Emotional Intelligence: Killer Currency for Brands

May 18, 2017

Unless you’ve spent the last nine months completely off the grid, you’ll probably agree that intelligence, experience and rational argument don’t have the same authority they used to. They’re increasingly trumped by the ability to identify and align with an audience emotionally. EQ is replacing IQ as the dominant influence over people’s choices – the thing they most value. This is hugely significant for any politician – and it’s just as significant for marketers. People are seeking emotional assurance and affirmation – and brands’ effectiveness will increasingly depend on supplying it.

In one sense, this is nothing new. Emotional benefits are a fundamental pillar of branding. Marketers have always sought to give their brands a personality that potential customers can identify with – and they have always sought to elicit carefully selected emotions through their advertising. What’s changed is the stakes. In the age of the filter bubble and the personalised algorithm, you don’t get to have a conversation with a consumer unless you are aligned with the emotions that particular individual is already feeling. This requires marketers to take an altogether different approach to the emotional element in brand interactions.

From emotive positioning to emotional personalisation

It’s not just a question of deciding on an aspirational emotive positioning (the sense of self-satisfaction that pervades male-focused car advertising, for example). Marketers need to balance credible consistency in what their brand represents with an ability to detect and respond to the emotional signals that different consumers send at different moments. A person with a high EQ doesn’t adopt the same conversational style with everyone they meet – they have an instinct for picking up on a person’s current feelings and deeper motivations and expressing their personality in a way that fits. That’s now the requirement for marketing – and it will require tuning into different types of intelligence.

The good news is that we have more robust and actionable sources of such emotional intelligence than ever before. Experimental, neuroscience-informed technologies such as eye-scanning, facial recognition, and biometric readings can help researchers build models that relate patterns of behaviour to different emotional states. For marketers, behavioural targeting that focuses solely on the action someone takes, could soon be replaced by emotive targeting that plays greater attention to the feelings those actions are likely to represent.

Quantifying emotion at scale – it’s already happening

More obvious signals are already available at scale. Emoji are currently the fastest growing language on the internet, with almost a third of global internet users classified as emoji super-users. This will double to nearly two thirds by 2018. As use of these icons extends beyond millennials and across age-groups and demographics, they are leaving a trail of clearly identifiable emotional signals that can inform both audience segmentation and the way that brands respond to people in real-time. Emoji aren’t just providing a means of emotional expression that resonates (a study in 2014 found that human beings respond to them in a similar way to human facial expressions[1]), they also quantify those emotions in a manner that’s ideal for big data analysis.

Being able to interpret and analyse emotional signals is one thing – just as significant are the options marketers now have for acting on them. Conversational commerce, powered by AI and chatbots, will be most effective when it can tailor its approach and tone of voice to a consumer’s emotional state. Once AI is able to do this effectively, it will enable brands to deliver personalised, emotionally relevant experiences at scale.


Are consumers ready to have their feelings analysed?

Are consumers really ready for personalised marketing based on their innermost feelings? It’s a bold idea – a bit out there even – but our research suggests they are and that the opportunity for brands is material.

Plenty of businesses already use data signals to guess at people’s personality and emotional state. Credit scores and health insurance already use particular behavioural markers to judge someone’s reliability and likely future behaviour. When it comes down to it, these markers are often quite arbitrary. The more consumers understand them, the more likely they are to resent them. In an era of Emotional Intelligence, we have the opportunity to tailor products and offers to people in more meaningful ways based on their actual personality and priorities. There are barriers to overcome – but the case for it is fundamentally compelling.

The car insurance firm Admiral was too far ahead of the curve when it proposed basing its pricing and business model on analysis of people’s personality through their social media behaviour. However, the response that caused it to pull that launch is likely to become less extreme in the future. Consumers of any category consistently agree that they want brands to reflect their personal style, tastes and personality. They want their preferences reflected in their experiences – and that’s what insights can increasingly be used to deliver.

How EI can redefine categories

I believe that we will see Emotional Intelligence used with increasing confidence across a range of different sectors. For insurers, it won’t just mean adjusting premiums to reflect more robust signals of how people behave (which can benefit as well as penalise, of course). It can also involve proactively suggesting the right type of cover to suit a person’s particular concerns in life – and the things that keep them awake at night. For banks it holds the key to replacing the one-to-one conversations that used to take place in branches but are now largely bypassed altogether. For auto brands, it can involve detecting the elements of a driving experience that make people stressed, and personalising vehicle settings and features to fit.

Make no mistake – there are still trust issues that marketers need to give careful consideration to. Our own research shows that people are happy for brands to know how they feel – provided they have made a conscious decision to share that information. They want a relationship with a friend that understands them – not with a scientist or number cruncher studying them from a distance, and outside of their control. Collecting emotional signals places a great responsibility on brands to respond to them with genuine empathy – and genuine interest in their audience’s priorities. Get this right though, and marketers could be ready to enter a bold new age – understanding what really makes people happy, and understanding how to give it to them.

[1] https://www.wired.com/2014/02/brain-smiley-emoticon-science/

First published on LinkedIn


Written by Meabh Quoirin

Meabh Quoirin is the CEO and Co-Owner of Foresight Factory. She is also a LinkedIn Influencer and one of their nominated Top Voices. Meabh’s expertise lies in interpreting behaviours and signals to uncover what matters most to consumers today and tomorrow. A bi-lingual and experienced public speaker, Meabh is a key voice in the world of foresights and analytics. Meabh is a guest lecturer at Dublin University, sits on the Advisory Board of Advertising Week and regularly speaks at high profile industry events such as Ted X.

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