Are You Tapping into Emotions in the Buying Process?

emotions in the buying process

emotions in the buying processIn a recent post, I attempted to debunk the notion that we’re rational consumers — citing research showing how emotions are important for guiding decisions and how advertisers create content that taps into emotions in the buying process. Today, let’s focus on emotional intelligence as a means to segment your market and use deep understanding of emotions to affect the buying process.

Emotional intelligence

If you accept the research that consumers use emotions in the buying process, the pressing question is how you detect emotions.

In the old general stores, you detected emotions because you were face to face with the customer and could judge her emotions. That’s still true in service situations — just think of the old bartender who listened as patrons poured out their problems. Of course, using the emotions detected within the service encounter requires a certain emotional intelligence.

What is emotional intelligence?

According to the leading researchers in the area of emotional intelligence, Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer, emotional intelligence is:

the subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.

These researchers theorized 4 steps involved in emotional intelligence:

  1. Perceiving Emotions: The first step in understanding emotions is to accurately perceive them. In many cases, this might involve understanding nonverbal signals such as body language and facial expressions.
  2. Reasoning With Emotions: The next step involves using emotions to promote thinking and cognitive activity. Emotions help prioritize what we pay attention and react to; we respond emotionally to things that garner our attention.
  3. Understanding Emotions: The emotions that we perceive can carry a wide variety of meanings. If someone is expressing angry emotions, the observer must interpret the cause of their anger and what it might mean. For example, if your boss is acting angry, it might mean that he is dissatisfied with your work; or it could be because he got a speeding ticket on his way to work that morning or that he’s been fighting with his wife.
  4. Managing Emotions: The ability to manage emotions effectively is a key part of emotional intelligence. Regulating emotions, responding appropriately and responding to the emotions of others are all important aspect of emotional management.

Combining emotional intelligence and cognitive intelligence (IQ) yields personality, which is a topic for another day.

Emotional intelligence in the buying process

A recent scholarly study suggests marketers need to move beyond cognitive notions of consumer behavior — I think, therefore I do — to understanding how emotions impact the buying process.

Supporting their contention, the authors point to research showing a clear link between emotional intelligence and specific buyer behaviors, such as impulse buying, and emotions such as self-esteem.

Research suggests consumers with a higher emotional intelligence use a heightened understanding of their emotional state to make product choices. Hence, the notion of emotional marketing was born.

Emotions in the buying process

Here’s what Neil Kukemuller of Demand Metric has to say about emotions in the buying process:

Key in emotional marketing is understanding the underlying reason why a customer enters the market. A customer shopping for high-end baby clothes isn’t necessarily looking for an outfit to cover up her little one to meet societal standards of wearing clothes. Instead, she is probably trying to satisfy her emotional desire to dress her baby attractively to project an image of fashion and sophistication. Knowing this underlying motive, which often results from effective market research, helps in developing highly impacting ad messages.

In my earlier post, I showed how brands manipulate (no negative connotation intended) consumers’ emotions through advertising and brand messaging. Certainly, recent Super Bowl ads hit the emotional nerve centers heavily, with positive results.

But the marketing implications of emotions go beyond simple manipulation because, as discussed above emotions and emotional intelligence affect buying decisions. Effective sales people sense consumer emotions and modify their presentation to match the emotions of their prospect.

Can the same thing be done on a larger scale?

Can businesses detect emotions and match their messaging to the these emotions?

Can this be done on a large scale?

Emotions in the buying process: Detect, Segment, Match

Detecting emotions in the buying process:

Up until a few years ago, you’d need an expensive market research study to detect emotions in the buying process. Today, big data offers detection solutions by monitoring the digital footprint left by consumers on social networks and mobile devices. Data provide insights into how consumers feel about brands, highlighting deeper emotions than simple liking, to show the range of emotions consumers feel when they evaluate your product.

Savvy companies use this emotional understanding to benefit their brands in several ways:


Different consumers feel different emotions in the buying process. In the example above where the mother buys baby clothing based on feelings of status, another might feel emotions of security that drives purchase of clothing touting its flame retardance or its natural fibers.

Segmenting the market based on these emotions allows marketers to position their brands to match emotions in the buying process and for targeting specific market segments with appropriate messages that push the right emotional buttons.

Matching emotions

Deep emotional understanding also suggests fruitful avenues for new product development and managing improvements to existing brands by matching products with the emotions prevalent in the buying process of their target market.

For instance, detecting frustration associated with the product offers opportunities for creating new products or modifying existing products that reduce frustration.

Final thoughts on emotions in the buying process

  1. Emotions have a significant impact on buyer choice — playing a role that’s likely bigger than cognitive evaluations of the brands features — including price.
  2. Emotions critical in the buying process go beyond simple liking to deeper emotions such as fear, hope, anger, frustration, etc.
  3. Detecting emotions is possible using the digital footprint left by consumers on social networks and mobile devices (such as instant messages).
  4. Market segmentation based on consumer emotions is not only possible, but likely has a bigger impact on market performance than other types of segmentation variables, such as income and lifestyle.
  5. Matching products to consumer emotions offers huge opportunities to create successful new products and make improvements to existing products.

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Hausman and Associates, the publisher of Hausman Marketing Letter, is a full service marketing agency operating at the intersection of marketing and digital media.