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The Influencers
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The Age of Unreason

Isobar, 3 months ago

INFLUENCER: Ahead of the EU referendum, Pats McDonald, Chief Strategy Officer at Isobar UK, looks at the power of facts and emotion

The Age of Unreason

Watching the EU Referendum play out over recent weeks I’ve been struck by the peculiar limitations of reason. The Remain team have relied on an imminently rational campaign, focusing on the economic impact of leaving the EU, with expert witnesses and veteran politicians.  This is effective among those with an understanding of fiscal policy and an investment in the financial status quo. It is staggeringly ineffective among the many who don’t feel the current system is stacked in their favour, hence the stark geographic and demographic divide between the two camps.  

The emotion in the debate (much of it negative) has been entirely on the Brexit side of the argument with little success by Team Remain in creating a positive emotional connection with ideas of open-ness, inclusivity and opportunity.

The response by a frustrated Remain team is to double down on the facts. To find new ways of visualising the data or articulating the numbers, oblivious to just how little bearing this seems to have on voters’ decisions. Recent polling from IPSOS Mori shows just how few voters would be swayed by the practical implications of their choice.


The power of emotion 

There’s an important reminder here for us as an industry. Few decisions are ever entirely rational-research shows that patients with injuries affecting the emotional areas of their brain struggle to make decisions, even when their rational capabilities are otherwise unaffected.

Time and again we’ve seen evidence that emotional campaigns outperform rational. Les Binet and Peter Field’s seminal 2007 report (“Marketing in the Age of Accountability”) demonstrated significantly higher business results from emotionally-driven campaigns over the longer term. 

Yet it’s a lesson we’re in danger of forgetting in pursuit of what is instantly measurable. This is the challenge we face: while emotional campaigns work harder, they work more slowly. This is problematic in a world of real time data and ever shorter tenures for CMOs.


Thinking fast and slow

This is not a rant about the tyranny of data at the expense of instinct and intuition. There is a vital role in the mix for performance marketing and optimisation. But we must use the increasingly sophisticated data and analytics capabilities at our disposal to strike a balance between fast and slow, rational and emotional.

New technologies are expanding our ability to understand and respond to emotional context, not limiting it. Programmatic planning and buying taps into a wealth of data signals, from sentiment to weather to location, to deliver the right message for the right mood and moment. Meanwhile technologies such as facial recognition, biometric tracking and machine learning are opening up pioneering new approaches to understanding mood. New software is able recognise human emotion with up to 90% accuracy. Which beats quite a few humans I know… 


Emotional doesn’t mean empty

A reminder of the power of emotion is not a plea for more vacuous brand promises lacking substance or rationale. We have all seen far too many brands claim the high ground of empowerment, liberation or self-actualisation and scratched our heads as to just how that toilet paper or detergent brand delivers on such heady claims.

We mustn’t forget however that the Think-Feel-Do model for communication is fundamentally flawed.  Consumers invest minimal time and energy in processing rational product claims, although they may use them after the fact to justify an emotional decision. Feel-Do-Think if you will.


Emotion at every touchpoint 

It’s also critical we remember that today the gap between feeling and doing is ever shorter. Whereas once we might see a compelling piece of content and some time later find ourselves at the point of purchase, technologies such as social commerce and shoppable content mean that wherever we are moved or inspired we can act.

This means we must think not only about how we make emotionally compelling content shoppable, but about how we infuse digital platforms, services and stores with emotion. It is no longer enough to ask ourselves “Does it work?” we must ask ourselves “How does it feel?” Brand values and emotions must infuse every aspect of how a digital service behaves, taps and swipes, opening up a fascinating new frontier where branding meets experience design. 


The failure of facts

So as we remind ourselves of the power of emotion, let’s pause and consider just why facts alone can fail so dismally to persuade.

Research carried out by Professor Brendan Nyhan among anti-science believers revealed that not only are facts unsuccessful in tackling misconceptions, presenting non-believers with the facts can have the opposite effect, actively reinforcing their misconceptions or prejudices. This phenomenon is known as the “backfire effect”.

So rather than argue our case we must find new ways to change perception, remembering that data is not the enemy of emotion, that emotional communication does not mean empty promises and that, as the gap between emotion and action gets ever smaller, we must infuse every brand touchpoint with emotion, creating experiences that delight, not just deliver.