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Emotionomics, Anyone?

  |  September 4, 2007   |  Comments

Do emotional connections with customers matter?

Back when I was running PlanetFeedback.com, I conducted a fascinating study with an active panel of consumers from the site.

I exposed panelists to a series of company feedback forms and simply asked: If this feedback form were a person, what type of person would it be? Panelists could choose from a list of individuals and occupations.

The vast majority of consumers would choose "government bureaucrat." Very few selected the more ideal "hotel concierge" option.

When probed, consumers noted most feedback interfaces did little to emotionally connect or bond with them. They didn't feel important, valued, or respected. Put another way, the bureaucrat personality perfectly fit the bill.

The rub is that in the eyes of so many CRM (define) experts, such an interface would be deemed efficient or ROI (define) driven or -- dare I forget? -- scalable.

Do Emotional Connections Matter?

Now that we're in the new era of consumer control, it's a good time to rekindle discussion of the role of emotion in marketing. If we don't get a handle on consumers' emotional needs and wants, our brands are at risk.

Dan Hill, president of Sensory Logic, a Minneapolis-based research consultancy specializing in sensory-emotive strategies, just published a new book, "Emotionomics: Winning Hearts and Minds."

Billing itself as a "practical guide to understanding the emotional dynamics that determine a company's sales and productivity," the book is a good read, covering lots of ground, perhaps too much ground for such a complex subject. But it has everything to do with today's marketing world.

Feelings matter, Hill insists. More important, what people say doesn't always align with how they feel or what they ultimately do. He calls this the "say/feel gap." Marketers, therefore, need new models for accurately metering emotions. Hill argues that "making a sensory-emotional connection through superior creativity and empathy becomes the key to winning over the audiences on which profitability extends."

Facial coding, or measuring consumers based on the visible emotions they express, is one important measurement building block.

Lest your own facial reactions be confused frustration, let's get this down to Hill's five reasons why emotions matter:

  • Consumers feel before they think, and "feelings happen fast."

  • Emotions are more immediate and act as a gatekeeper, such as to ads.

  • Believability "is based on a gut feeling."

  • Emotional connections help "jump over the fear of being sold to, which is rampant in today's skeptical marketplace."

  • Emotional connections lay the ground work for loyalty.
  • The last two points are critical, and we've hit on them many times in this column. Consumers have little trust in advertising. They're skeptical about new ad models. If they had their way, "do not call" would extend across all ad platforms.

    "Being on-emotion," Hill writes, "means your advertising is more likely to be seen, read, believed, remembered...When emotions get tapped, the ensuing relationship between a company and that customer acts as a barrier to conquest by competitors because loyalty is a feeling."

    As for CMOs' role, Hill insists they identify which emotions "they're most eager to inspire in the target market and which they're most eager to dispel." To facilitate that exercise, he's identified six core emotions that "transcend culture, affecting every consumer in an age of global commerce," drawing from a host of existing research. Those emotions are surprise, anger, disgust, sadness, fear, and happiness.

    The Importance Customer Service

    Of all marketing media, Hill writes that nothing else is "more emotional for the consumer and more dangerous for the company" than customer service. What's really at stake "is a customer's self-worth." He's right on the mark.

    This point is reinforced in the CGM (define) space through the millions of consumer comments flowing directly from bad consumer experiences. Just consider the letter posted last week to PlanetFeedback in which the writer notes that she "will be posting each and every week for the rest of my life about the horrible experience I had with HERTZ...I'm going to tell everyone I know how heartless and deceitful you are." In the age of consumer empowerment, such emotions are flowing millions of times a day.

    Hill does a good job outlining the critical connections between customer service and consumer emotion, but he misses key opportunities to prescribe more immediate, concrete actions marketers can take to improve the current mess.

    For example, improving the horrendous government bureaucrat contact-us listening interface is a tangible, low-hanging fruit opportunity for brands to drive more meaningful, empathetic, and emotional connections with brands. That, too, is an advertising moment. Every agency person should be redistributing his skills to this rare inflection point of engaged consumer attention (i.e., the desire to be heard). I'm not even sure brands are making basic connection between being heard and unfulfilled emotions.

    The Bureaucrat or the Concierge?

    Simple metaphors may be our best hope for figuring this out. The feedback interface that conveys the personality of hotel concierge makes you feel better. It bonds you to the brand and encourages you to ask more questions and engage at a deeper level. It validates your self-worth.

    Gerber knows bonding emotionally with moms is a big deal. To that end, it's friendly and inviting on its "contact us" page.

    Hill's got it right, but if you're struggling to get through all his nuances and specifics, you can still put emotional points on the board ASAP with your valued consumers.

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    Pete Blackshaw

    Pete Blackshaw, whose professional background encompasses public policy, interactive marketing, and brand management, is executive vice president of strategic services for Nielsen Online, a combination of Nielsen BuzzMetrics, a firm Pete helped cofound, and Nielsen//NetRatings. One of Pete's key focuses is helping brands interpret, manage, and act on consumer-generated media (CGM). A former interactive marketing leader at P&G and founder of consumer feedback portal PlanetFeedback.com, Pete cofounded the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA). He authors several blogs, including ConsumerGeneratedMedia.com, and is the author of an upcoming book from Random House, "Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3000: Running a Business in Today's Consumer-Driven World."

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