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Beating the Odds: How to Use Socio-Emotional Insights to Improve Marketing Outcomes

Using emotive insights that focus on why different groups of consumers buy, can help improve marketing efficiency.

Editor’s Note: As the old marketing chestnut goes, “I know half my advertising budget is wasted, I just don’t know which half.” Art Hall discusses how using emotive personas and conjoint analysis can increase the efficiency of direct marketing campaigns. This adds to the growing literature on how integrating survey and non-survey data can help reduce wasted ad spending, and increase ROI.


I’m not a poker player, but I do enjoy watching the odds play out in the World Series of Poker as the pros use grit and guile to outwit their competitors. Statistics play a major role in their stratagems and one familiar refrain is “Never draw to an inside straight.”

For anyone unfamiliar with the game, in poker, if you hold 5-6-8-9, you need the 7 (the “inside” card) to make a straight. But, if you plan your next move on the wild hope of drawing the 7, rather than pursuing a statistically plausible strategy, you will almost always fail. That’s because the odds of that happening – the statistics – are stacked against you.

Many direct marketers start their week hoping to draw the card that will fill their inside straight. Here is how this scenario plays out: You have tested various combinations of offer, format, imagery and layout, trying to reach those segments that your analytics team has defined as your target persona. However, the transactional and demographic descriptive profile is still missing the elusive inside card that will fill the straight: the emotional trigger that ties it all together and drives the purchase.

Market researchers have been talking about the significance of emotional insights to understanding—and predicting—consumer behavior for almost a decade. But nobody’s really cracked the code of how to combine those insights with traditional data to create actionable information that improves marketing performance.

For example, take two 42-year-old males, working professional jobs, living in the suburbs with their families, who are both thinking of buying a life insurance policy. Their data points seem aligned—equivalent household incomes, car purchases, shopping habits. But one is buying a policy because he’s finally responding to his wife’s prodding, and the other is reflecting on the fact that the payout on his father’s life insurance policy is providing needed income to his recently widowed mom. Are they going to respond to the same insurance sales pitches in the same way?

Today, the use of advanced analytics tools is enabling marketing professionals to peer into the emotional, psychological and socio-cultural aspects of client information and gain a better understanding of what will work for each of these targets. Using conjoint analysis as a survey-based statistical technique helps determine how people value different attributes (feature, function, benefits) that make up an individual product or service. Originally used for product development, it is now being applied to test direct marketing campaigns. Using this technique helps refine design approaches, messaging and campaign offers to be more tailored and potent in a dynamic, changing society with multiple channels delivering information. Focusing on the similarities between best customers and prospects identifies more high-potential buyers, instead of missing them through the exclusive use of traditional data. It helps connect the story you want to tell with what customers and prospects want to hear.

The truth is that marketers today are buried in demographic and product affinity data. Thousands of data points are routinely appended to customer records via digital marketing sources, in milliseconds. You can slice and dice customers into such finely drawn segments that it’s paralyzing – you can’t devise unique strategies to reach each one of them. The key is to find the emotional insights that go across segments and use these to create a richer persona matrix based on why consumers buy, not what they buy.

“Understanding the why assists marketers in sharpening the approach,” notes Mark Tesoriero, Director of Circulation and Strategic Projects at global information services company Wolters Kluwer. “As a publisher, we must decide if short concise copy bursts, or in-depth content is more compelling to the reader. A persona provides us the opportunity to prioritize and vary the messaging, allowing us to shape our offering to appeal to what we already know about our audience.”

By overlaying personas onto segments, marketers can group like-minded customers, even across affinity groups, to reduce the number of segments targeted, and still use the insights derived from the affinity grouping. Then conjoint analysis reveals which element or message point is actually motivating the consumer to act.

The final challenge of incorporating emotional insights into research results is how to execute on the information. The solution is to conduct the research in a virtual environment. With a deeper understanding of your target audience, we can vet a pool of survey respondents who can then be assembled as needed into panels that look like our target personas.

Marketers can use these panels to quickly test campaigns, packages and prototypes. Template tools allow marketers to make effective use of this data by quickly and efficiently switching out images, dynamically changing body copy and headlines, and inserting exclusive offers that tap into consumers’ emotional responses. And with that, we have effectively hedged our bet in favor of generating the positive response we need.

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Art Hall

Art Hall

Media Channel Integration Consultant, Quad/Graphics