What Marketers Can Learn by Stealing a Consumer's Diary

Marketers Need to Pay Attention to the Emotional Connection of Brands

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Without knowing it, Stephanie Barron may have offered marketers one of the most important ideas of the last 10 years. "I never feel that I have comprehended an emotion, or fully lived even the smallest events, until I have reflected upon it in my journal," she wrote.

Emotions play an enormous role in how we, as consumers, operate. Emotions drive our decisions, trigger our actions, and direct our beliefs. The emotion a brand or a product or a campaign evokes in a consumer directly contributes to its market success, or failure. Marketers understand this and have invested mountains of resources into the collection, analysis, and study of human emotion. Agencies need only look to the amount of money they've spent on focus groups and consumer one-on-ones as proof.

Which brings us to the wisdom of Ms. Barron. The act of writing has been shown to expertly clarify and present human emotion. What this means for marketers is that they are surrounded by a rich, raw, candid, and -- for the most part -- free source of human emotion: the ceaseless streams of social media conversation whirling around them. In a sense, consumers are opening their diaries to marketers through every update, Tweet, and post.

At Draftfcb, we measured human emotion expressed through the written word by collecting consumer conversations conducted over Twitter, Facebook, BlackBerry's BBM platform, blog posts, and chat rooms, among others. With this data in hand, we placed a framework of emotion over these conversations to evaluate which emotions are expressed, how frequently, and the strength of them. The framework we used was based on research conducted by a leading expert in human emotion, W. Gerrod Parrott of Georgetown University. In his model of human feelings Parrott details six primary emotions: Anger, Love, Sorrow, Joy, Fear, and Surprise.

Through an analysis of several key consumer product categories, we have learned answers to critical marketing questions, including: What do consumers really feel about brands? What emotions should we as advertisers use to draw consumers to brands? Which product categories bring consumers the most joy, which create the most anxiety, and which evoke the most anger? The results may be somewhat surprising.

For instance, the most evocative product category in the conversations we tracked was beer, with nearly 44% of the social media posts, tweets, and updates that included an emotion. The least evocative was frozen pizza, which showed up about once every 33 times a consumer made an emotional comment about a brand.

The financial institution product category evoked the most consumer ire, where utterances of "Anger" were found more frequently than any other product category we watched, and by a wide margin. Quick service restaurants were the most sorrowful product category for consumers. But consider that the primary emotion "Sorrow" as defined by Parrott includes the sub-emotions "disappointment" and feelings of neglect.

And the product category that has been winning the battle for consumers' hearts appears to be telecommunications. Consumers heap glowing praise on Apple, Blackberry, HTC and others in this category more frequently than brands in other categories. This is perhaps not too surprising when one considers the marvelous technological advances brought to consumers by devices these companies manufacture. It seems that I am not the only consumer who would admit to loving their mobile phone.

Using a technique we call "PassionPeaks," we can assess the "Prevalence" (i.e., frequently) and "Relevance" (i.e., intensity) of primary emotions in consumer conversation. Through this analysis, we have earned interesting insights by observing consumer reaction to brands in general.

For example, we saw "Anger" expressed infrequently in the conversations we tracked, appearing almost half as frequently as "Joy". That's good news for brands trying to deflect consumer frustrations from themselves. But "Anger" was, however, the emotion expressed most passionately by consumers. So while consumers weren't often angered by brands, they certainly did unload some strong emotions when they were mad.

Perhaps the most unfortunate news for brands over that last year was the lack of the emotion "Surprise" in the consumer conversation. Logging in as a distant sixth place, the dearth of "Surprise" clearly indicates that few brands have mastered the art of building anticipation into their consumer relationships.

By better understanding consumer emotions, brands can better design programs that attract and retain consumers. By examining emotion in social media discussions marketers not only earn accurate portrayals of consumer sentiment, they do so in ways that are extraordinarily efficient. Social media offers marketers a truly guilt-free peak at consumers' diaries.

Kevin Hartman leads the strategic analytics practice at Draftfcb. He and his team are responsible for using data to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of clients' marketing programs and advertising campaigns.
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