Researching the emotional drivers behind purchase behaviour

It was always important to Honda founder Soichiro Honda that society was pleased his company existed and that the brand had an emotional bond with consumers.

Honda emotions

The Honda Foundation has continuously approached marketing its cars, bikes and lawnmowers through emotion. The brand even has motor racing teams to engage with fans’ feelings and passions.

“We know from our research that Honda is an emotional purchase,” says Honda Motor Europe’s senior marketing communications manager Jemma Jones. “The more consumers understand our brand, our story and our ethos the closer they are to our business and what we are setting out to achieve.”

Jones adds that by targeting customers’ sentiments and attempting to charm, surprise and delight them through imaginative and innovative marketing, loyalty and word of mouth advocacy is nurtured more organically. She cites recent activity such as the interactive two-sided ad ‘The Other Side’ to promote its Civic model, and the never-ending YouTube film ‘Endless Road’ for its CR-V as memorable campaigns that made consumers contemplate their feelings.

We all like to believe that the choices we make result from a rational analysis of what the alternatives are, but in reality our emotions influence us greatly. Research conducted by the Advertising Research Foundation in New York concluded that the emotion of “likeability” is the measure most predictive of whether an advertisement will increase a brand’s sales. Honda is therefore not alone in seeking emotional as well as data-driven insight to get a clearer picture of customers’ preferences and likely purchasing behaviour.

There are certain ‘soft’ key performance indicators (KPIs) that can measure the impact of emotion on buying behaviour. These include social sentiment/commentary, Net Promoter Score, the number of social media shares and YouTube views. These all provide an idea of consumers’ emotional response towards a specific advertising campaign and can be indicators of how well a brand is connecting with consumers on an emotional level.

Brands love to tap into people’s happy memories. British Summer Fruits, the industry body that represents 98% of berries supplied to UK grocers, asked research company Condiment Junkie and The London Institute of Philosophy to discover if the thought of strawberries gets people thinking about summer. Does, for example, the fruit bring back good memories of summers gone by and where do people remember eating strawberries?

The results revealed that 77% of us do associate strawberries with summer memories, with 64% saying they evoke thoughts of sunshine and 25% the aroma of freshly cut grass. More than 16% thought about traditional strawberries and cream, while other fruits such as apples and bananas are more associated with grabbing lunch on the go at work.

Diageo worked with Condiment Junkie to undertake similar sensory and emotional market research for its whisky brand The Singleton. A pop up event in London highlighted the different flavours in The Singleton 12-year-old single malt and engaged consumers with how important their surroundings were to get the best out of their whisky.

Oxford University helped with the experiment by combining different sensory worlds of sound, scent, odour, colour, decor and textures to highlight different flavours. As people moved between three rooms they noticed a change in the balance of flavour. The study found that someone’s sensory architecture and the emotions it triggered enhanced flavour perception by around 20% in each room.

The results have influenced Diageo’s brand strategy including around packaging, glassware, retail design space and digital content.

Diageo’s sensory event for The Singleton whisky engaged consumers with how important their surroundings are to get the best out of the drink

Few things fuel people’s emotions as much as food and drink. Online reservation site Bookatable says eating out is an emotive experience and consumers often choose where they go out for a meal based on how they feel about particular cuisines as well as a specific restaurant or location. Yet booking a restaurant online can be a somewhat mechanical experience.

With this in mind Bookatable commercial director James Lanigan tried to re-position the brand on emotional levels with advertising straplines that have a particular tone of voice, such as ‘Discover Restaurants that you Love’.

The brand says its market research reveals that restaurants themselves need to do more to get potential diners excited. Currently one fifth of Brits are forced to travel to different towns and cities to try new foods and almost one third (29%) are bored with the selection of cuisines available to them in their local area. The study also found that Caribbean food was the cuisine Brits would most like to see better represented in the UK, followed closely by Greek and French cuisine.

“We need to think about people’s emotions when they are considering eating out and then integrate our sales message into the content we provide online,” says Lanigan.

The language used in marketing material can also trigger an emotional response, which is why brands invest heavily in getting their tone of voice right.

O2’s campaign Be More Dog won an award for best tone of voice at the Transform Awards organised by Transform Magazine. O2 head of brand Katrina Ward-Smith says this area can be underestimated by marketers who are keen to shift consumer attitudes.

“Be More Dog is about getting consumers to think about going out and trying new things. As well as engaging consumers’ emotions it works internally too. As a member of O2, do you want to Be More Dog in some way?” says Ward-Smith.

Language consultancy The Writer designed the O2 tone of voice strategy. It trained 600 employees and briefed more than 80 agency partners.

There is nothing like a great story to prompt an emotional response and online video and social media have made it easier to evoke a consumer reaction via clever storytelling. Yet the tale a brand tells must be natural and authentic, and it often works best when consumers can contribute their own experiences.

“The more consumers understand our brand and our ethos the closer they are to our business and what we are setting out to achieve.”

Jemma Jones, Honda Europe’s senior marketing communications manager

For example on jobsite users are encouraged to upload their own real life employment stories. “Storytelling is not about scripting real people to fit your brand’s narrative but about letting the amazing attributes and experiences of each individual shine through,” says SVP marketing Paul D’Arcy.’s brand campaign How The World Works used emotional storytelling to connect with consumers. The result was a 15% rise in the number of CVs created on the site, a 4,000% jump in Facebook activity and a 70% increase in brand awareness among job seekers.

To make the most of how emotion affects sales and product needs, brand owners not only need to be authentic, they must also be innovative.

In the pharma sector AstraZeneca has partnered with global marketing and technology agency DigitasLBi to form the Digital Innovation Group (DIG). This is described as an innovation lab that aims to give the company a better understanding of people and not just molecules.

DIG uses ethnographic techniques to understand people’s emotional state across health conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer and heart attacks.

The ethnographic interview is a technique used in qualitative research. It involves a researcher observing and often immersing him or herself in a culture or group.

“By understanding people’s emotional state and drivers, we can offer relevant support services to patients,” says Elizabeth Egan, executive director, global strategy and innovation at AstraZeneca. “They stand a better chance of recovering because you are creating the best possible setting for their treatments to take effect.”

She adds that if you really want to help people make changes needed in their life after a heart attack, it’s not enough to explain this rationally. “You must tap into their values and motives so they set realistic and relevant goals.”

The ethnography techniques being employed include “life-logging”. This uses the Narrative Clip wearable automatic camera which starts taking continuous pictures every 30 seconds to unobtrusively record lives as they are lived.

Product sampling is another powerful way for brands to tap into someone’s emotions and change perceptions of a product or category.

United Biscuits employed agency The Work Perk to distribute 190,000 samples of its Jacob’s Crispbreads to office workers to try and change negative opinions of crackers as a lunchtime snack.

Marketing controller at United Biscuits, Nick Wizard, says many consumers are in an emotional rut at lunchtimes, which is why they often choose the same sandwich. Many think crackers taste like cardboard and don’t fill them up.

“The challenge is to get people to emotionally engage with the brand and try the product,” says Wizard. “We gathered spontaneous feedback on what people think about when they eat the crackers and what they might eat the Crispbreads with.”

He adds: “The research reveals just how important emotion is and how a food brand must tap into someone’s wants and needs. You must be able to surprise and delight if someone is to have an emotional affinity with it.”

Even the gaming industry is using emotion to boost sales. Location-based games company Geonomics has launched a lotto product where people choose places they have an emotional attachment to rather than numbers. The GeoLotto online instant win game is powered by Google Maps and played on an interactive map turned into squares where players can win £1m for a £1 stake.

“GeoLotto is founded on the emotional connection people have with places,” says Geonomics co-founder Henry Oakes. “By focusing on the emotional sentiment that people place on locations, such as where they live, where they were married or where their favourite football team is based, Geonomics can offer players a more engaging experience. Selecting a random number is not as personal as testing your luck on meaningful locations that hold some sort of emotive value.”

Few consumers would admit that their buying decisions are not logical. Consumers like to think they are making scientific decisions, such as by using a price comparison website. In reality, though, our life experiences and genetic make-up play an unconscious role in the purchasing process. It is something marketers are working hard to exploit.

Measuring emotion

The difficulty with measuring people’s emotions is that consumers will try to actively manage how they feel during a marketing exercise, says Dr Alexander Gunz, a lecturer of marketing at Manchester Business School.

“Some of us are chronically grumpy, some chronically cheerful, most on a big scale in between,” he says. “Some scientists have calculated that our wellbeing is about 50% genetic so it can take a bit of work to sort out if people are happier because of your product, or they’re just happier because of who they are.”

He adds: “You either need to measure (and average across) a lot of people or measure them at multiple points in time so you can see if your product has changed them from their normal baseline.”

Gunz says that people also control their emotions to differing degrees at different times, even when a brand measures a person’s facial expression, word use, or body language.

“I did a study with a local market research company called Join the Dots, where we got consumers to take selfies as they bought products, and then rate various dimensions of brand equity. It turns out that the selfies really didn’t predict much, whereas the self-reported emotion scores did.”

He says people became very self-conscious when they pointed the camera at themselves, or they pulled a social smile or blank expression.

“This dominated whatever emotions they might have been feeling about the product. We might have done better if we had taken pictures as they were spontaneously reacting to the product, without feeling observed, although this would have presented some ethical considerations.”

Gunz says it is wise to be suspicious about how people say things make them feel. “Their ratings are often driven more by what they believe about a product rather than how it actually affects them.”



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