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Emotions vs Emotional Benefits In Marketing

By Dr. Glenn Livingston In the past few years, we have spent a great deal of time discussing the difficulty in assessing emotional benefits in marketing. We have discussed obstacles such as: Social Desirability Bias – the fact that respondents prefer not to reveal certain emotional motives to interviewers, and sometimes even to themselves. Rational Purchasing Consciousness – the fact that respondents prefer to believe that they make decisions based upon purely objective and observable criteria about the product or service at hand. Emotional motivation threatens this belief system. (Indeed, this is why so many people say that advertising doesn’t effect them, despite the industry’s willingness to spend billions each year) Fear of “Hidden Persuaders” - many respondents fear that if we really knew what made them tick, we would take advantage of them and sell them things they don’t really need. The Presence of Emotional Motivation Beyond Conscious Awareness – because of all of the above, emotional motivation usually operates below the surface, beyond the ability of respondents to easily access and articulate. These obstacles hold true even more so for respondents in medical marketing research and Business to Business, where the professional position held by the decision maker (physicians, purchasing dept. executive, etc). And we have been encouraging the use of projective techniques to overcome these obstacles. In fact, I could say that it has been our personal mission to demystify Projective Techniques, both qualitative and quantitative (Please see our LONG list of articles on these topics under the ‘Projectives’ heading at for more info). Notwithstanding the above, several of our students have pointed out to us that there is something vital missing from our discourse. In fact, in a recent course, someone raised their hand and asked me quite a critical question (note – I’m a clinical psychologist by training): “Glenn, we’ve spent this whole week learning how to assess emotional benefits in marketing, and it’s wonderful that we can get at them with projectives despite all the problems in assessment, but what I still don’t understand is, exactly HOW DO emotional benefits wield their influence? Because, this is really a mystery to me and many of my clients, and not everyone in marketing believes in spending so much time trying to assess emotional motivation. I have many clients in fact who balk at the mere mention of projectives – and I think I need to be able to show them the concrete pathway by which emotions affect purchase and branding” This essay is aimed at answering that question. First, let’s address a large part of the reason for the mechanism remaining shrouded in mystery ... confusion over the definition of an emotional benefit itself. You see there is a SHARP distinction between an “Emotional Benefit” and an “Emotion” proper. An ‘Emotion’ is best defined as a state of physiological arousal to which a cognitive label is attached. There are four core ‘emotions’ (“Mad”, “Glad”, “Scared”, & “Sad”). At an even simpler level, we either feel ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Of course, there are various gradations, combinations, time-displacements, and shades of grey regarding all of the above (thus we can say we feel “disappointed” … which means we were expecting to feel ‘Glad’ but found ourselves feeling one of the other three core emotions). But knowing how our brand or brand activity (concepts, advertising, names, taglines, etc) makes someone ‘feel’ is only minimally useful. Yes we definitely want to know, does our new commercial make people feel ‘Glad’ or ‘Sad’ … but that is ONLY a measure of valence, it does little or nothing to lend direction to our creative efforts. It tells us nothing about how to set the mood and tone for our advertising, or even necessarily how to FIX any bad feelings which emerge. Rather, it is instead the “Emotional Benefit” statement and NOT the “Emotion” which is most informative, motivating, and useful for brand development. An emotional benefit, rather than being a physiological state of arousal with a simple label, is an often rather complex, POSITIVE, cognitive statement which our respondent is able to make about themselves DUE TO their use, display, and attachment to our brand and

its features. More succinctly, an emotional benefit is nothing more than “Something nice I can say about myself because I use your product or service”. (For a much more detailed essay with examples and categories of emotional benefits, please see The critical differences between emotions and emotional benefits are:

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Emotional benefits are entirely cognitive, whereas Emotions include a state of physiological arousal. Emotional benefits are specifically attached to brands, their particular features, and advertising. In contrast, Emotions are more diffuse human physiological reactions with a limited set of simple labels. Emotional benefits relate directly and powerfully to enduring self-concept. Emotions are more closely associated with temporary and instinctual physiological reactions.

It is this last distinction which is most important, and most closely identifies the reason that emotional benefits are so vital to branding. What we’re after in emotional marketing research is a manner in which we can link our brand to our target’s enduring self-concept. We want a LIFETIME RELATIONSHIP with our target, and this is only possible if we understand the core values and principles which they use to define them. A vital brand has a "relationship" with loyal users not unlike a healthy relationship between two people. People maintain ongoing affiliations as long as each person in a relationship feels as though the other contributes positively to his/her sense of self. Relationships fall apart when perceived negatives begin to outweigh the rewards of the association. For example, being coupled with a successful friend casts a positive halo onto someone who values success. Of course, in branding we are a little more limited in providing emotional benefits than we are in our actual human relationships, because there are only certain elements of self-concept which we can viably be supported with a brand – the self-concept is admittedly construed of MUCH more than just the brands we buy or the brand features/advertising to which we are attracted. Notwithstanding this limitation, we contend that it IS this very ability to support self-concept which is the MOST potent glue available for branding. Now, armed with this more precise definition of an emotional benefit, let me proceed to discuss exactly HOW emotional benefits influence purchase and branding. You see, it’s not really that mysterious at all. Emotional benefits are (usually unconsciously) attached to specific elements of a brand, and to the brand itself as a whole. You can actually think of them entirely without reference to the word emotion and remaining fully in the rational sphere if you prefer – because really, it’s just the ‘kind of person’ that a particular rational feature supports:

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I am an attractive person because I chose this particular color of rouge. I am a productive person because I because I purchased a PDA with a fast microprocessor. I am a sexy person because I drive an aerodynamic car. I am a powerful person because I bought a rowing machine from an infomercial with that muscular guy. (Note from Glenn – yeah, I did, but I don’t look like him at ALL yet!). I am an energetic person because I replenish electrolytes after exercise with Gatorade. A brand then, becomes nothing more than the profile of self-concept-supporting statements people make via their attachments to its features and advertising/messaging.

There’s are two more important points I would like to make.. The first is to answer an extraordinarily common objection to emotional brand research. The objection is that certain categories are purely rationally driven and thus preclude emotional branding. This is nonsense, given our above understanding, because EVERY rational feature is desired for the support of some aspect of self concept. EVERY LAST ONE! Let me prove this to you by taking the most extreme example. Consider for a moment a market driven entirely by price sensitivity (we shutter to think!). In such a market, according to the ‘I don’t need to do emotional branding’ theory, competitors could ONLY compete via their respective abilities to keep their cost-structure low and progressively out-bid each other in a pricing war. This is NOT the case, however, because there ARE emotional benefits attached to price, and these emotional benefits will differ depending upon the particular market and category one is assessing. For example … there are two primary emotional benefits we have found to be associated with saving money. One is freedom, the other is security. Doing emotional branding research to understand which one is more important to your market, to what extent this is the case, and how these emotional benefits might attach to other aspects of the brand would lead to VERY different direction for the creative mood and tone of brand messaging. (You would want to talk differently to people who most desire freedom than you would to people most desire security). Herein would lie the competitive branding advantage in what the rest of the world viewed as a virtually unbrandable, price-driven commodity!

NOTE: The same argument can be made for the use of emotional branding in pharmaceuticals. Suppose all drugs in a category have more or less equal efficacy … let’s say, anti-histamine response. The marketer who knows what emotional benefits underlay anti-histamine response is in a competitively better position to set the mood and tone of advertising which will attract the physician’s attention. (Physicians of different specialties also tend to have different personality needs which can also be leveraged in marketing – but that’s another article and more of Sharon’s expertise than mine!) OK – the last point I want to make (which also answers a common objection to emotional brand research) is this – emotional benefits are able to wield their influence precisely because they work BEYOND the awareness of the customer. It is the very fact that they are so elusive and hidden which makes them so very powerful and persuasive. Let me explain. If you were to read the above benefit statements (e.g. “I am a sexy person because I drive an aerodynamic car”) to a respondent directly and ask for levels of agreement, you would get a MUCH lower level of agreement than is in fact the case, and market behavior would differ greatly from what you assessed in your QNR. This is because of the four obstacles noted at the beginning of this essay – people don’t want to BELIEVE that they are emotionally influenced towards brands or purchase. They find the idea repugnant and aversive. The fact that people don’t want to admit to using brands as a method of partially supporting their selfesteem forces these associations out of consciousness, and PREVENTS THEM FROM COGNITIVELY REASONING ABOUT THEM or articulating them out loud. And it is THIS fact (that our consumers erect a strong barrier preventing them from becoming aware of or admitting the influence of emotional benefits), which makes them so incredibly powerful. You see, language is the food of the intellect. Without language (cognitive, symbolic representation), logical reasoning is much more difficult, if not impossible. When a thought is put into language and made conscious, a person’s adult mind is able to make adult, rational decisions. In our analogy, when the consumer becomes conscious of the emotional benefit, it becomes somewhat nullified because they then say to themselves “Oh, I’m being ridiculous … buying this product doesn’t really make me a different person”. But the point is, most customers don’t allow themselves to raise emotional benefits to this level of consciousness, so the impact remains. In fact, many brands make the mistake of raising the benefits to a level of awareness which takes away their power. They try to FORCE the emotional benefit by telling the consumer directly. This doesn’t work nearly as well as INDIRECTLY communicating these benefits via an emphasis on the features of the brand which support them, and with the creative mood and tone of the brands messaging. The mind LIKES to have to work to solve the mystery (aiding recall and attention), and by not forcing the consumer to recognize that they are using your brand to support their self-esteem, you are permitting them the grace of ignorance (to maintain their rational purchasing consciousness, avoid admitting socially undesirable motives, etc). Emotional benefit motivation is knowledge for marketers, not consumers – yet another reason to utilize projective techniques for its discovery.