Column: What Facebook and Google should learn about emotions
August 02, 2012 | David Kincaid and Garret Taylor | Comments
Surveys tend to overlook consumers’ emotion. Don’t make the same mistake.
Would you want to steer a ship in rocky waters with one arm tied behind your back?
That’s essentially what most business and brand leaders do when they use traditional surveys to learn about consumer behaviour. These decision makers believe that the answers people provide will offer real insight into consumer behaviour that will then allow them to make business and marketing decisions.
And they’d be wrong.
Only half the equation
It is a scientific fact that emotions underlie all behaviour because they generate instinctive impulses to act. We partner with a Toronto research firm called Hotspex because we believe its work over the past six years proves that emotional impulses can explain, on average, 50% of the reasons behind consumer decision-making.
The Hotspex R&D program looked across a spectrum of 34 product and service categories and 101 brands, conducting online interviews with tens of thousands of North American consumers. And the findings prove that, without giving due diligence to how people feel, you are missing half the equation when predicting what consumers will actually do.
For example, when consumers were asked why they purchase a certain brand of car tire, their answers were unsurprising: “safe” and “long-lasting.” However, when asked to rate each brand in the competitive set against a range of attributes, they didn’t rate their choice any better than the others on their preferred attribute. The only statistically significant difference between the brand they chose and the others was that they felt that the tread of their preferred tire looked better—literally it was “groovier”.
It turns out that the real reason they bought a tire brand was not for the rational reasons of durability, safety or being long-lasting, but for the emotional reasons triggered by how it looked; the “reasons” they gave were really justifications for the underlying emotional drivers that they couldn’t articulate or understand.
This level of true insight into both the rational and emotional drivers of consumer behaviour gives business leaders and marketers competitive advantage for their brands that helps drive profitable growth.
To understand how this insight can help, just look at Facebook and Google +.
Forecasting the future
In our recent Brand Faceoff study, our company examined emotional and rational drivers to gain more insight into how the market feels about the Facebook brand. We wanted to see whether Facebook users felt that the brand could maintain its dominance, so we also explored Google+ to see if it had the potential to cut into Facebook’s market share. If any brand has a chance to overtake Facebook, Google+ would seem to be it. We also explored the Google parent brand itself for context.
Facebook users have a strong emotional bond with the brand. Using personality attributes to describe it, consumers told us about someone they adored. Someone who was inspiring and in control (a leader, influential and ambitious). A person that is an extrovert and a trailblazer, and the polar opposite of boring or predictable.
But like many extroverts, Facebook is not seen as a reliable person—a trait that our model shows fundamentally underpins trust (i.e. we trust those things in life that are consistent). This sentiment is driven by negative character traits (some consumers describe Facebook as a suspicious, dishonest, insincere, and superficial person). However, the lack of trust is not necessarily translating into a change in behaviour among users (other than complaints).
When Google+ is likened to a person, it’s seen as similar to Facebook—extroverted, in-control and youthful, but the brand’s personality is diluted and weak. Compared to Facebook, consumers are much more likely to describe a person that is a follower. Of concern is the fact that the personality profile among users and non-users looks very similar.
A lack of difference in emotional equity between users and non-users for a relatively new brand is a bad sign. It suggests that early adopters will not be advocates of the brand.
Another concern is that the Google+ “personality” doesn’t look like Google’s—which is knowledgeable, wise and influential, and in a completely different emotional space than Google+. Google’s emotional currency is not rubbing off enough on Google+.
This insight can be valuable to each brand in a number of ways. For Facebook, knowing the aspects of its brand associated with positive as well as negative consumer emotions (something most market research can’t do) enables it to proactively defend and improve those elements of its brand; knowing what brand qualities elicit the strongest positive emotion allows it to focus and emphasize them, thereby strengthening its brand position. For the Google and Google+ brands it becomes very clear that Google+ hasn’t been able to exploit the tremendous equity created by the parent brand and needs to do something quickly or it could fade into irrelevance.
These opportunities that could help drive profitable growth would remain hidden to brand owners without uncovering the emotional drivers of brands. And taking the word of traditional surveys at face value may, at best, result in sub-optimal decisions. At worst, it could lead a brand into dangerous waters.
David Kincaid is CEO and Managing Partner at Level5 Strategy Group
Garrett Taylor is Director, Marketing and Client Development at Level5 Strategy Group