Emory Marketing Institute

FORUM: Emotion Mining - Capturing, Understanding, and Leveraging the Emotions Underpinning Brand Behavior
by Greg Thomas

Deep Diving into Emotions

Wouldn't it be great if you could really understand your customers? Reach deep down into their psyche and latch onto the right emotional buttons to trigger their buying decisions? Better yet, reach down there and test their reactions to the brand you are putting on the table, your latest promotion, your customer service, or even the new layout of your store. It's not as far-fetched as it sounds.

In fact, Liam Fahey and Dr. Tom Snyder of Emotion Mining Company are already doing it.

They described their methodology at a Forum sponsored by The Institute of Brand Science at Emory University.

Fahey, an adjunct professor of Strategic Management at Babson College, is Executive Director of Emotion Mining Company. He previously taught at Northwestern and Boston universities. Dr. Snyder, the founder of the company, is a psychiatrist and neuroscientist with MD and PhD degrees from Stanford University. He invented "Emotion Mining" to measure emotions and prioritize the "(subconscious) heart of the matter" in work with his therapeutic clients.

Brands Stimulate Emotions and Emotions Stimulate Brand Behavior

In 1989, when it became evident to Snyder that his methodology could reliably identify how to motivate and inspire new interest and new behavior based on uncovering unappreciated but recognizable feelings and thoughts, he began to consult with major corporations. The results, especially those derived from understanding both customers and employees, provide critical input in determining marketing strategies, advertising programs, and sales approaches.

Fahey joined Snyder to develop a web-based implementation of the methodology to capture emotional responses. The Result? "Emotion Mining" - a versatile research, communication and decision-making system that can be employed to capture and analyze emotional responses to any facet of a brand, including name, icon, attribute, functionality, experience, service, quality, ideal, etc.

Going Beyond the Focus Group

Focus groups have traditionally been used in marketing to explore consumer attitudes. However, focus groups have limitations. Typically people cannot tell you the nuances of the emotions they are feeling, either due to inhibitions in an open setting or simply their inability to adequately describe things or even know what they truly feel.

Emotion Mining uses a different approach; it uncovers hidden - unappreciated but recognizable - subconscious emotions and motivations. Remember Freud's iceberg from Psychology 101? Our most intense feelings are buried deep beneath the surface. With simple training, subjects can identify and explain these feelings through a set of self-expression steps on their computer screen. The data gathering method only requires the subject to relax and play, and draw and type in a freeform manner.

"All of us know that brands go to the heart of building value for the customer," says Fahey. "Think of all the major issues concerning brands. The question of emotions always comes into play. What has been needed is a sensitive, rigorous and reliable discipline to plumb emotions."

"What happens if we don't understand the emotional context of a brand? What investments might be in peril?" asks Fahey. "We find that companies are largely unaware of the depth and strength of the emotions customers feel about brands - both positive and negative. Do you think this gets the attention of the management team?"

"Surveys, in-depth interviews, and focus groups only take us so far," says Snyder. "These methods are suitable until we run into something like 'I think it, but I won't say it' or 'I sense it, but I can't articulate it'. Emotion Mining overcomes these limitations by providing a way around interpersonal and personality biases, and thus is able to obtain the "heart of the matter".

Emotion Mining: Amassing Customer Perceptions Above and Below the Surface

Emotion Mining uses a specially designed "sonargram" to plot the breadth and depth of conscious and subconscious feelings towards a brand or concept. On the right side of the diagram, positive emotions are plotted; the left side plots negative emotions. Externally focused emotions are on the top half, and internally focused are on the bottom. Once all emotional results are plotted on the diagram, the result is a profile of the customer's emotional feelings about a brand or concept - in fact, why and how to motivate and inspire new interest and new behavior. This information can be used to build emotional "bridges" between customer needs and experiences, and the products developed by a company with its own definable image.

Emotion Mining Sonargram: High Level View


Whole Emotional Understanding: The Golden Fleece

Through Emotion Mining, a marketer not only gains the ability to better understand brands, but also the ability to (1) discern unmet customer needs through deconstructing the customer experience; (2) explain product/service failures, deficiencies, and vulnerabilities - as well as successes, strengths, and advantages - in customer language; and (3) prioritize the emotional, rational, and social aspects of a brand to guide external and internal marketing investments. Sensitive emotion benchmarks can be established to continually improve and inspire brand positioning, product enhancement, and service delivery.

The Business Framework

For example, Emotion Mining can aid the sales process by showing what specific emotions are "in play" on both sides of the table. Customers and employees experience different emotions. When employees exhibit a stronger emotional competency in dealing with clients, they greatly improve their productivity. Snyder and Fahey believe that organizations have much to gain in developing an integrated understanding of customer and employee emotions. Interrelated outcomes can be expected on many fronts, including: dramatically improved customer experience, increased sales, enhanced employee job satisfaction, reduced employee turnover, and lowered employee training and development costs.

It is no small feat to uncover and unravel the complexity of emotions that a single customer experiences during a brand experience. Through use of such clarified emotional reference points, brand managers can focus on the gaps in the delivery of brand experience, and use these insights to create new customer value and enhanced financial returns.


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