As researchers, we often hear clients bemoaning how they should be winning, but aren’t for some reason.

  • “On paper we have the better product, but we’re not gaining any share”
  • “Our new ads continue to test well, but we’re not seeing any growth”
  • “Our recent new product launch just didn’t get the results we expected”

In other words, clients believe that customers are behaving irrationally. And they’re correct…customers are behavingthinking-fast-and-slow-daniel-kahneman irrationally, or more precisely, emotionally. Furthermore, customers can’t help it. None of us can…it’s how we’re wired.

In his best-selling book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman explains the dichotomy between two modes of thought: “System 1” is fast, instinctive and emotional; “System 2” is slower, more deliberate, and more logical. The book delineates cognitive biases associated with each type of thinking and summarizes how people place too much confidence in “System 2” thinking. In fact, neuroscientists have proven that much more of our cognitive activity, over 75 percent, is “System 1” thinking – or perhaps, more precisely, feeling.

Like the automatic settings on a camera, emotions produce behavior that is adaptive, and without the need for conscious thought about what to do.  We are biologically hardwired to have emotions, which impact every decision we make. This is the type of thinking progressive marketers are trying to tap into.

Emotions Drive Customer Experience

For those of us interested in understanding customer behavior, the assertions above give rise to several related implications:

  • Thinking is never emotion free. How customers feel about a product (that car frustrates me) affects how they think about a product (that car will never have the performance I crave).
  • Emotions often explain the ‘why’ behind customer behaviors. How customers feel about a brand (I feel that brand belittles my self-worth or I feel that brand makes me feel lively) often determines whether they purchase that brand.
  • Most customer experience is in System 1, consisting of fast, subconscious, emotional decisions.

In short, we simply cannot understand customer behavior without understanding how emotions influence behaviors. Why customers make specific decisions, why they choose not to act – cannot be explained without knowing the underlying emotions at work. Without that knowledge, it is difficult to effectively motivate customers to behave differently.

Great CEOs understand this. In fact, their empathy for customer emotions andiBook on iPad 2 the customer experience have led to some of the greatest company successes of the 21st century. Steve Jobs spoke about how technology fits into Apple products:

“One of the things I’ve always found is that you’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to technology. As human beings, our first relationship with anything is an emotional one. …a device isn’t just a sum of its functions; it’s something that should make you smile, you should cradle, you should love, you should have an emotional relationship with. If people think that’s pretentious, then, in a sense, the success of Apple proves how wrong they are.”

Likewise, Howard Schultz turned Starbucks around based upon having a “Laser Focus on the Customer Experience.” When he was re-appointed as CEO, he wrote a memo discussing the underlying issues of the Starbucks’ customer experience.

  • New espresso machines are too tall, automated
  • Coffee aroma lost by bagging and burnt sandwiches
  • Merchandizing is sterile and boring

“Starbucks coffee is exceptional, yes, but emotional connection is our true value proposition.  This is a subtle concept, often too subtle for many business people to replicate or cynics to appreciate. There are companies that operate huge global networks of retail stores, like us.  Others distribute their products on grocery shelves all over the world, like us.  And a few do an extraordinary job of building emotional connections with their customers, as we have learned to do.”

Customers’ emotional experience drove the turnaround strategy at Starbucks.schultz-graph

The Big Prize – Understanding Customer Emotions

If we want to understand human behavior in any specific context—say, customer behavior—what can we do? Can market research replace the intuition of CEOs and senior managers? Can customer emotions be measured and quantified? Could Shultz’s or Jobs’ insights be derived using market research methods?

As marketers, we need a pathway to understand the emotions that are not at the forefront of our consciousness, but which we can appreciate once we become aware of them. There are multiple solutions for getting to this non-conscious level.  Some utilize physiological methods, others are based upon psychological techniques, each with its own set of strengths, weaknesses and applications.

If you’d like to learn more about the various tools for accessing customers’ subconscious/emotional motivators, please look for our next installment in The Martec Group’s Emotional Intelligence series that will expound upon specific analyses enabling companies to better connect with their most loyal customers on an emotional, or subconscious, basis and drive both revenue and profit growth.

For more information on Emotion Mining™, please download our overview of “What Really Moves Us.”

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