Implicit Priming – An Effective Technique to Reveal Hidden Emotions That Drive Consumer Buying Decisions
This article will be most revealing and valuable if you first know and/or believe the following about emotions:
- Emotions, which are triggered by experiences and thoughts, ultimately inform and direct consumer decisions and behavior.
- Emotions’ influence is difficult to assess because it is often hidden from view — either operating in the consumers’ unconscious or being guarded by consumers when asked directly about how they are feeling.
- For this reason, effectively assessing emotions’ influence on consumer decisions and behavior needs special techniques — ones that get at emotions’ “implicit” or “hidden” nature.
These points have been firmly established in neuroscience, psychology, or marketing research in recent years.
(If you’ve read any of my previous articles, presentations, or reports, I apologize for starting this way because this information is redundant. Blah, blah, blah, there he goes again, emotions, emotions, emotions. Sorry, but it’s important!)
Accepting the need for special techniques to effectively assess emotions’ implicit influence, there are many to choose from. They include projectives and laddering, which are often used in traditional interviewing, along with less traditional interviewing techniques such as psychodrama, metaphor elicitation, neurolinguistic programming, and even the highly misunderstood hypnosis-interviewing. They also include naturalistic observation techniques, commonly called ethnography. These days neuromarketing is becoming very popular, so “hot” implicit emotional assessment techniques include psychophysiological emotion indicators such as fMRI, EEG, other biometrics, and facial coding & electromyography to name a few.
However, there is one family of implicit emotional assessment techniques that is not as well known or used in consumer research as the ones just mentioned. But these techniques can be just as effective, if not more. This family of techniques is commonly called Implicit Association or Misattribution.
These techniques come primarily from social and cognitive psychology and they are often used in those disciplines to expose hidden negative emotions or attitudes, like various forms of socially unacceptable biases. Noted experts in this family of techniques are Anthony Greenwald (the inventor of the Implicit Association Test) and Russell Fazio (well-known for initiating implicit “priming” techniques). However, there are dozens of others. (Send me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send other names.)
These techniques, which allow quantitative emotional scoring and graphing, work by first quickly (and sometimes subliminally) presenting representations of objects of interest (e.g., brands). This “priming,” as it is commonly called, activates unconscious emotional associations respondents have with the targeted objects. After this, respondents are misdirected to complete a feelings task that appears unrelated to the priming. For instance, they might be asked to indicate whether or not a group of letters on the screen (some of which form actual feeling words) represent a real word or not. Or they might be asked to rate how much an ambiguous image conveys a particular feeling. Implicit emotions toward the targeted object are “measured” by observing the respondents’ performance on the misdirected task after being primed with the targeted object’s representation vs. being not primed at all or being primed with some sort of neutral control representation.
The graph below shows what can result from this type of an approach. This is an Emotional Profile that we recently developed for a well-known consumer foods brand.
This graph neatly illustrates how those with higher shares of purchases for this brand felt about the brand explicitly (in red; within their awareness and willingness to share) and, most importantly, implicitly, too (in blue; outside of their awareness or willingness to share). This provides information that would not have been possible using traditional explicit self-reports alone (which is most often used in market research). Furthermore, additional analyses (e.g., multiple regressions) can confirm which of these emotions most drives purchase or brand preference. In this study, implicit (not explicit) loving was the emotion that most drove share of purchases for this brand. Again, this insight would not have been possible from traditional explicit self-report methods.
So if you are interested in, or already believe in, the importance of emotions in consumer behavior, and if you are interested in an effective technique for revealing emotions that self-reports miss or misrepresent, consider Implicit Priming.
I hope this has been valuable. As always, please submit your comments, contact me directly, or share this article with others (by using the e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn icons above).
Until next time…