In ancient times there was a concept known as the knowledge of the heart: the belief that feelings and thinking were deposited equally—not in the brain but the heart. The heart was also known as the seat of the soul (or psyche, directly translated in Greek). The knowledge of the heart housed the true data on an individual’s attitude and deepest motivations; one could call it the murky waters of the subconscious.

In time, science and a mechanistic view of the world took center stage. This outlook gave prominence to conscious thinking as the totality of an individual’s desires and personality. It wasn’t until Jung and Freud came along that we again took notice of the forces driving behavior underneath the consciousness-hood.

Market research has certainly attempted to sail the emotional landscape of consumers, in the form of traditional focus groups and other qualitative methodologies. Yet it mostly refuses to dive into those murky waters of the subconscious. This is a problem. Overlooked data may be potentially left behind during research studies—especially considering the notion that many participants aren’t even aware of their exact feelings or even how they truly feel about a brand!

The Arrival of Emotional Market Research

All of this might be changing, though, with technological advances and a social media era that offers the diving equipment to explore those murky waters of the subconscious. You could call this movement emotional market research.

We’re far from alone in noticing this shift in market research. An example is Dr. Robert Passikoff writing in Greenbook, calling for emotional market research in 2016:

As consumer decision-making becomes more emotionally-based, successful brands will identify and utilize emotional values as strategic foundations for meaningful positioning, differentiation, and more authentic storytelling.

Furthermore, another market research expert explained:

Brands that adapt their research agendas to get a better understanding of the role that emotions play have a powerful advantage.

You don’t need a therapy couch or Greek oracle priestess to leverage these advantages.

Examples of Emotional Market Research

A chief illustration would be enterprises like Affectiva and Realeyes. These companies employ standard webcams—typically placed in remote panels of users viewing ads or products in their homes or offices—that detect facial expressions and then provide what they call “emotional analytics.” In essence, the technology unearths the authentic feelings of individuals in real-time and intensity-level.

emotional analytics

According to Realeyes CEO Mikhel Jaatma, emotional analytics has a 75% accuracy rate in predicting long-term sales, while question-based surveys have around 65% accuracy rates. When it comes to predicting social activity (such as shares, comments and views), emotional analytics purports an 80% accuracy rate.

Those are bold claims, surely, but the point is that the technology is becoming available for emotional market research that goes beyond conscious reaction or analysis. Hiring a team of costly psychologists is no longer even an issue when conducting qualitative research.

Other examples exist, and in the spirit of listicles, here they are in all their qualitative glory:

Eye-tracking technology: This technology videotapes conversations alongside an automated system analyzing eye movement. Some studies have eye-tracking technology correctly identifying the honesty levels of subjects at an 83% accuracy level.

Online focus groups: They mine deep into the underlying attitudes and feelings of participants, deeper than traditional focus groups, at least according to researcher Tom Woodnutt. He gives these reasons:

In asynchronous online focus groups, everyone gets their chance to share, while in traditional focus groups time is divided.
Individuals are more open to bare their feelings on the internet than in a physical room with strangers. Therefore, the feedback is superior.
Research can be done in more natural environments and in real-time, such as a consumer providing feedback on their smartphones while are shopping.

Neuromarketing: Many assume that Big Data is just big-ass quantitative research. Scientific research disagrees with this assumption, at least the one conducted by the Applied Neuromarketing Consortium at Northwestern University. One of its chief researchers, Dr. Martin Block, explains how neuromarketing works:

Using big data transaction data and social data along with conscious and unconscious mind shopping behavior data presents a new single view of how marketers may be able to influence behaviors.

Ultimately, the goal is to develop novel marketing models to integrate the best from big data analytics—as well as influence based on how brain stimuli relate to perception, memory and decision-making. Big data may provide info on “what” people did, but neuromarketing gets to the “why” they did it according to swaying stimuli.

There are other, smaller examples, such as utilizing GPS technology to record the actual movement of shoppers instead of relying on their memories later on in a study.

Making Emotional Market Research Work

2016 is the necessary dawn of emotional market research (or whatever label you wish to call the “knowledge of the heart”). The technologies are just developing and methodologies are being perfected. Furthermore, the idea of underlying, truthful emotions—despite studied in psychology for over more than a century—is still relatively new to market research (with some exceptions, such as the work of Edward Bernays and Ernest Dichter, which we have reported on).

Also, a consensus on categorizing emotions is at its early stages in market research. As one researcher stated:

One of the most important elements of measuring emotions is determining which framework of understanding emotions you’re going to build off of. There isn’t even agreement among researchers on how many core emotions human beings experience. One thing that’s useful is establishing which model you’re going to use, and how those emotions will be recognized.

Many researchers base themselves on the model of psychologist W. Gerrod Parrot, allowing for six core emotions (fear, anger, sadness, surprise, joy and love); 25 sub-emotions; and a tertiary layer of more nuanced emotions.

Still, many researchers to do not accept this model. If we cannot agree on what emotions are present in individuals, how can we agree on the underlying emotions in those murky waters of the subconscious?

Time will tell, but the bell will toll for those who reject emotional market research.


The technology and procedures are there, but the subconscious resistance to emotional market research remains (a bit ironic, don’t you think?). Not embracing this form of qualitative research, however, could negatively affect the one Holy Grail in the industry: quality data.

As researcher Ian Murrey stated:

Market research, like most other business disciplines including advertising and marketing, has clung to the standard rational model of economics for far too long. We may not be changing fast enough but the MR skeptics overstate their case when they argue that MR has no value.

That cannot make researcher feel good, even if they hide their emotions until detected by eye-tracking or emotional analytics. One thing research practitioners and marketers hate is not knowing the future when the present is so pregnant with information. The future is knowing the unconscious desires of consumers in the present. As call Carl Jung said: “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”