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Buyer (and Seller!) Beware: The Emotional Bias in User Reviews

Posted by Dr. Erica Carranza

Wed, Mar 04, 2020

In 2006, psychologist Daniel Gilbert published a book called Stumbling on Happiness. It posed a provocative question: “Think you know what makes you happy?”

Spoiler alert! You don’t.

SoH_book

The basic premise is that people are bad at predicting what will make them happy in the future. But they know when they’re happy now. In fact, scientists who study emotion generally agree that the best way to learn how someone is feeling at a given moment is not to scan their brain or read their face—it’s to ask.

So, according to Gilbert, the best way to predict whether something will make you happy in the future is to ask people who are experiencing it now: How does it them feel?

This speaks to the awesome utility of user reviews—some of which are also fun to read. (A special shout-out to the Amazon shoppers who’ve reviewed BiC’s Retractable Ball Pens “For Her”…)

Bic_review

But while user reviews can be quite helpful, most have a built-in bias: The people who write them tend to be experiencing emotions high in activation.

Emotional activation is one of two dimensions that underly all emotion; the other is valence.

  • Valence is the intensity of a positive or negative feeling
  • Activation is the amount of physical energy associated with it

They are often correlated, but they aren’t the same. Take, for example, feeling angry vs. feeling sad: Anger and sadness can feel equally and intensely bad in terms of valence. But anger is high in activation. It’s agitating and makes people want to act. By contrast, sadness is low in activation. It’s wearying and makes people want to withdraw.Core_emotion

Critical user reviews tend to come from customers feeling negative high activation emotions (e.g., anger, frustration or disgust) because they want to funnel that energy into something—like calling customer service, lodging a complaint, quitting the brand, or venting their feelings in other ways. Incidentally, that’s also the reason why stories about brands that spark moral outrage are particularly likely to go viral. (Don’t believe me? Just ask United Airlines.)

Negative low activation emotions (e.g., feeling disappointed or discouraged) can be damaging in their own ways—for example, when they lead customers to quietly lapse. But those customers are much less likely to raise a fuss or write a scathing review. 

The same goes for positive emotions: Inspiring high activation positive emotions (e.g., excitement, delight or pride) leads customers to do things like proactively recommend the brand or take time to write a glowing review. Positive low activation emotions can be good too—for example, in financial services, making customers feel comfortable and secure drives retention. Still, customers who feel comfortable and secure aren’t likely to shout it from the rooftops.

In short, user reviews only tend to capture extreme poles within the top two quadrants of emotional experience:  Customer_quad

But if we can’t rely on user reviews to give us the full picture, what can we do to predict how a brand will make us feel?

As luck would have it, at CMB, we just fielded a major study on the psychological benefits delivered by a range of brands. We had a nationally representative sample of over 20,000 people. And, to assess the emotional impact of using each brand, we applied our proprietary measures of valence and activation—so the results are perfect for (among other things!) identifying brands that make people feel great.

This brought to mind Stumbling on Happiness and got me wondering… What brands should I be considering? I can’t disclose all our results, but I can share a few things that I plan to do differently based on our findings:

  • First, I’m going to use PayPal more often. We found that, for most people, using PayPal inspires low activation positive emotions like security, peace and calm—and that’s exactly how I want to feel when I’m sharing my financial data. (Interestingly, Netflix also scores well on low activation positive emotions, bringing new meaning to the phrase “Netflix and chill”.)
  • I’m also going to surprise my kids with Mario Kart, which drives high activation positive emotions for players. But I’m sticking to my hard “no” on Fortnite. Fortnite makes players feel a whole host of negative emotions, and middle school is hard enough as it is…
  • It’s not just Fortnite! We identified many brands that trigger negative emotions—including specific financial institutions, tech brands, and media IPs like Game of Thrones. (The latter really resonated for me—the final season made me so mad I blogged about it.) There are even whole sub-industries that evoke negative emotions—like cable providers.
  • I can’t drop my cable provider. What I can do is spend more time managing my investments, which—under normal, non-epidemic circumstances—generates surprisingly strong positive emotions. In fact, we found that investing with companies like Fidelity and Vanguard feels as good as shopping Amazon or watching Star Wars, and better than checking Instagram—the top social media platform in terms of eliciting positive emotions. To quote my colleague Lori Vellucci, who discussed this in her blog Social Detox, Financial Retox: “If you want to feel really good in 2020, log off social media and invest with a financial services firm!”

Our research also has implications for brands regarding the critical importance of understanding the emotions expected and experienced by their target consumers in terms of both valence and activation.

  • To motivate the kinds of actions that support customer acquisition—like trying the brand or recommending it to friends—brands need strategies that inspire positive, high activation
  • To improve retention, they need strategies that cultivate the comforting sense of inertia that flows from positive, low activation Particularly in industries, like financial services and tech, where peace of mind is key to customer satisfaction.
  • To minimize fallout from negative, high activation emotions, brands need channels that enable customers’ frustrations to be expressed privately, addressed efficiently, and tracked in order to see whether the same issuers are irritating others.
  • To prevent attrition from customers feeling negative, low activation emotions, bands need strategies for flagging them—since they may not be making much noise—and fixing the issues they find disappointing or draining.
  • To attract new customers, brands must also manage prospects’ emotional expectations. Anticipating negative emotions—whether high or low activation—is a strong barrier to brand consideration.

Understanding brand performance in each emotional quadrant is one of the ways we help our clients inform strategies that are high in consumer EQ. And that’s the real reason we do this research—to help our clients.

Implications for how to live life more joyfully are just the cherry on top!


Erica CarranzaErica is CMB’s VP of Consumer Psychology. She holds a Ph.D. in psychology from Princeton University. Prior to CMB, she led insights research at American Express, where she was a recipient of the CMO Award for Achievement in Excellence.

Follow Chadwick Martin Bailey on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter for the latest news and updates.

 

Topics: marketing strategy, brand health and positioning, BrandFx, consumer psychology

Build Customer Intuition and Empathy to Expand Your Brand

Posted by Kathy Ofsthun

Tue, Feb 18, 2020

Customize, personalize, localize, humanize – these are the elements of a customer-centric program that is designed to expand brand reach, and to cement relationships with existing users. A deep commitment to customer-centricity at every level of the organization is the key to customer engagement and brand expansion.

Your goal should be to go beyond mere understanding of your customer, and to instead build your company’s empathy for and intuition about your customer. When marketers and senior executives have built their intuition of their customers, product development, and messaging are more successful. We need only look at the Peloton disaster to be reminded that failed intuition for your customer can lead to public embarrassment, or shaming. Conversely, think of the Volkswagen Darth Vader commercial years ago (9!). Still relevant today. They totally get their family consumer.

Pelaton Commercial

Volkswagen Darth Vader Commercial

How do you build empathy, and ultimately intuition about your customers? In Qualitative research we apply new methods, and tell vivid stories:

  • Leverage technology that meets consumers where they are. For example, Gen Z are digital natives, so we advise methods that utilize apps and employ mobile-first for capturing their in-the-moment reactions
  • Agile techniques embed your customer in every stage of development, allowing for continuous refinement of your concept or prototype
  • By building compelling narratives, critical insights will resonate throughout your organization, and become everyone’s stories about your customer
  • Cement those stories by socializing them throughout your organization in vivid, creative ways such as live panels or immersion spaces

Without discarding traditional qualitative methods, we’re constantly seeking, and trying new tools. One incredibly effective example of this is the use of agile pop-up communities. We’ve worked with groups of consumers over 6, 8 and 12 weeks to react to, brainstorm and iterate on ideas, bringing them from good to great, and from brand-centric to customer-centric. Through this approach, we’ve seen tremendous success using pop-ups for loyalty ideation, understanding insurance decision making, choosing a senior community for your loved one, communicating with Gen Z about financial topics, and more.

If you’re wondering how to make this happen, join the club! This is an exciting time in qualitative research to challenge ourselves, experiment, and innovate. Try social media to recruit participants. Social media can engender strong connections quickly, and shorten the time needed for finding great participants. For UX/CX testing, consider eye tracking. We’re using this method to share and talk to consumers about their own behavior. Using another agile method, especially for concept development, we have evolved traditional focus groups into iterative focus groups. Rather than rinse and repeat across multiple groups and cities, we begin with initial concepts, and optimize them with target customers over an intensive 2 days.

We’re also extending these iterative and agile methods to socialization workshops that spread the word in lively, engaging ways, and activation sessions that bring diverse teams together in a creative space to collaborate on tangible ways of implementing action steps.

Brand relevance and expansion don’t come easily. The good news is that we’re living in a time with an abundance of creative ways to connect, to engage and build empathy and intuition, thereby achieving meaningful relationships with your target customers.

What are ways that you’ve been able to build empathy and customer intuition to expand your brand? Have you tried any of the methods above? Please continue the conversation by leaving a comment below!


Kathy OfsthunKathy Ofsthun leads CMB’s Qualitative + Innovation practices.

Favorite vacation: Cambodia / Favorite class: Philosophy / Free time: Triathlete and Volunteers for the homeless of Boston

Follow CMB on FacebookLinkedIn, and Twitter for the latest news and updates.

Topics: qualitative research, brand health and positioning, BrandFx

To Take a Stand or To Play it Safe? The Choice Can Affect Your Brand Consideration

Posted by Jen Golden

Thu, Dec 19, 2019

Companies today have a lot to think about. Not only do they need to create compelling products and/or services that meet consumers’ functional needs, but how much consumers relate to a company’s  values is also crucial in gaining and building customer loyalty. Topics that used to be considered taboo, like race, politics, gender-identity and equality are becoming top-of-mind in brand campaigns and content, and a mis-alignment with customers can be very detrimental to a company or brand (take Pepsi’s failed campaign with Kendall Jenner as an example).

A brand’s Social Benefits includes how much a consumer agrees with the values, ethics, or morals expressed by a brand and how much a consumer believes a brand reflects their own personality, tastes or values.

  • In a recent self-funded study, CMB surveyed ~20,000 customers and prospects across 81 Finance, Tech, and Media brands.
  • Looking across brands, consumers who agree with the values, ethics, or morals expressed by a brand are over 3x as likely to consider using (or continue to use a brand) than those who disagree with the brand’s views in these areas. There is an even bigger gap for social media companies (those who agree are 5x more likely to consider a social media brand than those who do not agree with the values, ethics or morals expressed!).
  • Feeling neutral on a brand’s values, ethics, or morals doesn’t directly benefit brands. In fact, it’s not much better to have consumers feeling neutral on your brand’s social stance than having them disagree with what your brand is doing. Taking a stance can often be worth the risk if you are doing right in the mind of your customer.

1_SocialResponsibilityBlog_JenGolden_Dec2019

  • The same pattern holds true when we look at consumers perception that a brand reflects their own personality, tastes or values. They are over 5x more like to consider a brand if they agree with this sentiment.

2_SocialResponsibilityBlog_JenGolden_Dec2019

Agreeing and identifying with a brand’s values can also spill over into perceptions of a typical brand user. Consumers who agree that a brand reflects their personality, tastes or values are more likely to identity with the typical brand user – and this includes their political views. People who believe they share the same political views of a typical brand user are more likely to consider the brand than those who do not (40% are very likely to consider if they identify with politics of the typical brand user vs. 25% consideration for those who do not).

3_SocialResponsibilityBlog_JenGolden_Dec2019-1

As far as politics go, HBO has recently run into some backlash with their new show Watchmen, which is based on a political, left-leaning comic. While the show is getting rave reviews from critics and fans, some have flooded Rotten Tomatoes to give negative reviews calling the show “too woke” and questioning its “politically correct” narrative.  

BUT, is this something HBO needs to be worried about? HBO’s current customers skew progressive politically, and 58% of HBO’s customers identify with the perceived political views of a typical HBO user. 54% of HBO’s customers also believe that HBO reflects their own personality, tastes or values. While HBO may be angering some by choosing to air Watchmen, they are willing to take a risk to connect more closely to the politics their core customer base identifies with vs. not engaging in the topic of politics at all.

4_SocialResponsibilityBlog_JenGolden_Dec2019

Ultimately, people want to feel connected with their favorite brands, and with increased political polarization, it’s more important than ever for brands to understand their customers. Intimately knowing your audience (like HBO may have known when they green-lit Watchmen) can make it safer to take a stand politically or otherwise. In fact, taking a stand can deepen the audience’s emotional connection with the brand because it is aligned with their customer’s personal beliefs, making them a more loyal and engaged customer. Actress Regina King from the Watchmen series said it best when she said in response to the show “Most of us, as human beings, want to feel like someone else knows their pain and is talking about what they’re talking about.


Jennifer GoldanJennifer Golden, Project Director.

Follow CMB on FacebookLinkedIn, and Twitter for the latest news and updates.

 

Topics: brand health and positioning, co-creation, BrandFx, brand tracking, Social Benefits

In Tech We Trust

Posted by Chris Neal

Wed, Dec 04, 2019

In the world of corporate reputations, Big Tech companies have had a rough couple of years. As we ramp up full-steam into the 2020 electoral cycle, they are increasingly in the cross-hairs of government regulatory and legal actions.

Big Tech has lost valuable trust among customers, and the general public. Personally, I’ve recently had a lot of conversations with people who are convinced that smartphones are not only monitoring every click, swipe, and direct command, but also eaves-dropping on their general conversations in order to serve targeted ads. E.g., “When I mentioned to a colleague that I was going hiking, I was immediately bombarded with ads for hiking boots.” And in this same vein…if I’m being completely honest…I confess to putting my phone on airplane mode (and often turning it off altogether) for extended periods of time, only booting it up when there is something specific I need to use it for. Paranoia runs deep.

It was no surprise, then, when we just got back some piping hot tasty data from CMB’s latest self-funded BrandFxSM 2.0 study of 20,000+ U.S. consumers and confirmed that – yes – Big Tech has a major trust problem.Brand Trustworthiness_CNeal 2019-4

More specifically, the technology brands we covered had lower association with being “trustworthy” than our bundle of Financial Services brands, despite the financial meltdown of the 2008 Great Recession still in people's collective consciousness, and just two years after the massive Experian credit history data breach. And - yes - social media brands are taking the brunt of this "Trust Fall" of 2018-2019, but this is a “negative halo” effect impacting all of the “Big 5” Tech Brands (Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft).

Like most things here at CMB, we don’t just want to proclaim that the sky is falling: we try to sort out what to actually do to prop it back up again. So, we dove deeper into our BrandFxSM data using Bayes Nets analysis to figure out:

  1. What should tech brands focus on to restore valuable trust?
  2. How does trust impact customer loyalty to technology brands in general, and through what mechanisms?
1. How to restore “trust” in tech

Interestingly, the biggest link to “trustworthy” is actually a tech brand’s functional benefits. In other words: people trust a tech company as long as it reliably makes their life easier in some tangible, functional way (see below).

Drivers of Trust Graphic_CNeal2019

Not too far behind this, there are strong links to perceived privacy & security (both as a general brand perception, as well as whether the brand makes people feel secure when they’re using it). There are “rational” ways to boost customer perceptions of your products & services as being secure and guarding their privacy, and while this is important, it is more impactful to get people to feel secure when they use your product. Factual proof-points aren’t enough to achieve this on an emotional level.

On the emotional side of feeling “secure,” we uncovered a strong link here with feeling “respected."

If someone believes a tech company actually respects them as a customer, they are more likely to feel secure when using them (vs. selling all of their intimate data to the highest bidder, regardless of purpose).

On the ”functional” side of brand perceptions around believing that a tech company’s products are private and secure, there is a strong link to believing that the company has a strong mission and values that you agree with.

MissionVisionValues_CNeal2019

If someone believes that the company ultimately has noble goals, they are more likely to perceive them to be good with their data’s security and privacy which makes them more likely to trust the company. 

This belief in the company’s mission, in turn, has strong links to overall Identity Benefits (i.e., “I feel good using [BRAND] because I believe in their mission and values, which align with my own.”)

2. How much does “trust” matter, and in what ways?

Perceptions of a company being "trustworthy" don't have a large direct impact on a customer's future usage intent, but they are linked to several other key things that do drive future usage intent. As we saw earlier, there is a strong linkage between "trustworthy" key emotional benefits like feeling secure, respected, proud, smart, and efficient. These are all important emotions for Tech brands to activate, and emotional benefits are the strongest predictors of future usage intent in this industry. Our analysis also revealed links between "trustworthy" brand perceptions and identity benefits (through privacy/security perception). As major tech companies are all vying to expand into people's everyday lives, consumers are increasingly making choices as to which "tribe" they are loyal to (and will use across many categories). At the moment, privacy, security, and, by association, trust play a significant role in their brand loyalty.

What now? If you’re a tech company, start by elevating your company’s core mission and values in media and PR campaigns. Through your messaging, convey a strong sense of respect for your customer as an individual, including their data privacy and security, because these have a greater impact on brand affinity and customer loyalty than any functional benefit a new product release offers. Consider increasingly innovative ways to give them more direct control over what types of data you can and can’t use, and for what purposes, making clear the benefits they also get by doing so (e.g., more free content or services, better-performing services like virtual assistants that can “learn” from more of your personal data). This way, you can deliver valuable, trusted information, in a way that doesn’t turn off your customers, like an ad freaking out your customers with hiking boots they don’t need.


Christopher NealChris Neal, VP of CMB's Tech & Telecom Practice, has over 20 years of experience in high tech, online, consumer electronics, telecom and media insights, analytics, and consulting.

Follow CMB on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook for the latest news and insights.

 

Topics: technology research, brand health and positioning, BrandFx, technology

Was a Gender-Neutral Doll the Right Move for Mattel?

Posted by Dr. Erica Carranza

Fri, Oct 04, 2019

MattelCreatableWorldSized

Did I ever tell you about my dissertation…? Wait, don’t go! I promise it’s interesting.

It was 2002. My advisor and I had been studying gender stereotypes, which we found were still depressingly pervasive. Then, for my dissertation, I examined reactions to men and women who broke the mold. I thought that people would dislike stereotypically masculine (e.g., ambitious) women and feminine (e.g., sensitive) men, but try to hide it—so I measured their emotional reactions using facial EMG.

Facial EMG involves placing pairs of electrodes over muscles that contract when we frown or smile, as shown on the Mona Lisa. (My apologies to any art history majors out there.) People can’t mask the immediate, involuntary emotional reactions that register in their faces. Most of that muscular activity is too fast and too subtle to be captured by human or computer/AI-based facial coding, but EMG captures it well. At CMB, we have a method of measuring emotional reactions tailored to market research—it does an excellent job and doesn’t involve electrodes. But if you expect people to actively lie about their feelings, facial EMG is the way to go.

EMGmonaCrop2

What did I find in analyzing literally millions of milliseconds of facial activity? Feminine men elicited warm smiles from women—but were laughed at by other men. And masculine women were universally reviled. Lots of eyebrow furrowing. People didn’t even try to hide it.

Add this to the many other forces that encourage adherence to gender norms—like the manly men and womanly women portrayed in everything from blockbuster movies to local ads—and it’s no shock that kids learn gender roles early. Kids are perceptive. They see stereotypical male and female characters held-up as ideals in toys and on TV, and can easily infer what’s expected of them.

In this way, gender stereotypes are both pervasive and constraining, like invisible straightjackets we wear everyday—we don’t have to let them confine us, but the pressure is always there.

That leads me to Mattel and Creatable World, their new gender-neutral doll. According to their official tagline, it’s “designed to keep labels out and invite everyone in—giving kids the freedom to create their own customizable characters again and again.”

Here is a major toymaker refusing to communicate an expectation that “boys will be boys” and “girls will be girls.” This is huge. Especially when we consider the crucial role of play for kids in imagining possibilities, exploring interests, connecting with others, and discovering oneself.

So did Mattel do the right thing from a moral perspective?

Yes. No doubt in my mind. When kids don’t feel the need to live-up to masculine and feminine ideals, they get to be who they are without pressure or fear of reprisal. They can be smart, compassionate, strong, expressive, ambitious, fashionable, funny—or all of the above. It’s up to them!

But Mattel is a publicly traded company looking for healthy profits. Particularly nowadays, when so many things—online and off—compete for kids’ time and attention. So it’s also worth asking:

Was a gender-neutral doll the right move from a brand perspective?

Again, I’d say yes. It’s exactly the right move. Why? Because of the crucial role identity benefits play in driving brand appeal.

At CMB, we’ve identified four key psychological benefits brands need to deliver in order to drive appeal:

  • Functional Benefits (e.g., “checking-off” goals or to-dos; saving time; saving money)
  • Social Benefits (e.g., sense of community; conversation; social connection)
  • Emotional Benefits (e.g., positive feelings; enhanced joy; reduced pain)
  • Identity Benefits (e.g., pride and self-esteem; self-expression; a positive self-image)

We leverage all four in BrandFx, our proprietary approach to helping clients achieve brand growth. In fact, we recently fielded a BrandFx study with over 20,000 U.S. consumers. In total, they provided nearly 40,000 evaluations of major brands across multiple industries. We’re still knee-deep in analysis (more blogs to come as we roll-out our results!), but so far this much is clear:

Identity benefits are particularly important.

That holds true across brands and industries—even “rational” industries like financial services. But it’s especially true for brands in the entertainment space, like Mattel. With Creatable World, Mattel is helping kids explore, express, and embrace their unique identities with a doll that offers more possibilities and imposes fewer constraints. This will pay off in kids’ interest and engagement.

Yes, many parents may be against it. But I have two things to say about that based on what we’ve seen across multiple studies:

First: Kids tend to drive toy purchase trends. They see, they like, they ask… and ask… and ask… And parents want their kids to be happy, so kids often get what they want—even when their parents feel ambivalent about it.

Second: Most parents aren’t morally opposed to their kids playing with toys associated with the opposite gender. It’s that they’re afraid of other kids’ reactions. As a parent, I can relate. There are times I’ve steered my boys away from things that I thought might lead to the spirit-crushing, innocence-busting experience of being ridiculed by peers. But when parents see evidence of shifting norms and acceptance among kids, their fears will diminish—and the fact the Mattel has released a gender-neutral doll is evidence in itself. After all, Mattel knows kids, and they put a lot of money on the line. So, if my boys want a Creatable World doll, it’s theirs. Because what I really want is for them to be able to choose their paths—and feel valued for the amazing, unique individuals they are—without having to squeeze themselves into a narrow vision of what it means to be a man.

If change is on our doorstep, I’m ready to welcome it in, and I’m likely not the only parent who feels this way.

 


Erica CarranzaErica has a B.A. from Wellesley College and a Ph.D. in psychology from Princeton University. Prior to CMB, she led insights research at American Express, where she was a recipient of the CMO Award for Achievement in Excellence.

Topics: marketing strategy, brand health and positioning, digital media and entertainment research, growth and innovation, Identity, emotion, BrandFx, consumer psychology