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The Importance of Uncovering the Emotion Behind Customer Behavior

A Woman's Trip to Honor Her Dad

During recent customer research call on behalf of a client, an interviewee shared a very personal story of her father’s death and how that catalyzed her decision to finally take a trip she’d dreamed of for years. This reminded us why uncovering the emotional mindset of customers can be so important to hone a brand’s position, mission, and messaging.

Brands love to talk about “connecting emotionally” with their customers. This is usually rooted in long-held assumptions, surface-level quantitative surveys, or conclusions drawn from focus groups. All of those methods have value but none offer insight into the emotional mindset of the customer. Without the emotional understanding, marketing messaging often misses the mark and consumers perceive the brand to be inauthentic. To avert these issues, we’ve found that it’s critical to explore the emotional layers and human stories that impact the customer perspective.

The Path To Empathy

The goal of our insights work is to understand the functional, social, and emotional reasons customers choose certain products and services. One critical source for these insights is in one-on-one phone interviews with customers. This allows us to build an atmosphere of trust and privacy you simply cannot establish during focus groups where people can feel self conscious sharing personal information or be influenced by groupthink. These are free flowing conversations that can go in a variety of directions. This gives the interviewee time to slowly open up about more personal issues or time for them to remember and hash out an older memory.

In these conversations, we begin by understanding the functional reasons for a purchase by asking questions like, “When did you first buy the product?” and “Why did you buy it?” To come back to the example mentioned above, we recently completed a customer insights project for an adventure travel company. One interviewee went on a trip with our client in January 2019. When asked about why she went on the trip, she said:

“I don't know that I would've felt competent in my skiing ability before this year to do it…but only the past couple years was it something that I thought I could do.”

In continuing to ask about her decision to go this year, she told us:

“Also just having the means financially now. I wouldn't have [been able to go], I don't know, maybe five years ago.”

When we continued the line of questioning and asked if there were any other life factors leading to her decision to pull the trigger and go on the trip, she said:

"Oh um this is sort of serious, but my dad did pass away two years ago. And I think I've generally sort of been like it's time to just live life, and take chances and go on adventures. And sort of was like this would be a nice thing to do to keep him with me. So just wanting to say yes to adventures...and he would be really proud. And I felt like okay I'm kinda taking him with me and that's fun.”

When she revealed this story, it was an incredibly vulnerable and intimate moment. You would be unlikely to uncover an insight like this in a focus group or survey -- it's part of the unique alchemy phone conversations create.

There are always functional reasons people buy products, services, and experiences of which the brand usually has a strong understanding. These reasons are often the subject matter for marketing messaging. However, the emotional reasons are typically hidden and have to be uncovered. We’ve found that sometimes they are subconscious, and customers become aware of them for the first time during our discussion. Once we find these insights, they can be powerful tools to help companies grow through better brand messaging and more effective marketing campaigns.

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