Understanding Consumers’ Emotional Fingerprint: Why Sentiment Is Misleading

  • Columnist Rick Miller believes marketers need to move beyond sentiment analysis and instead take a deeper look at consumers’ emotions.


    The most successful marketing campaigns carry emotional associations that connect consumers to the brand and its products. But too often, marketers miss the boat by gauging success based on sentiment analysis, rather than emotional analysis.

    Where sentiment analysis groups all social posts and conversations into “positive,” “negative” and “neutral” buckets if they contain even one keyword that is deemed relevant — for instance, any post containing the word “love” would be classified as positive — linguistic emotion analysis looks for more nuanced uses of words and categorizes the conversations more granularly.

    For example, a post that says, “I trust Joe’s Dry Cleaners with my tuxedo” gets classified as “trust” and not just “positive.”

    Why does it matter? At the end of the day, emotions drive consumers’ purchase-related decisions. And that means brands and marketers need to start taking emotional measurements more seriously when creating content and planning campaigns.

    (Full disclosure: my company, along with others in the marketplace, offers technology to perform this type of analysis.)

    Moving Beyond Net Sentiment

    Historically, brands have used net sentiment to measure and evaluate consumers’ reactions to campaigns, products and the companies themselves. Although sentiment is useful for providing a quick and dirty snapshot of consumer perceptions, it doesn’t provide a complete picture — and at times it can be woefully inaccurate.

    In a typical scenario, numerical sentiment scores are determined by comparing the volume of positive and negative posts on a given topic. While sentiment delivers a broad glimpse into the market’s reaction to the topic, it doesn’t offer insights about what consumers are feeling specifically or why they feel the way they do.

    Emotional classifiers, on the other hand, use natural language processing to assign various emotions (e.g., anger, excitement, love, irritation, and so on) to content shared on social media and to measure the intensity of the emotions that consumers express.

    For example, sentiment alone suggests that of the four major wireless carriers, T-Mobile is most favored by consumers, according to a December report from Networked Insights. But an analysis of consumer emotions shows that the company over-indexes for hatred, anger and disgust. By contrast, that same report shows consumers more consistently express positive emotions when talking about Verizon, despite its lower positive broad sentiment scores.

    Armed with emotional intelligence, marketers gain important understandings about the feelings that are associated with their brands. Marketers can extend emotional classifiers to specific consumer segments and to competitors and verticals.

    Networked Insights tracked consumers’ emotional reactions to Super Bowl ad campaigns to determine the long-term impact of Super Bowl advertising. By analyzing Super Bowl brands 14 days before and after the game, we determined not only how consumers felt about each ad, but how these ads affected overall brand health.

    Tapping Into Consumers’ Emotional Fingerprints

    Forward-thinking brands and marketers are also using emotional fingerprints to guide their content marketing strategies, because consumer emotions better illustrate which pieces of content are resonating with target audiences and consumer segments.

    As marketers make the transition from net sentiment to the analysis of emotions, some of the essential elements of measuring emotional fingerprints that are emerging include:

    Tracking emotions in conversations/campaigns – By adding the tracking of emotions to social monitoring, marketers can learn how consumers’ feelings about specific campaigns and the brand change over time. (A great campaign at launch may wear out its welcome pretty quickly.)

    Assessing competitors’ weaknesses – Consumer emotions about a brand’s competitors frequently uncover opportunities to introduce new content or initiatives that exploit an advantage.

    Measuring and optimizing successes – Emotion-based evaluations of content successes indicate content strategies that are resonating with consumers and spotlight opportunities to double-down on these investments.

    The shift from net sentiment to the emotional fingerprint is an important one for brands and marketers in today’s consumer marketplace. By going beyond basic numerical sentiment scores and evaluating consumer emotions, brands can discover a new layer of actionable insights that are critical for a marketing and business advantage.

    Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

    About The Author

    Rick Miller is the vice president of customer insights at Networked Insights. He contributes to corporate strategy and product development while managing an insights team that provides cutting-edge brand and product research.

    (Some images used under license from Shutterstock.com.)


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