Gaging the Mood of the Nation

If you have to ask them, you’ve already failed
– Roger Darashah, Co-founder & Partner, LatAm Intersect PR

“What’s upsetting you?”  Ah, the perennial question that couples across cultures, genders and epochs ask each other.  And the response – spoken or otherwise – is often the same: “It’s the fact that you have to ask . . . that’s what’s upsetting me.”

So much about how we feel – individually, in a couple, as a nation . . . .  – is based on emotion. The triggers for these emotions may be many and varied, rational or irrational, explicable or incomprehensible but their effects remain the same.

Emotions may be notoriously difficult to measure, but they make a difference; hence the increasing interest in Emotional Intelligence (EI) in all spheres of life.   On an individual level, EI enables us to use feelings to boost and complement our IQ, enabling us to build and nurture relationships which, in the long term, are mutually beneficial to all parties.  Brands and marketers have long understood this reality. Hence, marketing has evolved beyond pricing and functionality towards raw and genuine human emotion.

The ‘What’s upsetting you?’ scenario perfectly encapsulates the dilemma facing brands trying to understand and harness the emotions associated with their products.  People won’t necessarily tell you. And the act of asking (or having to ask) compromises the entire process.

My firm has been collaborating with a team of researchers (including from INSEAD business school) to try and address this issue: how to measure the ‘emotional climate’ of a group of people with respect to a particular issue, without actually asking them. For us, such considerations are fundamental; our client proposition is to help clients fit into their audience’s stories (not the other way around), and so understanding their mood (their considerations and priorities) is always the starting point.

One product resulting from this collaboration are Emotional Climate Reports™; a type of emotional ‘barometer’ for different audiences with respect to a particular issue.  We focus on nine principal emotions based on various discrete emotional theories: anger, happiness, sadness, loneliness, jealousy, disgust, fear, anticipation, and surprise.  Of course, we don’t actually ask people to cite their emotions . . . The data is generated using Associative HyperSearch™ technology to identify, track and record emotional associations in two types of public content: Web and Online News.

Again, this data is not a result of surveying, just listening.  Neither, is it based on invasive listening; we track public content only, and the emotions most commonly associated with a particular issue.  And it’s the volumes of data involved that makes the insights so credible.  For instance, when tracking issues such as ‘the economy’ or ‘politics’ across Latin America, we are analysing over a billion ‘data pairs’ (associations of the issue with one of the nine emotions) per country for Web conversations, and around 200 across news articles, every single day.

When archived this data provides a unique insight into the emotional state of a country, with respect to the key issues at stake. Regarding the latter, an analysis of media coverage across Latin America confirmed these to include: politics, the economy, the environment, diversity, corruption, and equality; what we can ‘core’ issues.

So what was the mood of the nation in the last quarter?  Aggregating the emotions associated with these ‘core’ issues in Brazil we discover that anticipation and fear were the predominant emotions expressed across both the Web (public) and the online media (see below).

Technical paper: https://www.insead.edu/faculty-research/publications/working-papers/deepening-our-empathy-with-the-many-voices-of-society-a-social-psychological-approach-to-information-search-and-analytics-41797

Q2 Web (Public)

  • Anger
  • Anticipation
  • Fear
  • Happiness
  • Sadness
  • Suprise
  • Disgust
  • Jealousy
  • Loneliness

Q2 Media

  • Anger
  • Anticipation
  • Fear
  • Happiness
  • Sadness
  • Suprise
  • Disgust
  • Jealousy
  • Loneliness

Digging into the data, when analysing the issue of politics in June, for instance, some nuances (emotional peaks and reversals) emerge across both the Web (public) and reported News media.  But these peaks aren’t registered on the same dates, nor do they reflect the same emotions.  While the date difference could be explained by a delay in publishing and other editorial considerations, what’s more notable is the emotions themselves (below).

The Web (public) peaks in the middle of the month reflect anticipation, happiness and surprise, will the two emotional peaks in the media (actually preceding and following those on the Web) reflect fear and sadness.

We are constantly trying to understand the motivations for these peaks (the events and announcements that may have triggered them, correlations and the direction of any causality etc), but our principle objective – and the role of ECR – is to spot them. What is evident – from the above example and many others we’ve generated over the past 9 months – is that the emotions predominantly associated with a particular issue in the media may not mirror those being expressed by the public.

This finding is absolutely fundamental and at odds with so much marketing and advertising strategy that simply presumes societal agreement or interest.  ECR demonstrates that – in terms of editorial and unmediated content – public emotions around an issue can be wildly divergent.

So, how to avoid that dreaded question: ‘What’s upsetting you’?  It starts with listening; and not necessarily on brands’ terms, but on the terms of the audiences they are trying to engage.

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