Why emotional reactions are a better indicator of behaviour

Consumers do not always say what they mean, which is giving rise to new forms of market research based on emotional reactions.

As traditional methods of market research go into decline, what are the strengths and weaknesses of newer techniques that track real-time emotional responses and get behind the psychology of the consumer decision-making process?

The value of the data analytics market has grown by more than 350% over the past four years and has been a major contributor to the size and effectiveness of the UK research sector, according to a recent study commissioned by the Market Research Society and carried out by PwC.

The importance of qualitative research has also risen dramatically, as the report states that brands are increasingly looking to clarify the ‘why’ behind raw data and numbers.

The growth of these markets, along with new technologies such as neuroscience and behavioural economics, has come at the cost of the more traditional research methods, the report suggests, with the use of traditional surveys and particularly telephone surveys “declining at a rapid rate”.

But what do these emerging technologies, which track consumers’ emotions and reveal their involuntary reactions, offer brands and what challenges come with the benefits?

“The drive for understanding [motivations of behaviour] has been critical to the growth of qualitative research in the past two to three years,” says Jane Frost, CEO at the Market Research Society (MRS)

She explains that for a long time “research has recognised emotion as a key driver of behaviours”, but that the challenge has always been from the side of marketing that “quite rightly” needs the numbers. Frost adds: “Numbers need context and they only tell you what people do and not why they are doing it.”

“Numbers need context and they only tell you what people do and not why they are doing it.”

Jane Frost, CEO, MRS

Understanding what brand creative works was a contributing factor in Apple acquiring facial recognition company Emotient earlier this year, as the technology allows brands to measure at scale how emotionally engaged customers are with ads and develop marketing accordingly.

READ MORE: How emotion tracking can help brands create marketing that resonates

Fuelling growth

Chilled ready meals brand Rustlers, owned by Kepak Convenience Foods, sells more than four packs per second in the UK but enlisted the help of research startup TransgressiveX – one of Marketing Week’s 100 Disruptive Brands – to fuel its growth strategy.

Rustlers used TransgressiveX’s research survey, which measures the effect of a brand at each point in the purchase process, scientifically based on psychological responses of consumers, to reveal new marketing potential in the early stages of the consumer journey. The survey employs ‘System 1’ data – looking at automatic, fast and often unconscious responses – alongside algorithms to uncover competitive advantage.

According to Adrian Lawlor, marketing and business development director at Kepak Convenience Foods, an initial brand health survey allowed the company to identify a perception problem among new customers in the early stage of the customer journey.

“The clarity of the insight that comes from that is the defining factor that has helped us get under the skin of our brand,” he says. “When we look at the early stages of the journey, there are issues of perceived product performance – but now we can look at the kind of messaging we need to create to convert those that haven’t come into the brand.”

Rustlers has since used the research method to develop new advertising, packaging and spur product development, resulting in a new TV campaign, which is due to air in November followed by new packaging and products in spring 2017. “The model again is quite efficient and we have been using [these techniques] to test and optimise creative development on each of [these areas],” adds Lawlor.

“[Brand equity is a concept that exists] in a very complex environment, shareholder integrity, supply chain transparency and social media interactions, and above the line advertising and pricing,” says CEO of TransgressiveX and consumer psychologist Nadim Sadek, a former global CEO of Millward Brown’s qualitative network. “All of these add up to an exchange with consumers; a brand has to manage all that and it’s incredibly hard to get your head around.”

He adds: “Insight and research serves no purpose other than to help marketing be better.”

Lawlor agrees and says: “Presenting what is complex stuff in a clear way is important for getting the wider business engaged with it.”

Measuring brain responses

Channel 4 Superhumans
Scenes of competition delivered strong emotional intensity for Channel 4’s ‘Superhumans’ campaign

Emotion tracking can also be used for post-analysis research, which is what a study by Neuro-Insight looking at Paralympics ads from Paralympics GB, Channel 4 and Samsung aimed to do.

The study analysed second-by-second electrical responses of the brain to understand how viewers responded to ads. Key measures included: how engaged a person was by an ad, or how personally relevant it was to them; what aspects of the ad were being stored into their long-term memory; and the extent to which they were emotionally energised by an ad.

The results show that in Channel 4’s ‘Superhumans’ campaign, the mix of athletes competing, interspersed with footage of disabled musicians and people doing daily things in their own way, made the ad relatable.

In Samsung’s ‘School of Rio’, there was a stronger engagement with scenes of the athletes either taking part in sporting activity or exchanging jokes with comedian and brand ambassador Jack Whitehall, than there was with scenes where they give factual information.

In ‘Supercharge’ from Paralympics GB, scenes of competition delivered a strong emotional intensity throughout, which was bolstered by the sound of cheering from the crowd during the ad.

The key driver of a positive response in all three ads comes when there is a clear indication that Paralympic athletes are in a position of strength.

Analysing adverts after they air is, in this example, key to understanding how to portray disability and diversity in a way that drives a positive, or desired, emotional response.

Trust in data use

Concern over the use of data by companies is already an issue for brands looking to analyse that data to improve marketing and it can be argued that gathering emotional data would create a bigger concern.

“There is an issue of transparency and trust,” says Frost. “We already know that consumers are much less trusting than they used to be and data is increasingly an area that worries them – [emotion tracking] would go further than written data in concern.

“Emotional stimulation and behaviour change has to be one of those things where any ethical marketer or researcher needs to be very careful,” she warns. These concerns are centred on applications that could manipulate emotion. The worry is over how companies can ensure they are not making an angry person angrier or a depressed person even more depressed.

Frost would like the “greatest range of possibility available to market researchers and marketers” but also wants to be clear that if marketers do it well from the outset, they will get permission to go on doing it. “If you don’t take a considered approach, then someone will come and ban [it],” she warns.

Why emotion is linked to brand loyalty

Brand loyalty is the holy grail for many companies but instead of looking at the numbers, such as traffic driven by an email or social media post or the number of people redeeming a voucher, loyalty can be linked to simply asking how a customer feels.

Organisations need to understand the intuitions that drive customers’ behaviour at an emotional, subconscious and psychological level, according to Colin Shaw, co-author of ‘The Intuitive Customer: 7 imperatives for moving your customer experience to the next level’.

“Customers are human beings and therefore understanding how a human being works is important from a brand perspective. Most organisations tend to focus on the rational side of an experience.”

Colin Shaw, author

“Customers are human beings and therefore understanding how a human being works is important from a brand perspective. Most organisations tend to focus on the rational side of an experience,” says Shaw.

He adds: “Clearly, humans are more complicated and we know that over 50% of experience is based on how a customer feels. It’s surprising how many brands don’t do research on how customers feel about them. That’s not just feeling good or bad but [as a consumer] am I feeling trust, am I feeling cared for and valued?”

Shaw believes the biggest and “most profound area” of work in this sector is by Professor Daniel Kahneman, who won a Nobel prize for behavioural economics, and says loyalty is a function of memory. So if consumers did not remember, they would not be able to be loyal because every experience of a brand would be new.

“Understanding how [loyalty] is formed becomes critical in designing experience. Kahneman argues that what people remember in an experience is the peak emotion they felt and the end emotion and those form a memory.”

Understanding how memories are formed when customers have contact with a brand is therefore key. Shaw advises brands to track the peak emotion and the end emotion “because people don’t choose between experience, they choose between the memory of an experience”. Therefore knowing what emotions get a response can build on perception and loyalty.

Consumers’ emotional reactions to brands, advertising and experiences may sound like an esoteric topic, but tracking these could ultimately be a more reliable method for understanding the motivators of behaviour than asking people to explain them.

Sponsored viewpoint

Gawain Morrison, CEO and co-founder of emotional marketing and tech consultancy, Sensum

Brands and agencies have instinctively known for some time that if you can appeal to a person’s emotions, you have a better chance of not only being able to sell a product or create great experiences, but also shaping brand loyalty. But now science is helping to prove and make more of this.

Instead of relying exclusively on traditional market research methods based on conscious questioning and surveys, which only provide a singular point of view, new research tools that weave in biometric responses allow us to build a 360-degree real-time view of the consumer’s emotional journey.

By using wearable devices we can measure evidence streams from sensors recording the way stimuli affect our non-conscious physiological reactions, such as pupil dilation, eye-tracking, facial expressions, skin-sweat and heart rate levels, all of which are indicators of an emotional response.

There is a much richer palette and deeper insight to be gleaned from this data, giving those using it a better understanding of what drives people to make decisions in context and therefore a deeper storytelling capability. And as any psychologist or neuroscientist will tell you, context is the key to gauging emotions accurately.

As with all research, there’s no one-size-fits all approach. There are circumstances where facial coding tools or heart rate and skin conduction aren’t going to be useful but in other ways they will. Success comes down to good experimental design and considering the use of these insights throughout the creative process, rather than as a tick-box exercise at the end. When used correctly, emotional research can actually aid and focus the creative process.

This year has marked a step-change in how this way of working is viewed. We’re starting to see more forward-thinking brands and agencies embrace it within their everyday methods. Some are using it to identify “white space” on which to build campaigns, while others are using it to pinpoint finer details – like whether an image provokes a more positive response on the left- or right-hand side of the page.

However, there’s still a lot of education that needs to happen before the entire industry feels comfortable with this. But given we’re in a commercial world where the ability to build a truly personalised relationship with consumers is the marker of survival, time isn’t on anyone’s side.

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