Quantifying Feelings: Using Surveys to Measure Emotional Jobs to be Done
by Stephen Wunker and Andrew Troska
The modern Mini Cooper burst onto the scene in 2001 as a chic version of an old British classic. Under the BMW brand, the revamped little car quickly became an icon for city hipsters. Offered in a variety of eye-popping colors, the Mini outsold its competitors in the mini car segment from 2013 to 2018¹. Yet, even as the Mini became a fixture in trendy urban neighborhoods around the globe, the car never seemed to lose its freshness. Demand for Minis has remained robust with annual sales increasing at a steady pace of 5.2% per year.²
But why is the Mini so popular? While its modest size makes it ideal for city living, other cars such as the Honda Fit or the Chevy Sonic are equally manageable in tight quarters. The Mini’s comfort ratings in the Kelley Blue Book are tied with those of the VW Beetle and Toyota Yaris³. Its gas mileage is no better than its competitors, and sometimes it is worse. And with a sticker price that is generally no better than comparably sized rivals, the case for buying a Mini seems pretty weak.
The Mini’s surprising success comes from its unique, almost ineffable customer appeal. People just feel good about buying one. This attraction extends across a number of variables. Its distinctive sporty shape, for example, allows owners to stand out from the pack. The option of a convertible top adds an extra element of cool. The Mini's colors and add-ons are also atypical and can be used as an expression of personality. A shocking yellow Cooper with racing stripes tells the world that you are audacious and fun; a dark purple Roadster signals stylish sophistication; a chocolate brown Countryman is for those who like to travel the unbeaten path. By recasting a car purchase as a bold act of individual expression, Mini has ensured that it will remain competitive in the small car market both now and well into the future.
FIGURING OUT EMOTIONS
As the appeal of the Mini shows, people are simply not rational decision makers. Our feelings and emotions influence our choices as much as, if not more than, our most logical justifications. We rarely identify these emotions clearly; even when we do, we may not openly acknowledge just how important they are. But these emotions are at the very center of customers’ decisions. Digging deep to uncover both the emotional and practical factors behind a purchase decision allows us to more accurately predict whether a new proposition will succeed. Unfortunately, it can be a challenge to get a handle on even your own emotions. Is it possible to capture and measure other people’s emotions in a rigorous and actionable way?
There is no doubt that emotions are notoriously tricky to pin down. Unlike variables such as cost, size, or ease of purchase, emotions are neither discrete nor concrete, making them difficult to compare. What “delights” one consumer may “thrill” another. The question is, what’s the difference? Even more pertinent, does the difference matter? Parsing out specific emotions is useful only if doing so leads to a clear course of action.
So what’s the solution? We approach customers’ emotions using our framework for Jobs to be Done research, which builds on the work of Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen to provide a standardized way of understanding all the factors that influence purchase decisions. Rather than trying to measure specific emotional reactions, we focus on identifying the emotional jobs that consumers want to get done in particular contexts. Unlike emotion, which is a sentimental response to an outside stimulus, an emotional job is a specific emotion-linked task that the customer is trying to accomplish by purchasing or using a product or service within a defined context. Emotional jobs are robust because they address root motivations and emerge as a result of clear attitudinal or circumstantial factors. Breaking emotions down into discrete jobs and clear circumstantial elements makes it easier to translate individual nuances into insights.
For example, understanding that a car makes a customer feel special can hardly be called an insight. “Feeling special” is too vague an emotion to be meaningful. Recognizing, however, that for one customer, “feeling special” means addressing his emotional job of “standing out from the crowd” within the context of “being a hipster who recently moved to the suburbs” opens up whole new areas for action. The emotional job serves as a sort of compass; it lays out directions for creating targeted, meaningful, and relevant innovations.
QUANTIFYING EMOTIONAL JOBS
Measuring emotions with a survey is difficult, but there is a way to do it. Our research into emotional jobs is guided by three key principles: 1. Quality Before Quantity
It’s tempting to try to explore all possible jobs when fielding a survey. No one wants to risk missing an important insight because they forgot to ask. Stuffing a survey full of questions is a bad idea in general; it’s an exponentially worse idea when emotions are involved.
Emotional jobs are not like other types of data. There is rarely a clear ranking or rating of emotional jobs across every situation in which the jobs might apply. Equally importantly, people don’t often sort their emotions into clear categories. There can be a significant amount of overlap between emotions, making uncovering the emotional jobs that customers are trying to satisfy even more of a challenge. Finally, people are often uncomfortable with admitting the role their emotions play in their decision-making. Especially when taking a survey, people like to imagine themselves as more rational than they actually are. Unlike in-depth interviews, surveys do not allow the researcher to ask participants follow-ups when their claims are unconvincing. As a result, survey responses often skew away from potentially important emotional drivers and towards more predictable, functional responses.
These challenges are not insurmountable. In fact, the solution is actually quite simple. The best way to narrow down your questions to a more realistic list is to: (1) conduct qualitative research before you design the survey; and (2) to ask about emotional factors in an open-ended way. In your in-depth interviews, push your participants to generate lists of high-priority jobs instead of giving them a list of possibilities based only on your initial assumptions. Ask them to define in their own words nebulous terms like “gratifying” or “trust.” This way, you can phrase jobs in ways that resonate with consumers, and drill down with them into the components of those jobs that may be quantifiable. At the end of this process, you will have a concise list of factors that can be tested and measured in a survey.
2. Understand The Hierarchy of Emotions
Functional Jobs to be Done are often relatively obvious and easy to arrange into a clear hierarchy. Not so with emotional jobs. Emotional jobs are often related in complex ways, and they can be heavily influenced by contextual factors, making it difficult to understand how to sort and compare them. If emotional jobs and their relative priority levels become jumbled, you risk targeting the wrong emotion. For example, the Mini is cool and stylish, but those factors are less important than its uniqueness. Its target customer prizes uniqueness first, unlike those who might wish for a stylish but more conformist vehicle. Style supports uniqueness in this case, but it does not supersede it. Fiat owners, by contrast, may have the reverse set of priorities.
To get these insights via a survey, ask respondents to weigh their priorities against each other, rather than having them simply assign numerical ratings of importance. Is it more important, for example, to be unique or stylish? This is a more realistic question than asking people to put a number on the value of uniqueness. Then, you can pit prioritized emotions against functional benefits. Is it more important to be unique or to have great gas mileage? In this way you get to useable data which is both accurate and tractable.
3. Context is Key
Emotions are highly context-dependent. The desire for uniqueness, for instance, is likely to manifest differently in a new parent who feels forced into routines than it would in a middle-aged professional yearning to rebel. Emotions also depend upon shorter-term occasions such as going on a date or parking in the office garage. Sometimes an emotion will not be present at all until it is triggered by an event or other contextual change.
Survey-takers may respond based on very distinct imagined contexts, which can lead to highly divergent answers. Control for this variability by describing in detail the contexts in which you’re asking them to imagine themselves. Alternatively, ask about a specific instance when they used or purchased your product or service type. Think about it: do you remember more clearly why you bought your last cup of coffee or why you purchase coffee on average? When answering about a recent, concrete instance, respondents are more likely to remember their choices and feelings accurately. Of course, make sure to capture what that context is, either by providing it or by supplying a handful of choices.
Emotions can sometimes be best understood in relation to the choices they motivate. In this way, competing emotions can be compared, and their relative strength becomes more measurable. If you were assessing what leads people to choose one doctor over another, for instance, you could describe two hypothetical physicians succinctly, ask respondents to choose one, and then have them rate the importance of various emotions in that decision. In this way, you can normalize answers to a clear context and enable respondents to compare emotional jobs that may be in tension with each other, such as having rapport with a physician or feeling assured about the physician's medical expertise. Then you can change the contexts and see how the roles of these factors differ.
To ensure that this strategy is effective, choose the jobs you ask about carefully. Asking about too many jobs will fatigue the respondent and decrease the reliability of their responses. This is yet another reason why it is so important to build the survey on a foundation of robust qualitative research.
PUTTING IT TOGETHER
Following these principles generates many benefits:
Emotions are framed in ways that resonate with customers
Emotions are disaggregated into more manageable components that can be targeted through product, service, and marketing
The hierarchy of emotions – and their relationship to functional Jobs to be Done – becomes clear, enabling you to identify the emotional triggers that lead to a purchase
You understand how context influences emotion, which can inform both when and how you choose to focus on particular emotional jobs
You get an accurate sense of how important emotions are relative to functional jobs, and therefore how much to invest in achieving each type of benefit
You can link together complex emotions in simple ways, anchoring your value proposition in a way that is simultaneously evocative and straightforward
Emotions need not be opaque, and quantitative analysis of them need not be imprecise. When you approach emotional jobs with intention, you can discern their importance clearly, just as BMW did when it first introduced its hip, customizable little car.
New Markets Advisors is a boutique consulting firm that helps companies determine what to bring to market and how to do it successfully