If only we asked audiences, respondents or clients how they felt more often….
The power of the subconscious mind, including its emotional drivers, has become more apparent than ever in marketing, communications and consumer analysis over the last 15 years. Much of this interest has been built on the work of leading thinkers such as Gerard Zaltman and Daniel Kahneman. They have brought psychology, behavioural economics and neuroscience into the business arena, so that we are now aware of how important it is to not rely solely on analysing rational thinking when seeking to understand consumer behaviour. Instead, we need to reach down into the depths of the non-rational (or subconscious) to understand why people behave the way they do. Other thinkers (among them, Jonah Berger, in his work Contagious and Karen Nelson-Field with Viral Marketing: The Science of Sharing) have also demonstrated how by activating positive and negative emotions, such as awe, humour and anger, it becomes more likely that people will be inspired to take action.
And yet, the market research industry still largely relies on asking questions which often require the respondents to post-rationalise unconscious decisions, thoughts or motivations they have experienced, whether in the immediate or distant past. Moreover, there seems to be an understanding within the market research industry that qualitative research is the method to be used to unearth deeper insights, whilst quantitative research is relegated to a tool that simply describes the ‘status quo’.
At AKAS in the past five years, we have frequently asked our clients and the audiences we explore in quantitative surveys two relatively simple questions: ‘What emotions did you feel today?’ and ‘Why did you choose these emotions?’. We have been repeatedly blown away by the breadth and depth of insights that these two simple questions have unlocked, regardless of whether we had been exploring the views of senior executives in organisations or 5-11 year olds.
In the surveys we design and conduct for schools, we ask all pupils, staff and parents what emotions they have felt that day and why. Below is the response of a pupil who chose “annoyed”, “afraid” and “sad” as their primary emotions on that day, when asked why they felt these emotions:
“I feel like this because 90% of the class sees me like a turd, a nobody, a weird freak. This may or not be because I try my hardest at school and really excel at my work, and it pays off because I always get chosen for the funnest things and my mum and dad are really proud of me even the head teacher has congratulated me and my parents, but on the other side some people bully me when nobody’s looking and it just ruins my day, but don’t understand how the really dumb kids whose parents are up their own bums have lots of friends and don’t get bullied, but do they behave? do they try their hardest at school? NO. But do they have friends? YES, and this makes me wonder: why do I try my best? if I get no friends. It’s just stupid I just hate it. It’s so stupid I’m on the verge of crying/swearing lukely I have 5 friends that really back me up. Everyone else sees me, correction, doesn’t see me. It’s like I’m invisible and I’ve tried standing up for myself and no I’m not a wimp I’ve tried telling people but what are they gonna do about it? It’s just nuts. I hope those kids are happy now and it’s not like I’ve ever been rude to them or done anything to them but I guess I’ll keep on getting bullied and keep on working hard but guess we will see who gets further in the future”
Simply asking about this child’s emotions in the survey unlocked their pain, desperation, anger and profound confusion (and broke our hearts when we read their response). This child needed help and, thanks to this survey, subsequently got the help they needed.
As this example indicates, the emotions analyses we conduct provide a strong diagnostic tool for assessing the overall wellbeing of pupils. They enable us to map out the overall emotional landscape that exists within a school, and to compare the emotions felt by pupils, staff and parents. In doing so, we often find that the emotions felt by the parents of a particular class mirror those of the pupils in that class. By analysing the emotions felt by pupils in different classes in a school, we are also able to identify classes that need more support and those that are thriving. Using these insights, we have been able to advise school leaders as to where they should prioritise their support.
Understanding the emotional landscape of our clients upon engagement in a consultancy project has proved equally instructive. Why? Because our clients are able to share their feelings about their challenges in a safe and confidential environment, while we are able to understand the breadth of their challenges and gauge the pace that our consultancy should assume to support them best.
If you would like to follow up on the topics discussed in this article, please contact Luba Kassova or Richard Addy on email@example.com