Emotional intelligence is what separates man from machine. Get it right, and we can connect with anyone in a genuine way, generate whole new industries, and not just survive the automation revolution, but thrive within it. Happen’s StarMaker tool helps brands get there by scouring millions of online comments for peaks in emotion that show us what customers really want.
Humans have an inherent need to make connections. Just ask Mark Zuckerberg and his more than two billion customers. Technology has enabled those links to happen faster than ever before, and in more and more unexpected places. But what is each of those connections worth? For an activist living under censorship, they can be invaluable; for a teenager blitzed with thinspo on Instagram, alarmingly damaging.
As social networks multiplied into the monolithic tech giants we see today, they began to understand the nuances of what they had created. A mass of communication with the power to bring people together and make the human social network digital; but also the power to alienate and isolate, to exaggerate rather than diminish the problems already facing people in the real world. The missing link, that can transform an all-consuming endless scroll, our digital lives and our conversations with brands, into a genuine joy based on true connections, is emotion.
Emotion underpins loyalty and drives purchases
Emotion is behind every choice we make and every relationship we form – with strangers, or with brands. When Pepsi tried to show it had the finger on the pulse, it fell flat on its face with an advert inspired by #BlackLivesMatter and other protests. The advert was borne from an awareness of the increasing rise in social activism. But by failing to understand or reflect the complexities of the issues involved, including the emotions driving and informing them, it missed the mark and faced a barrage of criticism.
Professor Jos van Berkum, a cognitive neuroscientist at Utrecht University, is working on breaking down the very substance of our interactions, and how words, tone of voice and even emojis, elicit emotions. He is convinced this will enable “more successful interventions in society”.
“The motive states that are part and parcel of emotions, evaluations and moods control much of your everyday behaviour, from the supermarket you go to and the stuff you buy there to the people you seek out,” he wrote in a 2017 paper. “They also determine whether you read on or whether you cast this paper aside, and whether you mentally explore certain ideas or not. [They] need not be very strong to exert this control, and we may not be aware of how they tug at us at all.”
If emotions drive our decisions, then brands using the right language to elicit the desired emotions can have an enormous impact. This is what every marketing campaign strives for. But if we could track and evaluate real emotions, probabilities would turn into near certainties. This approach is fast becoming a necessity – missing the mark can lead to volatile dips in revenue in a competitive climate. In the months following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, advertising clicks on Facebook dropped by 20 per cent. It doesn’t matter how big a company is – they are not protected from fluctuations in consumer emotions, particularly when it comes to something as integral as brand trust.
Instances like this go to the part emotion plays in modifying our identity and beliefs. “Emotions play a crucial role in what we often experience as ‘rational’ reasoning and decision making, regardless of whether people are thinking about consumer products and medical treatments, or about a morally responsible course of action,” wrote van Berkum. “[They] also influence attention, memory encoding and retrieval… and the specific beliefs that people are inclined to commit themselves to.” So, elicit the correct emotion, and you will have a consumer’s attention, they will remember you, and they may be inclined to show loyalty.
Interrogate and act on real emotions
Silicon Valley is pouring millions into emotion analytics. Apple and Facebook have both acquired AI startups that read emotions from facial expressions (Emotient and FacioMetrics, respectively), and companies are using AI to track emotions from tone of voice (IBM Watson’s Tone Analyzer, used by customer service agents), or from the expressions of vast groups in stadiums (Snaptivity) or cinemas. Meanwhile, we are already allowing corporations to place microphones in our homes so we can enjoy voice-activated technology. Those microphones, and increasingly cameras, will combine with emotion AI tools to deliver compelling communications and adverts based on our personal desires. The likes of Google and Facebook know that if an AI cannot understand the nuances of human speech, particularly emotion, it will fail to connect with customers and surge into our schools, hospitals and offices as planned. Misstep here though, and the privacy implications will take decades to overcome.