Face It: Emotion Should Be Measured, Harnessed, Says Consultant

With the artillery of consumer research, data and analysis methods available today, those not professionally engaged in the battle might be excused for wondering how any marketing or advertising campaign can end up falling on its face.

The answer, according to Dan Hill, is quite literally too little attention to the face and what it reveals.

Hill is president of Sensory Logic, a 10-year-old consultancy that employs facial coding research to help marketers read consumers' true reactions and fashion their branding strategies, messages and ads accordingly.

The specifics of facial coding--scientifically based systems that use minute observation by trained individuals to categorize humans' largely involuntary, emotion-triggered expressions--are complex. The underlying dynamics have to do with new understanding of the brain and decision-making processes, and how these are reflected in expressions.

Basically, the face (the only area of the body where muscles are attached directly to the skin) instantaneously registers core emotions that have been hard-wired into our psyches through adaptive advantage.



But the core point is simple: We make our decisions emotionally, then justify them rationally.

"In an age of commoditization, you're fighting with one hand tied behind your back if you rely on rationality alone" in marketing, maintains Hill, who's on tour promoting his latest book, Emotionomics: Winning Hearts and Minds.

Appealing to emotions is hardly a groundbreaking concept. But Hill argues that objectively measuring and strategically leveraging the core emotions revealed by facial expressions (fear, surprise, anger, disgust, sadness, contempt and happiness) is the underused key to breaking through ad clutter and rampant consumer skepticism to achieve sustainable brand differentiation and loyalty.

Whereas responses elicited through surveys and focus groups can be colored by rationalization, unnatural settings, group dynamics and other factors, facial expressions provide a critical glimpse into the true emotional response, according to Hill. Indeed, facial expressions often conflict with a person's verbal/rational description of his or her reaction to an ad or other stimulus.

Today's marketers are of course much more aware of the power of emotions than their forbears, yet far too many companies still insist on trying to win consumers over with rational explanations of products' utilitarian benefits or manufacturing standards, Hill contends.

"Rationality and being 'on message' are fine, but it's more important to be 'on emotion,'" he said in an interview with Marketing Daily. "Trust, believability, relevance--all of the motivators behind our decisions, including our purchasing decisions--are all emotion-based. As Daniel Goleman made clear in Emotional Intelligence, you have to go to the nonverbal to really reach people and affect their behavior."

Companies need to identify which emotions and core motivations (such as defending, learning, bonding and acquiring) are appropriately associated with their products or services and understand why and how these should work within a strategic framework, according to Hill, whose clients have included Target, Toyota, GlaxoSmithKline, Allstate and Kellogg.

Hill points to Michelin's now-iconic use of visceral, gut-grabbing images like a baby playing in a tire and its simple, hugely compelling message of just how much is "riding on your tires" as a "brilliant" example of using emotion strategically.

"They use all the right elements--the appeal to the core motivation of defending your family, the emotion of guilt--Michelin pretty much 'owns' guilt in this category--and personalization of the product," he says. (Hill reports he's now working with a competitor looking to carve out its own emotional-appeal territory.)

Successful efforts that have tapped Sensory Logic include Sprint Nextel's TV spot featuring a traveler detained in customs desperately wishing he had his NexTel to reach his lawyer, and the Nationwide Insurance spot showing a couple's cars colliding as they simultaneously back out of their driveway in their rush to work (with a happy ending, courtesy of their Nationwide coverage).

Next story loading loading..