How emotionally intelligent is the marketing and MR community? I recently ran a workshop on Why Emotions Matter with a large group of UK clients. One of their tasks was to come up with an elevator speech that would convince a sceptical CEO (say, Lord Sugar of Apprentice fame) of the benefits of researching emotional response to his brand or advertising. Whilst the task was accepted enthusiastically by all, when it came to the crunch no one volunteered to deliver the speech. What became clear was that few felt they had the ammunition to (metaphorically) gun down an aggressive or powerful sceptic. One (not particularly shy) lady even suggested that she wouldn’t get in the elevator at all! It seems then that the case for emotion still has yet to be made and won conclusively.
So what arguments might convince a sceptical CEO to become “emotionally intelligent” about his brand?
1. Look at the (neuro) science It’s a cliché to say that more has been learned about the brain in the last 10 years than in the previous hundred or thousand but, like most clichés, it contains a lot of truth. The ability to look into the brain (particularly via fMRI) has produced huge advances in our understanding of brain processes, and what emerges is a picture of a vast, hitherto unknown neural hinterland where decisions are made unreflectively, unconsciously and, yes, emotionally. Our emotions act independently of our conscious self, sending it messages which it turns into actions and feelings. Whilst we’re not at the mercy of our emotions, we can’t turn them off – it’s physiologically impossible – which means that every time we see an ad, a brand or a product, we feel something about it, involuntarily and unconsciously.
2. Look at ourselves. Do any of us behave rationally? We’d like to think so, but behavioural economists such as Daniel Kahneman know otherwise. It’s not that we’re irrational (in the normal sense of the word) it’s just that we’re almost incapable of consistently rational decision making – there are just too many heuristics, biases and emotions that get in the way. We used to think that the way to encourage rational decision making was to provide perfect knowledge – thereby allowing people to choose between alternatives based on the best available data. Yet even organisations such as the UK’s Financial Services Authority now accept the folly of that premise, arguing that consumers have to be protected from their own emotions.
3. Look at contemporary marketing and advertising. How many ads do you see nowadays that are made to a ‘rational persuasion’ model?. We’ve become familiar with advertising that doesn’t tell us much (or sometimes anything) about the product, yet we persistently evaluate it using a model developed in the 50s and 60s, when the the world was emerging from an era of scarcity, and technology was bringing new and differentiated products to market at a rapid rate. Nowadays many markets are so mature that product differentiation in the classic sense is no longer a viable option. How doyou differentiate a beer or a mobile phone network?. Emotional engagement.
4. Finally, look at the (business) evidence. In 2007, Binet and Field (in their book Marketing in the Era of Accountability) assessed 880 UK case studies from the IPA’s rigorous effectiveness awards scheme, concluding that, “communications models that use emotional appeal are more likely to yield strong business results than rationally based models (information and persuasion)”. They also went on to draw the startling conclusion that current conventional advertising pre-testing (which is so often based on a rational persuasion model) may even reduce effectiveness. All of which seems to add up to a compelling argument, yet the fact remains that we need much more evidence of the Binet & Field variety if the Lord Sugars of this world (and their shareholders) are to be finally won over.
Clearly we need to work a lot harder to spread the word about emotion and to give our clients the ammunition they need to fight emotional unintelligence within their organisations.