Justin De Graaf
Nov 14, 2019

Why marketers need to understand emotions this holiday season

People experience six different need states when they search, according to Google’s global head of research and insights for ad marketing.

Why marketers need to understand emotions this holiday season

As a marketer, you may have become adept at deciphering the intent of people who enter a few keywords into the internet’s most popular search engine. But have you factored in how searchers feel?

As brands head into the thick of the holiday season, it’s important that performance marketers capture the attention of shoppers by understanding, and reacting to, the emotions driving their search behavior.

Conventionally, it’s been brand marketers, not performance marketers, who were more apt to consider the emotional needs of searchers. New research tells us that’s no longer a viable strategy for performance marketing.

Instead, it’s critical to look at how emotion drives intent, and we’ve identified six canonical need states that people experience when turning to Google.com: Surprise Me, Help Me, Reassure Me, Educate Me, Impress Me, and Thrill Me. The marketers that solve more needs will drive more growth.

We believe needs to be the driver of decisions across the board, but are basing these conclusions on two new pieces of consumer research. First, we partnered with Kantar to survey more than 4,000 people to learn more about their needs. Second, we partnered with Verto Analytics to learn more about people’s behaviors as they move through a purchase journey. With both partners, all respondents opted-in to participate in the research.

As part of this research, we connected with a woman named Maya, who was in the market for new pet food for her dog. She searched for ‘What is the best dog food for a diabetic dog’ and ‘Is grain free dog food better for your dog’. We know she needs food for her dog - the intent there is clear - but we also know that she is looking to be reassured that she’s doing what’s best for her dog. That’s the underlying need Maya is trying to fulfill and it’s that need that moves her through her journey.

We see that Maya wants to feel reassured, but others are looking to be thrilled, educated, helped, impressed or surprised. Sometimes, different people can express seemingly polar opposite emotions when searching for the same category.

When searching for clothing, for example, about 13% of people want to be reassured, to feel practical and to be seen as dependable. Another 7% want to be thrilled, feel exhilarated and be seen as daring, which is the case for the person in the study who searched for LeBron James shoes and found them at Nike.com.

Because one size doesn’t fit all, search ads need to be tailored to specific needs.

Among survey respondents who searched for travel, for example, the largest group of people wanted to be helped. The brands they used in search tend to be accessible and family-friendly such as Disney, Six Flags and Holiday Inn. These searchers’ needs are easy going, they want to feel relaxed, cared for, and united with others.

On the other hand, nearly a quarter of the people making travel-related searches wanted to be surprised. They wanted to be seen as happy-go-lucky, spontaneous and free-spirited. The places used in this context were lively and fun, like Las Vegas and Disney.

Still others wanted to feel powerful and important and expressed interest in brands that reflect on their desired prestige. For example, when searching for autos, one person searched for "2019 best new cars" and clicked on Acura.com. About 16% of auto searchers fell into this category.

Almost twice as many people, 31%, simply want to be educated when searching for cars. This group wants to feel competent and proficient and will focus on trustworthy results, eschewing popularity.

The good news is that across categories, the need to feel educated and perceived as competent are virtually identical regardless of whether they’re searching for clothing, autos or travel. The same goes for the other five categories. And remember, people’s needs change, even during a search. In one moment they may need help, but in another part of their journey they need reassurance. These changing needs can be met by advertisers with the right content, creative, and positioning.

This means that what determines success in an auto search ad and a shoe ad will have a lot in common, making it just a bit easier for performance marketers to delve into the emotional state of searchers this holiday season.

Justin De Graaf is Google’s global head of research and insights, ad marketing.

Campaign US

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