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Why Should I Care? – Emotional Engagement and Neuromarketing

As humans, we tend to believe we are mostly rational beings. Sure, sometimes we make emotional decisions, but logic will always prevail. Right?

A 2009 study by Binet and Field analyzed hundreds of marketing campaigns and the effect they had on businesses. They found that campaigns which focused more on emotions than on facts or evidence had an increased positive effect on business performance. In fact, the most effective marketing campaigns had little to no rational content at all*.

The importance of emotion over rationality is something we may not intuitively understand, because we’d often rather believe that our final choices are based on solid logic and hard facts. However, for centuries the great marketers amongst us have understood that brands need to appeal to both the hearts and minds of their customers, but most importantly their hearts. This is why some of the most successful brand slogans center around eliciting strong emotions. Nike’s “Just Do It”, arguably one of the best slogans of all time, is far more powerful and emotive than the rational benefit to “Increase your athletic performance with our shoes.” Similarly, if McDonald’s wanted to appeal to consumers using rationality and facts, their slogan would be something along the lines of “Convenient, consistent food - with a place for your kids to play” rather than “I’m lovin’ it.”

Emotional engagement isn’t just critical for increasing the appeal of your brand. It also increases the attention your brand attracts and how memorable it is *. A great example here is the Always “Like a Girl” campaign which, counterintuitively, capitalized on its consumers’ anger. The campaign was not only memorable, but fostered further engagement by encouraging women to share their stories and difficulties. This is a lot of influence for a sanitary products brand to have, and emotions are what made it happen.

Our brains process emotional information more rapidly than rational information, so we have less difficulty digesting and understanding it. We also tend to remember emotional aspects of an event with much more ease and clarity (episodic memory) than we do the factual context (semantic memory)*. For example, you probably don’t remember the specific questions you had difficulty with during your final exams in high school, but you certainly remember how you felt, where you were and who was with you when you got your marks back.

Emotional engagement is also directly proportional to the level of emotional excitement we feel, meaning the more something elicits a strong emotional response, the more likely we are to engage with it. Studies have also shown that the way emotional engagement activates the encoding processes in our brains can also predict purchase intention in customers.

So now we know how important emotional engagement is for marketing, but how do we ensure that we are eliciting the right emotional responses for our brand? People find it very difficult to interpret and self-report on their own emotional states, especially when having to do so in a reflective manner after a specific brand event or experience has occurred. This is known as self-assessment or self-evaluation bias, and here’s where neuromarketing comes in. Neuromarketing is uniquely suited to both understand and quantify your customers’ level of emotional engagement with your brand by applying neuroscientific techniques to market research.

Facial coding uses algorithms to detect facial expressions and, therefore, the specific emotions that are being experienced by people as the engage with your brand and it’s advertising. This technology can tell you exactly which parts of the experience spark the most joy, and which parts elicit negative emotions such as anger, disgust, sadness and fear. This can enable you to assess every brand touchpoint and help ensure that your customers are having positive experiences when interacting with your brand.

Galvanic skin response (GSR) is a measure of how emotionally aroused someone is. By simply placing sensors on someone’s fingers which measure the electrodermal activity on the surface of their skin, neuromarketers can understand the intensity of the emotions felt by users over a period of time. This is where emotional engagement can be further quantified, particularly when combined with facial coding – as you can understand what your customers are feeling and how strongly they are feeling it at specific moments during the brand experience.

One can even take it one step further with eye tracking. This technology tracks a user’s gaze as it moves over a product or a screen . So not only can you have insight into how your customer is feeling, but you know exactly what they are focusing on as they feel it to identify the root cause of that emotional response in real time.

This is all critical information if you want to optimize the emotional experience for your customers as they interact with your brand, drive engagement and establish a memorable emotional connection with you brand. After all, emotion is the driving force behind your customers every thought, feeling and action.


* Cerf, M. and Garcia-Garcia, M. Consumer Neuroscience (2017). MIT Press.


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