Quantifying emotions to initiate consumer connections

This post is sponsored by Kadence.

We know by now that story telling circles, a powerful adaptation of the typical focus group discussion, result in rich and nuanced, consumer-led accounts of instances where they felt they experienced any kind of emotion (hopefully more good than bad!) with a product/service category in general, or a brand with that category specifically.

In many behavioural economic models out there, emotions tend to be at the core of explanations around why people continue doing things that are rationally detrimental to themselves (for example, sunk cost fallacy and refusal to cash out an underperforming investment), or how to get them to change (for example, nudge theory, and the idea that “small change” feels less daunting).

However, once you have identified the multitude and depth of these emotions, what do you do with them? More specifically, in our context as marketers, what strategic benefits exist in attempting to link emotions and brands?

A consumer who’s more emotionally connected to a brand is more likely to purchase from said brand than another; it’s a fact that’s undisputed, stemming from countless studies having being conducted over the past few years.

It also shows that brand owners and marketers need to make more of the causal relationship between the two, and capitalise on that. How then do you leverage emotional connections, and translate that to activations which potentially lead to higher spend?

The emotional connection matrix (ECM), within which storytelling circles actually sit, is a framework that pulls together different tools that try to elicit different responses from consumers. This is based on the principles of “System 1” and “System 2” thinking.

Much has been discussed about these different systems of thinking, so it doesn’t need to be rehashed here. Suffice to say, though, once all hidden/implicit emotions and associations have been uncovered through the use of storytelling circles, it is necessary to map them out to see which are the associations that are most beneficial for a brand to possess, whether your brand possesses them, and which competitors are doing better than you in that aspect.

To capture System 1 responses: We implement an implicit association test, where we get respondents to go through an association exercise on a digital device: attributes/emotions we uncover from the storytelling circles are placed in the centre of the screen, with various brands, randomised and in quick succession, placed on either side of the screen. How quickly respondents “swipe” the attributes/emotions to the various brands over time, gives us an accurate read on their perspectives on associations.

To capture System 2 responses: We design a questionnaire which, on top of all the details around the consumer’s encounter/interaction and experience with the product/service, we just ask six more questions to “carve out” the dimensions of the matrix, as well as one open-ended to make sure we have some basic context to their responses.

There are a few factors to ensure the success of ECM:

  • Accurate sample – because so much of what we want to capture are emotions arising from meaningful interactions between the customer and a brand’s product/service experience, over and above a statistically representative size, we want to make sure they have indeed had a substantive encounter, so their responses are truly valid and worth measuring

Relevant capture method – between online survey self-completion and computer assisted telephone interviews, there are different ways to think about:

  • How to carry out the actual phase. That, in turn, can be determined by how much we feel the respondents can reflect on the experience and relay that thought onto the survey on their own, or engaging the help of telephone interviewers to make sure potential gaps in answers are avoided.
  • Phrasing: Outside of the more direct questions around rating/ranking of a brand, the questions will need to be posed in such a way that are more “evocative”, so respondents can understand that what we are asking of them is a lot more reflective, which also prevents them from “straight-lining” their answers (that is, unthinkingly providing the same score to different questions, in a literal straight line)

The ultimate aim of ECM is to paint a picture of the loyalty aspect of your brand health; while we believe that as much as brand growth is the overall goal for any business to be sustainable and thriving (and there are various ways to go about doing that), making sure that you do not lose customers in the first place (that is, keeping the base sizeable) is just as important.

Also, in this day and age of social media, word of mouth remains a powerful brand advocacy tool, and the age-old belief still holds true: customers will recommend a product/service/brand if they feel sufficiently positive about it, whatever those emotions may be (for example, joy, surprise, gratitude, aligned values, etc), quantified by the emotional connection matrix.