3 Trends in Sentiment, Emotional and Behavioral Analytics

woman shopping online

“There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, ‘Morning, boys, how’s the water?’ And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, ‘What the hell is water?’

This story, from a commencement speech by American writer David Foster Wallace, is a good illustration of how we can be immersed in something, yet be so used to it that we don’t notice it. (1)

But sometimes, if you step back and take a fresh look, things become crystal clear. That happened to me when I recently attended the Insight Exchange Network’s Sentiment, Emotional & Behavioral Analytics conference in San Francisco. Here are three themes that will further your own thinking.

1. If it is not simple, it’s not selling. E-commerce must be frictionless.

Any step that isn’t helping a shopper get an item to their basket is hurting. That’s why companies need to review every facet of their e-commerce customer experience. Figure out what’s easy and intuitive vs. confusing or annoying. Time how long it takes to complete common tasks, and be critical with the results (recall Amazon’s 1-click ordering). Remember that the basic principles of print advertising and packaging design hold true in e-commerce – simple fonts, shorter text, easy to read design. Minimizing friction costs less than increasing motivations, and to compete in today’s e-commerce market you need to button up on all fronts.

2. The goal of your marketing has to be creating a sense of unity with your customers.

In his 1984 book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert B. Cialdini described six key principles that comprised his theory of influence: reciprocity, commitment and consistency, social proof, authority, liking, and scarcity. More recently, Cialdini added a seventh principle to his theory – unity – noting clear trends he had seen regarding the importance of creating a sense of unity with your customers. Not surprisingly, Cialdini’s right – it’s more important than ever that brands create a sense of community in order to increase conversion and equity. This is driven by the fact that humans have an inherent desire to belong, and as such, want to align themselves with brands that have shared values and create a distinct identity.

3. Don’t just ask why. Think behaviorally.

As time goes by, the evidence that asking simple questions like “why did you do that?” is not only a waste of time, the answer is probably misleading. This is not because consumers don’t want to help us, it is because “our mental life is governed mainly by a cauldron of emotions, motives and desires which we are barely conscious of”, wrote neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran, “and what we call our conscious life is usually an elaborate post-hoc rationalization of things we really do for other reasons”. It is now clear just how vitally important it is to increasingly incorporate behavioral science/nonconscious measurement techniques into our research design and processes. Researchers need to combine implicit and explicit techniques into their approaches to be sure they are telling the full story, because no single approach sufficiently explains behavior, as author Roger Dooley detailed during his keynote presentation.


  1. ‘Plain old untrendy troubles and emotions‘, David Foster Wallace, The Guardian, Sept 20 2008