Emotion is king

Throughout my career I have used qualitative research, storytelling, and the discovery of insights to support the narrative of brands I work with and, if I’m being completely honest, especially since the business intelligence data boom, I’ve felt myself at a disadvantage from not having a greater grasp of numbers. “But the numbers speak a thousand words!” they tell me. Well, if they do, I can’t seem to hear what they are saying. I see the numbers, but then when I go out in the field and I talk to people; what I hear and what I observe is a thousand times richer and more complex than what I hear from the numbers on an Excel spread sheet. What people like, what they feel – what moves them, goes beyond just the specific brand or category reflected in the numbers. Many marketing commentators refer to this as the migration from big to small data: focusing in on small yet crucial clues.

For a while now, we have been seeing more and more things that are making us question the traditional methods of executing marketing and research strategies. We recently carried out some packaging validation sessions; over the course of many hours we heard some opinions in favor, some against… They would continually contradict themselves, they would over-rationalize every question… Yet when they finally saw the packaging, they loved it. They couldn’t coherently vocalize any rational explanation as to why – it was aesthetically pleasing to them and that was enough. There are numerous authors who confirm: we live in a culture that favors the polished, the easy to understand, the clear and transparent [1]. Wouldn’t it be better to take that as a starting point from which to understand why certain products, packs or communications excite us over others, instead of maintaining ourselves in a state of confusion over the contradictory responses of a focus group?

Workshops and conferences involving: Storytelling methodology, sentiment analysis, behavioral economics and branded content are getting more popular than ever before, and they hold one factor as a common focus – the emotive and the qualitative. They all involve a way of doing marketing that follows a less traditional path with a less rigid set of rules, one that has a greater affect on the audience.

“If statistics favored the best emotional decisions, then accountants would be the authors of great love stories, and not poets” [2]. People within the world of marketing are starting to realize that quantitative results, or hard data without emotion, have to be complimented with ‘soft data’. If you remain unconvinced, and still love your statistics, how about this one: In aKantar study directed at CMO’s and senior brand leaders, they found that 73% of those interviewed believe that their marketing department should act as cultural radars, connecting to whatever currently holds relevance with consumers [3].

There are certain words or phrases within our industry which have been so overused that they have become completely hollow and devoid of meaning [4]: Emotion, empathy, relevance, mobilize, connect. Even if the concept in and of itself no longer holds any novelty, its meaning still should, as they doesn’t occupy the space in day to day life that they should. Why not appeal to what people like, independently from just our brand? Why should a marketer or researcher not generate content on topics that he or she actually finds personally interesting? Why not create initiatives that we ourselves would like to take part in? The simple fact of having a personal connection with what we are creating, or that we at least be empathetic towards the consumer, naturally leads us on a path towards generating better ideas [5,6].

Things which become viral, making their way half way around the world and back, do not do so because they have some smart number behind them, or because they were derived from some focus group that a moderator drew a list of attributes from. They do so because they deeply stirred people’s emotions, because they made us feel something, because they were relatable, because they connected or reminded us of own lives. I’m not talking about dramatic and emotive publicity, with some wonderfully tragic Yann Tiersen piano piece playing in the background – forcing people’s tears out against their will; but rather about connecting with what people like, beyond the world of brands and products.

We have been evaluating how we could do something similar to what Alfred Hitchcock does in his movies, in one of our next projects. In each of his films he would prepare two scripts – one blue and one green. In the blue script he would put everything you would expect to find in a normal Hollywood script: Dialogue, set design, props, camera angles, etc. In the green one however, he would include a scene-by-scene breakdown of how he wanted the audience to feel in each stage of the production. When you finish watching one of his films, you know simply that you loved it. You maybe can’t say why, but you know it made you feel something. That’s what we want to achieve when we build a brand story. Turning them into “data with a soul” that really matters.


  1. Han, Byung-Chul (2015) La salvación de lo bello. Herder.
  2. Lindstrom, M. (2016) Small Data. Las pequeñas pistas que revelan grandes tendencias. Paidós.
  3. Kantar Added Value (2016) Cultural Value: Mastering the New Marketing Currency. Retrieved from : http://added-value.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/67/2016/12/Kantar-Added-Value-CV-WHITEPAPER-.pdf
  4. Fernández Christlieb, P. (2004). La Psicología Política como Estética Social. En Revista Interamericana de Psicologia/Interamerican Journal of Psychology. Vol. 37, Num. 2 pp. 253-266
  5. TEDxCalzadaDeLosHéroes. (2016, Marzo 1). Luis Arnal: Empatía, la clave para la innovación. [Archivo de video]. Retrieved from en https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E5kaxWOh_2o
  6. Stevenson, Neil (2016) The Focus Group is Dead. IDEO. Retrieved from https://medium.com/ideo-stories/the-focus-group-is-dead-24e1ec2dda82#.4n2h4i47f