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How do emotions drive the choice of a supplier and how can we measure them?

As business-to-business market researchers, we are inclined to believe that decision-making by buyers and specifiers is entirely rational. When has a buyer ever admitted that he or she chooses a supplier saying it’s “because I like them”? When has an engineer ever said that he or she specifies a supplier “because they make me feel important”? They usually tell us that their choice is driven by the quality of the product, the price, the speed of delivery and so on. And yet, many companies have suppliers that have been in place for years and years. Surely there must be something else influencing buying decisions?

So what is going on? Maybe we are wrong in believing that the buying decision is entirely rational. We know that emotions play an important part in consumer markets, and we know that people don’t leave their emotions at home when they go to work. How much of the buying decision is influenced by emotions? It is hard to say, but some people argue that it accounts for up to half of the decision—even in traditional business-to-business markets.

If we assume that emotions do play a significant role in influencing the buying decision—and perhaps a larger role than we have previously admitted—then we must find some means of measuring this. The brand of a company is where we are likely to find most of the emotional repository because brands create an expectation and expectations carry with them a great deal of hope and promise. This is where emotions come into play.

What does this mean for us as market researchers? The starting point is to consider words we can use to measure emotions. Colin Shaw, the author of The DNA Of Customer Experience, suggests twelve positive emotions and eight negative emotions that can drive customer experience. He then places these into four groups which influence actions: advocacy, recommendation, attention, and destruction (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Hierarchy of Emotional Value

Emotional Signature
please click on the image to enlarge

We researchers can measure the association that somebody has with these words and a brand to establish where it is strong and weak. In effect, we are generating an “emotional signature” which can be compared with other signatures. In Figure 2 above, the emotional signature for the company is the vertical bars and that of the competitors is the line graph.

Figure 2: Emotional Signature

Emotional Signature
please click on the image to enlarge

After years of research in which we have asked thousands of people why they choose certain suppliers, we are convinced that there is a great opportunity for finding out more about the emotional drivers of the buying decision. In doing so, we believe it is possible to gain a great competitive advantage. It will help you improve your customer satisfaction, raise your Net Promoter Score, and build market share.

Contact Paul Hague: [email protected]

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