” campaign, when you ask questions using a conventional 1-5 scale about “How do you feel about this ad?” the ads do tend to do well but no better than other commercials. But when we’ve used other methods, we’ve found that you get a better top-end result because people are able to articulate if they really, really like something.

We’ve become convinced that emotions at the top of the scale are different from normal emotions in that they trigger a social response. You do get quite a lot of campaigns that create a strong emotional connection with consumers but these are not picked up in traditional questioning of purchase intent. In any area where people have trouble expressing emotions, non-verbal tends to work very well.

It’s important to consider how contagious ads are too. If you look at Compare the Market before its “Meerkat” ad, compared with afterwards, you can see that the company achieved 5% top-of-mind mentions beforehand. This increased to about 35% within the space of three months.

That pleasure that ad generated was turned into a measurable business results. The advert made the brand itself much more contagious, so the meerkat’s fame transferred on to the brand.

Client view

Sarajit Mitra, head of global marketing at HSBC, who was group head of marketing planning and insight at the time of the research project

The reason why we want to understand emotions is that customers come into our branches with an expectation – either that we will help them in some way or that we will resolve something for them.

When there is a gap between the expectation and what is being provided, what you have is an emotional outcome. It’s not about the emotional outcome on a scale of 1-10. It’s really about answering questions like/ “Did I meet that expectation?” or “How did I meet that expectation?”

We want our customers to feel that they are getting the best advice even if it’s not the outcome that they had in mind. We might not have given the customer what they want, but if we speak to them professionally or show we understand their needs then they might go away happy that someone explained the issue.

The time of day determines how customers respond. If an older person comes a long way, is kept waiting and doesn’t feel as if we’re concerned about where they are in the queue, we have a higher level of dissatisfaction. Even the day of the week changes the results.

The type of product also changes the outcome too. People want to spend far more time being taken through a mortgage product. People don’t want a summary treatment just because they don’t fit the bank’s criteria.

We’re looking at this programme around the world as part of our customer experience agenda. It’s a function of how modern banking is evolving. There are increasing degrees of self-service so when customers are having face-to-face interaction with you, they are expecting you to be really, really good.

In the past, we used to look at a quantitative assessment using a numerical scale, which was always subject to debate. For example, what does seven versus eight mean exactly? Is a score of seven a bad day?

With a measurement of how customers feel, you can’t argue with that. We are now far more deft at aligning the operations to the kind of experience customers are having – that is a significant change in the bank branch.

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