How emotions drive purchase decisionsRecent research reveals new information about the wide range of emotions the human brain (or heart, if you will) is capable of processing and expressing. (And if you’ve ever seen the animated Disney movie Inside Out, you’ve been reminded of just how different they are, in terms of motivation, intensity and expression.) As much as our intellects drive our ability to process information, our emotional triggers and responses are equally — if not more — capable predictors of how we will act or react to events presented to us.

A purchasing decision is just such an event.

While brands are often tempted to make the intellectual case for their products or services (over a competitor’s, say), they often miss the true driving motivation behind most decisions to buy — emotion. And even those brands and marketers who recognize the powerful impact emotions have on the customer journey…many of these wily marketers still run the risk of crafting a marketing message or customer experience that is misaligned with that individual’s true and nuanced emotional state. Or, to put a finer point on it, the individual’s desired emotional state.

Mapping Message to Motivator

I recently gave a talk at the 2019 Annual Conference of the Automotive Communications Council on the topic of “How Emotions Drive Customer Behavior,” during which I shared some of the science behind the art of crafting stories and experiences that align with the emotional drivers and states of customers. And while the talk was specifically geared toward brands in the automotive aftermarket, the theories and takeaways are universal — as universal as the emotions we as humans feel despite our industry, demography, geography, etc.

I illustrated for the group that simply knowing the various and distinct emotions we all experience as humans — and how those emotions influence our desire to buy a product or service — is not enough. Real value comes from understanding and applying the underlying science behind those emotions, harnessing emotions as a facilitator of customer engagement, and t ultimately maximizing customer loyalty and magnetism.

And it all starts with a map.

Yes, science now tells us there are many more emotions than previously thought. But we’ve long understood the complexity involved with categorizing human emotions, even when science believed there were far fewer truly distinct emotions.

You see, emotions aren’t just buckets that you can distinctly separate and categorize. There are gradients, for example, and there are categorical overlaps that need to be understood in order to be leveraged. We’ll dive deeper into this emotion mapping in a future piece, but for now, let’s break it down this way for illustrative purposes…

At a high level, emotions can be broken into two broad categories: pleasant and unpleasant. Obviously, pleasant emotions are reactions to things we like, unpleasant to things we don’t like. Simple enough.

But within each of these broad categories are two primary sub-categories: inward and outward. Simply stated, an inward emotion is one that is reflective of something happening or occurring within oneself, while an outward emotion is one processing some sort of externality. In the unpleasant category, for example, an unpleasant inward emotion might be the disappointment and shame I’m feeling because of recent weight gain. An unpleasant outward emotion might be disappointment and anger that my favorite team just lost the big game by giving up a last-minute field goal. It was an external (to me) event, but it still evoked unpleasant emotions.

Still simple enough, but it starts to get more complex from there.

Both the inward and outward subcategories have secondary subcategories of their own. Each can be further characterized according to whether the emotion is passive or active. So, for example, sticking with the unpleasant inward emotion channel for a moment, my inward unpleasant emotion relative to my recent weight gain can either be one of sorrow (passive) or one of actual discomfort (active). Or, in the example of the field goal given up, my outward unpleasant emotion might be dread (passive) or it might be a feeling of contempt (active) that my home team ruined another Sunday afternoon for me.

One more nuance. Each of those four secondary subcategories (sorrow, discomfort, dread and contempt) has four levels of intensity associated with them (with anger and contempt being far more intense than disinterest, say) as illustrated below:

How Emotions Drive Purchasing Decisions unpleasant emotion landscape

And so do the four secondary subcategories on the pleasant side of the emotional equation (in this case, loyalty being a more intense emotional state than mere interest):

How Emotions Drive Purchasing Decisions pleasant emotion landscape

So while science is finding new ways to identify emotions, what’s equally important is finding the correct ways to classify them according to intensity. This gives us a very sophisticated way to precisely map emotional conditions and understand the motivators (and de-motivators) that exist in every precise emotional state. This is perhaps most powerful when used to assess the emotional state when a purchasing decision is being made — or not being made!

How Emotions Drive Purchasing Decisions emotion intelligence chart emotion landscape

Think about it the next time you hear a marketer or brand representative say something like, “We want our customers to feel good about working with us,” or, “Our job is to make the customer happy,” or, “Our clients love us!”

It’s not that these aren’t worthwhile pursuits…they are. It’s just that they don’t even begin to tell or capture the whole story, the true picture, or the actual science behind what makes them want to become your customer…and what makes them want to remain your customer.

So What’s Wrong with Guessing?

Too much money is invested, far to many resources are deployed, and way too many treasures are at stake to play hunches and guessing games. Yet many rely on good-faith guessing when it comes to crafting marketing messages or creating customer experiences designed to win and retain clientele.

Worse, others play “follow the leader.” They mimic industry stalwarts rather than trying to find ways to differentiate. One figures there’s little risk in copying what’s working for “the big boys and girls,” so what’s the harm? This is also potentially a fool’s errand, as evidenced by something I presented to the automotive aftermarket.

For the sake of clarity, focus only on the green bar in the graph below:

How Emotions Drive Purchasing Decisions

That green bar represents Amazon. Notice how customers expressed their emotions under various shopping scenarios. Amazon is the clear leader when it comes to providing “joy” for customers shopping for automotive aftermarket products. No surprise – this is the company that invented the notion of “delivering happiness,” after all. One can safely surmise that low prices, hassle-free doorstep delivery, and painless returns elicit emotions associated with joy for the customer.

But when it comes to customers wanting and experiencing “serenity,” Amazon is far outpaced by brick-and-mortar retailers such as AutoZone, NAPA and Advance Auto Parts. Why? Likely because these customers need a feeling of peace and confidence that they are buying the right part or product for their automobiles, and they need an expert in-store to provide that personalized attention and expertise. Amazon can’t do that, but they can provide ease, convenience and low prices…to customers looking for joy!

Likewise, these brick-and-mortar retailers shouldn’t be competing with Amazon on the battleground of joy. They’ll never win it. But what they certainly must do is provide a customer experience built around helpful associates, authoritative expertise, earnest guidance and friendly concierge. And, in fact, they do! (Where do you think “NAPA Know-How” came from?)

Get the Feeling?

It’s not enough to simply “appeal to emotions” when trying to attract customers and foster loyalty. You need to understand them. You need to map them to behaviors and motivators. And you need to make sure you’re aligning your mission and messaging with that of the customer’s desired emotion channel.

To do anything less is leaving business on the table, and leaving customers behind for your competitors to lure away!

If you’d like a copy of the full presentation I shared with the Automotive Communications Council, please feel free to email me and I’ll be sure to send it to you directly. For further information about how we analyze and harness emotions for brands, marketers and market researchers, I invite you to look into the Martec Emotion Score. The MES gives emotions numerical values in order to differentiate between pleasant and unpleasant emotions, in addition to understanding their intensity as it relates to brand interaction. It’s a powerful method for connecting emotions to the rational drivers (features & benefits) marketers have been measuring for many years.

In the meantime, look out for a deeper dive into this topic of Emotion Channels in the near future. If you have any questions you’d like answered sooner, contact us directly!

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