Building Emotional Connections With Research

The most compelling brands connect with consumers at an emotional level. Their benefits are often experiential, emotional or self-expressive. Certain types of research can help marketers understand which benefits will have the greatest emotional impact.

Following are some of the types of research that one could use to identify these sources of emotional connection:

Laddering – this helps one understand the following links: product or service features and attributes → functional benefits → emotional benefits → underlying consumer attitudes and values →  self-image → self esteem (“I feel good about myself.”). The researcher leads the research participant from brand or product features and attributes to self-esteem through a series of “why” questions. The most powerful levels at which to communicate with the consumer are at the emotional benefit, attitudes/values and self-image levels.

Projective techniques – these help the marketer uncover brand associations that the average person cannot or will not articulate unless asked indirectly. Typical projective techniques include:

o    Sorting (into two piles: “This is the brand,” and “This isn’t the brand” or “This is the brand’s consumer” and “This isn’t the brand’s consumer”) – can be done with the products themselves, images, colors, flavors, textures, sounds, etc.
o    Analogies, including “If the brand were an animal, what kind of animal would it be and why?” or “If the brand were a car, what kind of car would it be and why?”
o    Word association, warming people up with “up” (“down”), “hot” (“cold”), man (“woman”), etc. but quickly moving to the brand in question and each of its competitors
o    Collages – have people create collages telling a story about the brand, perhaps about their most memorable experience with the brand, their first experience with the brand or their most recent experience with the brand
o    Thought balloons – have people fill in the word and thought balloons in cartoon frames in which people are talking about or experiencing the brand
o    Storytelling – have people tell a story about the brand or have them act out a story about the brand
o    Convincing a friend – ask people how they would convince a friend to purchase and use the brand
o    Consumer letters – for this technique, you create a variety of fictitious (or use real) consumer correspondence regarding the company’s brand and its products and services. Each letter or e-mail or telephone message might focus on a different consumer need, hope, anxiety, fear, etc. You share the correspondence with the research participants to determine which ones resonate with them and which ones don’t. An important part of any projective research technique is to probe the respondent to explain why he or she said or chose what he or she did.

Guided imagery – this very powerful technique requires people to relax, close their eyes and be guided in an imagining exercise with you. It allows them to see, touch, taste, smell and hear things that they otherwise couldn’t. By guiding them along the way, you can get them to imagine an ideal product/service purchase or usage experience. When they are done imagining, they are instructed to open their eyes and write down everything they experienced. Once they have done this, they discuss it with the group.

Inundation / deprivation testing – in this research, you require very heavy product users to cease using the product for a period of time (through several usage cycles) and to document their thoughts, feelings and actions/behaviors during this process. Similarly, you ask non-users to use the product heavily during the same period of time (through several usage cycles) and to document their thoughts, feelings and actions/behaviors during this process. At the end of the test, you debrief each person about his or her thoughts, feelings and behaviors during the process.

There are other techniques that distract people or get them in angry or very light hearted moods so that their normal “filters” are down and they can be more honest with themselves and the researcher.

While people typically cite functional reasons for their purchases, study after study has shown that most purchase decisions are based on emotions. This is why it is so important to understand people’s underlying emotional structures, not only to better position the brand based on emotional, experiential or self-expressive benefits, but also to establish long-term emotional connection and loyalty to the brand.

Political strategists and researchers have long known that it is far more effective to connect with voters on a values level than on an issues level. Some of the strongest brands either:

–    Serve as self-expression vehicles for consumers (“This brand demonstrates that I am smart, frugal, wealthy, powerful, attractive, environmentally conscious, a good mother, a good husband, of refined taste, a non-conformist, etc.”) or
–    Stand for something very important to consumers (freedom, independence, creativity, compassion, etc.).

To be truly successful in today’s competitive environment, it is not enough for a brand to claim only functional benefits, no matter how unique. It must also connect with people on an emotional level. These types of research can inform a marketer on how to best create that emotional connection between his or her brand and its target audiences.

Here’s more on building emotional connections.

The Blake Project Can HelpThe Emotional Connection Workshop

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One comment

  • Calvin Bacon

    February 24, 2010 at 4:33 pm

    Wow, a clear message why linking emotions to buyer behavior is so important. I hope you will give us some postings that explain how to react to the specific research.

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