<%@ Language=VBScript %> <% CheckState() CheckSub() %> ESOMAR Congress 2008: Engaging emotions and other new job demands on researchers
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September 2008

ESOMAR Congress 2008: Engaging emotions and other new job demands on researchers

James Aitchison looks at emotion-based surveys while Geoffrey Precourt reports on the new skills requirements for researchers.

This is one of a series of edited extracts from the ESOMAR 2008 Annual Congress in Montreal. Other articles cover:

For WARC’s full coverage of ESOMAR 08 visit our conference blog page.


Capturing emotions

“We’re good at measuring the head, but not the heart,” David Penn told the delegates up early enough after the Congress dinner to make the opening session of the last morning.

This, said the Conquest Research boss, meant that market researchers were not capturing the primary driver of human behaviour: our emotions.

And if neuroscientists like Antonio Damasio are to be believed, 90% of these emotions are expressed in involuntary, sub-conscious ways, which render many of the traditional techniques in the market researcher’s toolkit obsolete. In fact, he said standard questioning actually “pushes people away from their emotions because it force them to rationalise them”.

Research, he argued, needed a new language for exploring emotion – the language of metaphor – to reflect the fact that “human beings think and feel in images”. After all, we’re more likely to say “I feel like I’m walking on air” or “I’m feeling really low” than “I’m feeling very happy” or “I’m feeling very sad”.

The commercial application of Penn’s thinking manifests itself in Conquest’s proprietary Metaphorix research tool, an online survey in which participants (“don’t call them respondents”, he pleaded) express their emotional affinity for brands and advertising in creative, graphical and – yes – metaphorical ways.

Metaphorix measures four types of emotion and translates their expression thus:  

So participants, who represent themselves with an avatar of their choice, are, for example, asked to position themselves on a sofa next to a brand, selecting the distance according to the level of affinity they feel for that brand. Similarly, their avatars might be invited to jump up and down next to a brand, selecting the height according to their level of excitement about the brand.

The fun and participative nature of the methodology is a far cry from the standard online survey, (many of which Penn believed were little more than face-to-face questionnaires stuck on a webpage that consumers arre told to complete themselves).

Indeed, Conquest commissioned an ad agency to create the Metaphorix interface, in order to make an experience that was comparable to the best 2.0 web environments.

“Engaging the participants helps to measure engagement”, said Penn, explained the agency hiring decision.

In a pilot project involving over 3600 consumers and 18 emotion-led TV commercials, the ubiquitous Cadbury’s Gorilla “went off Metaphorix’s scale”, he revealed, scoring phenomenally highly on all key measures.

Likewise, this film for UK beer brand Carling registered strongly, providing a key insight into the reaction to the ad of the brand’s target audience of young men – an audience not usually known for its propensity to express emotions verbally.

Many of the ads that scored strongly on the Metaphorix scale fared poorly when conventional liking measures were applied. The results reinforced Penn’s opening contention that traditional approaches were not suited to gauging consumer feelings. Moreover, he said that 60% of participants said that they enjoyed the research process, compared to the 40% who generally say they like doing standard online surveys.

The key learnings he left the audience with were: 

“And remember,” Penn said in closing, “the measuring engagement and engaging consumers are two sides of the same coin.”

Why clients need different researchers

The message from Gesellschaft fuer Innovative Marktforschung (GIM) to the Montreal 2008 ESOMAR Congress challenged the way that marketers present knowledge: “Do we really need 100 PowerPoint slides?” Not if we can use intriguing videos, graphic illustrations to deliver the same information in a more friendly – and informative manner.


The change is actually much larger than mere presentation materials: It demands revisiting the marketing-research DNA and making the shift from information providers to more complete brand consultants.


To that end, a GIM presentation team of René Kaufmann and Godehard Wakenhut presented a five-step program:


1) Reduce complexity


Visualization boosts results. In addition to number-crunchers, marketing research consultants need to include video specialists, ad managers, designers, and people whose backgrounds have long been considered unorthodox for the dry domain of research. Interactive DVDs, Wikis, and user-centric websites all can reduce the density of data.


2) Change the researcher profile


Researchers need to become “client understanders” with softer skills beyond hard economic backgrounds – including social science, artistic and design skills – to communicate more effectively.


3) Create new networks


Don’t hire people; hire large networks of people who can do more than work with a market research company. Add creativity and teams that work with colleagues and friends to produce a more complete product.


4) Organize your talent


Lead from behind. Enable others to create a context for innovation, for new tangible ways of conveying results.


5) Become an asset to your clients


A consultant does more than dump data on a client’s desk. A consultant provides ways to facilitate decision-making, to use information within a company in a more compelling fashion.


Appealing to the dark side


In a glass-is-not-always-half-full presentation on the final morning of the ESOMAR 2008 Congress in Montreal, three panelists from H.T.P. Concept in Berlin acknowledged that the move to philanthropy in marketing in “a train running tearing through marketing departments, advertising agencies, and even this Congress itself.”


Two concerns with the new do-gooding priorities: First, trying too hard to make a causal connection can actually damage a brand.


The H.T.P. team cited a German brewer that tried to tap into rainforest concerns to polish its image. Consumers didn’t make the connection; in fact, they mocked it with an “I Booze for the Rain Forest” counter-thrust, complete with T-shirts that gained considerable currency. The message: “Acting in a conformist way doesn’t necessarily carry authority.”


The second lesson carried a tint of cynicism: For all the power of altruism (“brands can support our need to do something meaningful in life”), people still have product lust: “People really like to flirt with the darker promises of brands.”


The philanthropic zeitgeist ignores the natural striving for irrational needs. Marketers also need to identify the darker sides of brands to maintain future demands.

About the authors:


James Aitchison is the managing editor of WARC Online.



Geoffrey Precourt is the US Editor of WARC Online.


You can read their reports from ESOMAR 2008 Congress and other recent marketing events here.

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