Spring '13 AGency

May 5-8, 2013 | Austin, Texas

How emotions can unlock the power of big data

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You'll never tap into data's true power if you don't understand human behavior. Learn what actually influences consumer decisions and what it means for marketing's future.

We all strive to be rational and efficient people, but the primary motivating force behind human behavior is emotion. It's the true decision maker. Despite our best efforts to weigh the means and ends and the costs and benefits, the majority of thinking takes place below the surface, where emotion exercises its influence. So why have digital marketers continued to ignore the importance of consumer emotions? Or, more fittingly, why have they failed to develop a strategic framework to understand how consumers will decide and act based on ongoing emotive tenancies?

This is a particularly important question given the focus being placed on big data. (How many times have you heard "big data" this past year?) As more and more information piles up, the risk of getting lost in the numbers rather than understanding the emotions creating the numbers greatly increases. As such, there has never been a better time to understand your customers' core personalities to unlock the potential of big data.

To crack the code of human behavior, iMedia brought in the president of Sensory Logic, author Dan Hill. During his keynote address at the iMedia Agency Summit in Austin, Texas, Hill detailed how big data can be more on target by understanding consumer emotions. According to Hill, "At least 95 percent of mental activity is subconscious." This is the nature of humanity, and you cannot change human nature. As Hill explained, marketers must look first to consumer emotions, because "emotional response is the coin to the realm."

One of the proven ways to reach a deep understanding of human emotions is through facial coding. "The truth resides in the face," Hill said. He added, "The part of the brain that reads the face is eight times more perceptive than the part of the brains that reads objects." As a result, consumers' faces and the marketer's ability to read their faces create an extremely valuable tool for advertising.   

According to Hill, "Facial coding humanizes big data." During his presentation, he provided a brief history of the concept. Facial coding originated with Charles Darwin, who believed that specific facial expressions signal specific emotions. Paul Ekman refined Darwin's idea by going on to explain that there are 43 facial muscles expressing emotions universally, across human cultures.

Hill took it a step further and pioneered the use of facial coding to create emotional metrics, which he writes about in his book "Emotionomics." In the book, Hill explains how to measure customer's emotive responses and use this to gain a competitive advantage. Believing that people communicate their true responses non-verbally, Hill developed the means to measure whether a company is on-message (or on-emotion) when engaging with consumers by studying facial expressions.

So, how has this concept manifested in the marketing landscape today? According to Hill, one example is the use of automatic identity recognition. For instance, "If you are a female and you approach a billboard, you will activate its content because you are a part of its target market." If you're not a part of its target market, the billboard won't show you its targeted content. Another example provided was that of a kiosk sponsored by Kraft that recognizes the consumer's demographic profile and details specific food recipes as a result. 

But, the more important question is this: Where are we going? According to Hill, we will move beyond automatic identity recognition to reach automatic emotional recognition. This means big data will lead to deeper understandings of your customer's emotions, prompting even more powerful emotional connections.

To conclude, Hill noted that, at the moment, "We don't have a really good read on consumers...and we need a way forward." According to Hill, the way forward is the Big 5 factor: "There are certain enduring traits people have that are standardized by the time they reach between the ages of 18 and 22 years...[These traits] can be used to predict attitudes, values, self-concepts, and motivations...This is something that will be very strong going forward. It is something that takes us past Myers-Briggs."

Kyle Montero is associate editor of iMedia Connection.

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