Brands have a wide array of consumer research tools at their fingertips to find out what consumers really think about them—from in-person, in-depth focus groups to behavioral analytics and AI software that offer a window into their habits and purchasing behaviors.
From the simple to the sophisticated, these tactics combine to provide unique insight into what today’s consumers want and need. But how accurate are they? The fact is that even with all the data in the world, a business can still fail to know its customers on an emotional level.
Why Emotions Matter
It turns out that we humans are emotional beings and, not surprisingly, that influences how we make decisions—oftentimes in ways we don’t even realize. As author and Harvard scholar Gerald Zaltman describes in his book “How Customers Think – The Subconscious Mind of the Consumer (And How To Reach It),” an astonishing 95% of decisions are made by our emotional domain.
Noted psychologists Damon Kahneman and Amos Tversky echo Zaltman with their System 1 and System 2 theory. According to them, our first impulse is always emotional and instinctive, coming from our reptile brain; and only then does it get processed (or not) by the rational neocortex.
That means that we can’t truly understand the customer without intercepting that first impulse because otherwise we can’t be sure we’re capturing the real intent—that raw, unfiltered, unprocessed response.
It’s not that brands haven’t tried.
Through focus groups and surveys, we ask customers to share their motivations for choosing our products and services and the way they feel about our brand identity. We try to capture their impressions of the purchase and post-purchase experience, with the aim of making it more intuitive or gratifying.
But this approach to analyzing customer experience is limited because it requires backward reflection, thus encouraging filtered, rationally processed and controlled retrospective responses. What customers were actually feeling in the moment is lost—as is the emotion.
So, how can you best fulfill your quest for that “holy grail” of emotion?
How Social Listening Helps You Get Inside a Customer’s Head
The key to discerning these emotions is to capture unprompted reactions in the moment they’re happening. Obviously actually tapping directly into a consumer’s brain is unrealistic (not to mention unethical), but there is one place where consumers are freely sharing their emotions unprompted and in the moment.
And that’s where social media monitoring and social listening come in. That’s because every minute of every day, people around the world are sharing their thoughts, experiences and opinions on X, formerly Twitter as they happen. And more often than not, emotion is part of the mix. When they’re feeling something about your brand or product, those emotions often convert into action.
Today, as all our normal patterns are upended due to COVID-19, it’s more important than ever for brands to listen to what consumers are saying. Twitter research identified a COVID-19-related tweet every 45 milliseconds.
The brands that are winning the hearts and minds of consumers are those that are helping make people’s lives easier. If Brayden questions the working conditions you’re offering, his friends might steer clear of your products. If Zoe had to fight to get a refund for a trip that was canceled, would-be future travelers might note that experience and look for another airline. But Maddy’s friends are likely to flock to your store if she gushes about the great experience she had using your platform to deliver groceries to her gram.
The great news is that brands don’t have to wonder how consumers are feeling about them moment by moment. Just by listening to those voices, we not only have an unprecedented opportunity to engage directly with our customers and react quickly, but we can take it a step further to identify insights that bring us closer than ever to understanding them on an emotional level.
This deeper understanding can be put to work shaping better customer experiences as we make emotional connections and ultimately drive greater customer satisfaction and brand affinity.
With traditional research, it may take some time and effort to understand how your customers really feel. With X, formerly Twitter, you don’t need to ask the question – you’ll know before your surveys, focus groups or sales data tell you.
Your customers are talking, but are you ready to listen?