Emotional marketing, neuroscience and the evolving art of sentiment analysis

Catalina Burge - CaratIn this guest post, strategy consultant for Carat, Catalina Burge, claims that emotional marketing is here and measurable, we’re just waiting for the most effective way to measure it.

I read with great interest Alex Vishney’s recent piece on the increasing emphasis on emotional marketing and the subsequent demotion of rationality as a driver of consumer behaviour.

In it, among the strong case he makes for there still being a time and place for rational comms – a contention I definitely agree with – he raises a very interesting point: that the way we measure and use emotions within product categories may be a little ‘off the mark’.

He’s absolutely right, and that should be of concern for any marketer, especially those about to dive headfirst into their next 60-second tear-jerking TVC. Don’t get out the Kleenex just yet.

See, the challenge is not in the creating the emotion itself, it’s really in knowing whether or not you are creating the right emotion to drive your desired outcome. As Alex so rightly contends, the same emotion that is associated with ownership is not always the one most adept at driving purchase.

The prize for triggering the right emotions is certainly tempting – hefty sales, improved brand metrics and brand loyalty – but despite this, effective measurement has remained a persistent challenge.

Emotions, like the humans that have them, are unique and very difficult to predict with absolute certainty. If we as marketers are going to put so many of our eggs in the ‘emotional marketing’ basket, we could do with being a little more rational about it.

How are we measuring emotions currently? 

Market researchers have come a long way in their quest for the Holy Grail of emotional measurement.

These days, we are increasingly analysing behaviour rather than stated reactions, and use techniques such as implicit research to gain deeper consumer insights without relying solely on verbalised responses.

Most recently, neuroscience techniques have emerged as the most effective way to avoid the impact of ‘claimed behaviour’, giving way to the concept of neuromarketing.

Neuromarketing sounded promising with its advanced technology and a promise to go inside the brain, so both the global research powerhouses and a swathe of niche start-ups have been working in recent years on the application of neuroscience to marketing.

As Alex touched on, electroencephalogram tests (EEG) capture the levels of electrical activity in different parts of the brain to help determine whether an ad captures attention, which aspects are most effective and, in particular, whether the ad is emotionally engaging, and in what way.

The same approach has been applied to packaging and other marketing communications and mediums.

Take everything with a pinch of salt.

So has neuromarketing made progress? Yes. As we now understand more about how the brain reacts, its levels of engagement and which areas are involved in processing advertising and marketing. Has it gained as much traction as some initially anticipated? Not really, because even this advanced technique remains imprecise and ambiguous when trying to measure emotions.

The main reason, as neuroscientist Molly Crockett points out in her TED Talk ‘Beware neuro-bunk’, is that we need to be rigorous and careful with the way we measure brain activity.

A study can conclude that we love a brand because we recorded activation of the Insular Cortex (a part of the brain linked to love and compassion) but activation of this part of the brain can also trigger a wide range of other emotions like anger or even disgust or pain. Our brain is anything but simple, so we shouldn’t expect simple answers.

Going one step further 

While researchers have been busy trying to apply neuroscience to marketing, social media has exploded, providing a new and different source of insight to aid our understanding of how consumers engage with brands, in the form of social listening (sentiment analysis).

The difficulty with sentiment analysis, however, is that it only measures positive vsersus negative sentiment and hasn’t yet explored deeper, more complex emotions such as love, hate or desire.

At least, not until now.

A new approach to sentiment analysis recently came to light with the announcement that Disney Finds Emotion the Next Metric for Advertising. Walt Disney, a company with decades of experience in marketing emotions, is searching for a new metric to measure emotional response via their innovation incubator, Disney Accelerator.

This new approach suggests that emotions are now “communicated through clicks on search ads, movie titles queried, colours in images and videos uploaded to Facebook and Instagram, music downloaded from iTunes and products bought, but clicks don’t measure engagement in an increasingly social world filled with content”.

Disney-funded start-up, Decisive, has gone a step further and begun exploring the realms of artificial intelligence (AI) to analyse real-time data in images and video in order to predict emotional responses on social platforms with the intention of launching the technology in the next few months.

This AI-based approach involves employing predictive analytics to discover what content your fans will be sharing and why – a promising breakthrough immediately applicable to current marketing and media management.

Does this mean that media and social media agencies will soon be incorporating AI and predictive analytics as their next significant data analytics tools? Yes, and probably sooner than we expect.

The ability to optimise social media content based on individual emotions, and drive content development based on emotional effectiveness could be a major step forward.

Marketing and communications management, media buying and planning would all finally begin to measure and manage emotional responses with the speed and efficiency necessary to enable widespread adoption.

Watch this space!


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