What IS All This Talk About Emotion?

Over the past couple of months I have seen several posts and articles that have designated or referred to 2016 as “The Year of Emotion.” As a marketing researcher with over 20 years experience in customer service, customer experience, and brand development and maintenance, I am astounded that emotion is just now receiving the focus it has deserved since marketing began. Why is emotion important? There are several answers out there, but to me, none seems complete. Here is why.

On December 15 of last year, Bruce Tempkin, whom I admire tremendously and follow on social media consistently, coined the phrase and declared 2016 as “The Year of Emotion”. He stated one of the reasons that emotion is important is that, “research shows that emotion is the component of customer experience that has the largest impact on loyalty” and continues with, “but it is also the area where companies are least adept and often seemingly ignore.” He certainly won’t get any argument from me there. I’ve been preaching that for years.

He also noted that “over the past few years, neuroscience and behavioral science research has begun to fuel new techniques for affecting human emotions.” I began that work many years ago as a graduate student, conducting studies on “interestingness” and its effect on memory, using the work of D. Berlyne and S. Hidi as the basis for my research. Based on my research findings, I realized then that emotion has a strong impact on what we remember and that interestingness is simply an umbrella term for ‘emotion evoking.’ Taking that one step further, I learned that if a company can tap into emotion strongly enough, the brand becomes the product; for example, Klennex rather than tissue, or in the South, Coke, which is used in many areas as synonymous for any cold drink. When that occurs, the brand takes on a persona of its own; it develops its own personality.

Now let’s move forward a bit. What is loyalty? It is an emotion. But what must a company do to provoke and promote it? The answer lies in a quantitative research finding that I discovered years ago. When a customer has an issue and that issue is resolved successfully, the person is more likely to remain a loyal customer, even over and above those who never experienced an issue. Why? Because of EMOTION, darn it! It’s all about delighting a customer and evoking EMOTION! That emotion gets linked to the brand and that is what causes a brand to become more than just the place where you make a deposit or buy your groceries. You LIKE the brand, just as you like certain people, because of its ‘personality.’ Just as we are loyal to those we care about, we are loyal to the brands we care about. Why? Because caring is an emotion.

So, knowing this, how do we use it? There are lots of methods, both qualitative and quantitative, out there for measuring and/or reporting on loyalty, and some that purport to measure emotion. I have yet to see one, however, that can pinpoint emotion to the degree needed to accurately develop concise messaging, branding, or customer service/experience emotions to the degree needed to truly be successful. The key to doing this is in combining the two research methods.

Using personalized interviews, in the past I have used qualitative research to uncover emotions and desires associated with a specific industry, brand or message, then developed quantitative testing based on those findings to pinpoint needed staff behavioral changes, messaging options, segments, etc. This methodology has allowed me great success in understanding customers’ needs, both emotional and rational, as well as who the primary target audience would be for specific actions and messages. Because I have spent so many years doing this work, I find it quite interesting that there is suddenly all this fuss about emotion. I guess I should have spent less time designing studies and digging into data sets, and spent more time seeing what others were up to.

So, to answer the question, “Why is emotion important?” It is important because emotion is in the Mind of the Customer™. It forms links in the mind to a specific brand or company and engenders loyalty, which in turn promotes larger share of wallet, referrals, higher customer experience ratings, and both organic and inorganic growth. It is important because of words like ‘caring, personality, and loyalty. It is important because from our earliest years, it is what drives us all.

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