Why is it important for CPG companies to make an emotional connection with consumers?
Because emotions not only contribute to the human decision-making process, they completely drive it.
Due to a multitude of threats caused by a rapidly changing retail market and the shifting variables influencing customer ownership, there is a growing focus within the CPG and retail industries to create direct relationships and compelling experiences for consumers. You are probably aware that such experiences trigger valuable emotional responses that are key to establishing brand affiliation, but most people are unfamiliar with the largely one-sided relationship between emotion and logic which is crucial to understanding human behavior.
Typically, people believe that many of life’s most critical decisions should be made based on logic alone, as divorced from passion as possible. But in reality, this idea is not–strictly speaking–humanly possible.
To demonstrate this, we can look back on the curious case of a man with the pseudonym “Elliot” as illustrated in UCLA neuroscientist Antonio Damasio’s wildly insightful book, “Descartes’ Error” (a title that references rationalist Rene Descartes’ flawed view that decision-making should be a purely emotionless affair). Elliot was a smart, successful, happily married businessman who was diagnosed with a brain tumor in his frontal lobe. Due to the increasing severity of its effects, Elliot’s doctors determined that the best course of action was to surgically remove the mass.
Here’s where things get strange: A short while after surgery, Elliot’s life began to completely fall apart. He lost his job due to poor performance. He was swindled by a “shady character” and forced to declare bankruptcy. His marriage ended in divorce. He remarried. He divorced again. He was forced to move in with family. Then, ultimately, he was denied disability assistance because, for all intents and purposes, nothing appeared wrong with him. Doctors described him as intelligent and able-bodied with full mental faculties. People thought he was just being lazy.
Damasio dug in, seeking the cause of his patient’s inexplicable decline. What he found was startling: Elliot seemed incapable of making the simplest of decisions. He struggled for hours with what he should wear for the day. He agonized over what to eat for lunch. He wasted entire afternoons vacillating between different ways of organizing his files. Decision making was nearly impossible, and it had completely crippled his life.
Damasio dug deeper still. As Elliot described his own decline, he did so in a freakishly detached manner. He talked about memories of strong emotional experiences, but he sounded as if he was a third party to it all. Simply put, Damasio discovered that Elliot could no longer feel any emotion whatsoever.
Cases like these have led Damasio and others to conclude something incredibly powerful about the relationship between emotions and decisions: our feelings essentially provide a super-efficient shortcut to decision-making that help us by automatically eliminating certain options while prioritizing others at speed. They serve as a summary of all of the positive and negative versions of similar experiences we’ve had during our lives (in addition to the core fight or flight and reproduction-based drivers our reptilian ancestors bestowed upon our amygdalae). Think of it as intuition: our brains don’t have time to recall all of the dealings we’ve had with oddly nervous individuals and their outcomes. Instead, we fear that such individuals are being dishonest and choose not to do business with them, even if we can’t expressly say why. This “speed of assessment” is very important to our lives today, but was absolutely critical to the life or death decisions our ancient ancestors faced on a daily basis. In short, this is the core purpose of our emotions.
In Elliot’s case, without the ability to feel, he struggled to mentally assign values to the unfiltered myriad of options before him, resulting in a hopelessly flat solution landscape that overwhelmed him constantly and eventually led to the complete breakdown of his life.
As a negotiating strategy, many believe if they supply enough logical arguments and facts, the other side will inevitably come around to share their view. However, as we have seen, logic has little to do with it. A better strategy would be to forge a human connection and adopt an empathetic stance (the gateway to emotional connections), complemented by logical evidence. After all, fact-based arguments can still contribute to an individual’s emotional position, they just can’t stand on their own nearly as affectively as a purely emotional proposition.
So, as your brand proposition negotiates with consumers on your behalf, push buttons. Stretch boundaries. Take risks. Thread the connective tissue that binds specific consumers to your brand emotionally. Because in most instances, striving for a smaller, emotionally-charged customer base has the power to drive your KPIs more effectively than a much larger cadre of disengaged Elliots.
Additionally, controversial campaigns and brands that take strong positions may starkly divide a pool of consumers, but on one side of that division exist passionate individuals seeking ways to more deeply identify with that same stance. And if success is any indicator, consider Nike’s Colin Kapernick campaign, which is attributed as a significant factor behind a 10% jump in Nike’s quarterly income, and it becomes clear the shared bond can impact success far more significantly than those on the other side of the divide can negatively impact it.
That’s not to say taking a wildly unpopular position is a good idea–you need to know your audience and tolerance for risk. Taking a controversial position on an important social issue solely to drive profits is usually transparent at best, and will completely backfire at worst. To be clear, it’s a terrible idea. That is not what this article is advocating.
But be genuine. Sometimes taking a controversial position is the right thing to do.
In hindsight, perhaps Damasio’s insight should have been more obvious. After all, we often justify our decisions by saying things like, “I feel that…“ or “My instinct is to…“ or “I’m worried about…“ etc. People who operate “from their gut“ are often ridiculed–especially in the world of business–but perhaps they should be revered for their honesty.
Ultimately, consumers are not Elliots. They are emotional beings. They are hopelessly illogical. Most of all, they are human–warts, and all. And evolution has bestowed upon humans a keen ability to identify superficiality, the archenemy of empathy and emotional connection. So be genuine. Don’t be afraid. Be your brand. Connect. Get emotional. Your customers will reward you for it.