Charting the New Frontier of Consumer Insights: Emography

The subconscious is the key to the consumer 'heartset'

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At its core, marketing is human psychology applied in a business ecosystem. Marketing has always endeavored to build emotional connections with consumers to be leveraged for commercial results; in order to do that, the discipline relies on research, insights and analytics that inform our understanding of consumers. Reaching a higher level of precision in go-to-market strategy requires an even deeper understanding of the market and a strong grasp of the range of consumers comprising the business’ addressable market, knowing exactly how and when to connect with them.

Today’s pace of cultural evolution is unprecedented, fueled by economic, political and social turbulence, with human behavior impacted heavily by an increasingly online culture. Consumers today are more diverse and distrusting than ever before, raising the bar for marketers and calling for more nuance and complexity in our strategies.

To date, marketers rely on two-dimensional modalities to inform these strategies, building personas based on gender, income, geography, education level, hobbies, likes and dislikes. We take big leaps based on demographic and psychographic data that shape our perception of our customer base. This is not enough anymore. Unlocking business growth with smart marketing requires much more comprehensive and three-dimensional consumer insights.

A new way to segment 

While marketers have been working to build emotional connections between brands and consumers for decades, the insights used to build market strategy are often rational, not emotional. Traditional market research, like focus groups and surveys, uncover what people are doing, then codify post-hoc rationalizations of those behaviors. 

As business psychologists, marketers should now be asking why. Getting to the untapped, subconscious emotional drivers that shape human belief systems is the next frontier in consumer insights. Marketers need this layer of analysis to unlock more resonant, high-performing and superior marketing strategy.

Emography is the segmentation of consumers based on subconscious emotional profiles. Using advanced behavioral and neuroscientific research, we can glimpse into the human subconscious to understand with more granularity what makes people tick. Emography adds a layer of understanding that goes beyond what demographics and psychographics alone can tell us—altogether, the three paint a comprehensive, multidimensional picture of consumers that marketers need to successfully land personalized and precise marketing strategy.

Applying emography 

Emography can fuel high-performing marketing across any industry or sector. In fact, there are brands already taking an emographic approach, whether it was their intention or not.

For example, Domino’s recognized the “pizza anxiety” its consumers experience while waiting for orders and developed the now beloved pizza tracker, which shows the real-time status of a pizza order from prep to delivery and gives customers the reassurance they need while waiting for their food. Consumer behavior consisted of frequent calls to the store to ask about delivery times and status updates on their pizza, but the underlying driver was anxiety and a desire to be in control. By understanding the cause of the frequent calls, Domino’s successfully built a solution that engages its consumers, solves their problem and allows its stores to be more operationally efficient by taking fewer calls.

Noom, the health app that helps users build better eating habits, also recognizes how people make emotionally based decisions. Other dieting tools enforce a strict routine to lose weight, resulting in high drop-off rates. Noom, however, uses emography to understand core, perhaps uncomfortable, emotional motivators behind unhealthy eating habits, such as feelings of shame and isolation. From there, Noom ensured no food was fully restricted, instead coding items based on caloric density and creating a personalized system that encourages a positive relationship with food. This new spin on dieting resulted in strong brand loyalty—Noom boasts more than 50 million users and continues to iterate based on emographic practices and an understanding of habit formation

The emography toolkit

There are specific neuroscience-backed research techniques that build emographic consumer insights. One example is the Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique, a quantitative or qualitative methodology wherein respondents select or draw a picture that becomes a stand-in for subconscious emotions. There’s often a delta between what is thought and what is felt; by using metaphor elicitation methods, marketing insights teams can unearth consumer reactions and responses, and from there extrapolate the emotions—aspirations, fears, anxieties, excitement, insecurities—hiding below the surface to create more sophisticated consumer personas.

Another behavioral science methodology is Implicit Association Testing—a quantitative methodology that evaluates the strength of subconscious association between two things. For example, there is a strong association between the color green and the word “go,” and a weak association between green and the word “stop.” This technique can be used to understand the strength of connection between brands and brand identity elements. It is especially effective in evaluating brand fit at the subconscious level. 

Getting into the consumer’s ‘heartset’ 

In marketing today, we aim to understand the mindset of our consumers. To be successful marketers in the future, we must now also understand their heartset—the underlying sea of emotions and beliefs people have about who they are and who they wish they were.

Heartset, or the aspirations driven by a person’s subconscious emotional makeup, is how consumers often make purchasing decisions. We see this clearly in the luxury category, as aspirational consumers may make purchases in response to deeper feelings of insecurity, which lead to desiring symbols of belonging and achievement associated with luxury goods. In real estate, consumers often make housing decisions based on heartset, perhaps imagining idyllic family scenes of children playing in a backyard or family meals around the perfect kitchen table. The strength of the heartset may outweigh the pull of the mindset, and we see consumers making purchase decisions that meet their emotional needs despite rational, financial or practical needs. In practical terms, marketing to the heart is more powerful than marketing to the mind. 

Using emography in branding is one important way to leverage heartset, since consumers are attracted to brands that reflect how they want to feel about themselves and be perceived by others. Creative strategies underpinned by emographic insights are more powerful, more resonant and speak more deeply to the core of the consumer, leading to better engagement and results. Understanding heartset can also better inform marketing funnels and metrics, adding context to nurture cycles and informing performance marketing strategy. Even product value propositions can benefit, allowing product marketers to build solutions that solve unmet emotional needs. 

Tapping into human behavior is a cornerstone of marketing, and to do that well, marketers must understand people at their truest and most subconscious layer. Brands that will win with the next generation of buyers are those that look at their consumers three-dimensionally and holistically—understanding who they are, what they do and why they do it. Unlocking emography as the new frontier of consumer insights is a way to future-proof your business, both in the present and in the long run.