Gain More Traction With Consumers’ Feelings

The impact of emotions on judgments, evaluations, and decisions has long been important to psychology and consumer behaviour. Studies have shown that people have roughly 200 motivations, and over 3000 emotions, of which over 1000 are actually pursued on a day-to-day basis.

Too much innovation research relies on consumers’ conscious and rational brains, and not nearly enough on their feelings – aka, emotions, emotional drivers, motivations, desires, needs, needstates, wants… the list goes on.

The terminology is irrelevant, but of critical importance is that you go way beneath the surface with consumers and not allow them to credibly fob you off with a rationale that is just that – rational.

What are the 3 key levers of really understanding a consumer’s feelings?

1. Sense of Self

In order to gain more traction with consumer’s feelings, you first need to get a very clear picture about how consumers see themselves. This is called the “sense of self” (or identity) and takes shape from how consumers view themselves currently, how they want to view themselves in the future, and how they want to be viewed by others.

Each person’s sense of self is ruled by self-esteem, which is basically a way of thinking and feeling about yourself. Self-esteem affects almost everything we do.
People with high self esteem generally feel good about themselves and proud of what they can do.

To the contrary, people with low self-esteem don’t feel good about themselves, and don’t think they are as good as others and don’t feel liked, accepted, or respected.
People with low self-esteem are usually more dependent on others for cues, and are easily influenced. This makes finding out what really drives them much more complex as they tend to just conform to what they expect to be the “norm”.

2. Rising Motivations

We are noticing that consumers’ motivations are becoming increasingly about short-lived highs these days. People seek a hedonistic existence. “Life’s too short” is a common adage.

People also strongly identify with other people, and copy the behaviour of their peers. This copying behaviour is labelled by psychologists as ‘groupthink’, and it shows that people mainly want to have the same positive experiences they see others have. People are very good at putting themselves in other peoples’ shoes, resulting in a strong urge to want to do and have what others do and have.

3. Emotionally Attaching = Consumer Loyalty

McKinsey found that consumers are loyal because they “emotionally attach”.

Some of the typical emotional attachments we get consumers to tap in to and reveal to us are:

  • Stand out from the crowd – social identity and being seen as ‘special’
  • Enjoy a sense of wellbeing – achieving balance in life
  • Feel a sense of thrill – triggers pleasure and excitement
  • Be the person I want to be – self improvement, living up to their ideal self image
  • Feel a sense of belonging – aspire to feel part of a group and be like other people

Dismiss At Your Peril 

To uncover these desires is an iterative process, and involves a lot of digging and probing from many different angles. It’s all too easy to accept the consumer’s first response, but this is rarely reliable or accurate.

For example, if a consumer states that they aren’t interested in an idea, they can probably give a very good conscious rationale for why, but it does not tap in to their feelings. We’ve sadly seen many ideas prematurely killed this way.

To take an example of a project we recently worked on within the QSR (quick service restaurant) sector, many consumers rejected a revolutionary piece of structural packaging for their meal when they knew it would come at a slight price premium to the current option. They tell you that how the food is presented is not as important as keeping the cost down.

When you then pose the question to them; “how would you feel if someone sat at the table next to you started eating a meal from this piece of packaging?”, the response is astounding. Virtually all consumers claimed they would be envious and feel left out. And if they were a Mum or Dad, they would feel guilty that they hadn’t let their kids have the superior experience. Some even said they wouldn’t want the family on the table next to them to think that they are a ‘cheap skate’ for opting for the bog-standard meal.


Many brands and researchers believe they have this touchy-feely understanding of their consumers already through brand archetype work. This unfortunately is a one-dimensional view and is not specific to the problem you are asking consumers to help you solve. It’s a good hypothetical starting point, but it’s not real. You really need to use behavioural psychology tricks and tools to get consumers to reveal their true feelings to you on a given matter.


Find out how we can help you connect with your consumers’ true feelings.