On this episode of THRIVE—sponsored by Workamajig—Kelly and Todd Myers of BRANDthro talk about the arrival of the emotion economy, and how we can blend neuroscience and AI to create experiences that are predictably more engaging for humans—and therefore much more effective for consumer brands and social impact organizations alike. Watch or listen (and share!).
EP 81: The Inflection Point of Data-Led Experience
Kelly: So welcome to this week's episode of Thrive. I am very excited because today we're talking about the impact of gathering emotional data and augmenting it with machine learning and AI. I'm actually joined today by Todd Meyers, who's the co-founder of BRANDthro. BRANDthro is a neuromarketing consultancy using AI and neuroscience to create a richer understanding of humans, brands, and content, but through the lens of personality, brand, experience, and language, all connected to emotion. So, that may have been a mouthful, but we're gonna dive into all of that, and really talk about the inflection point of data led experience. So Todd, thank you so much for joining me today. I am super, super stoked to have you.
Todd: Thank you for having me.
Kelly: So let's really just kind of unpack. The emotion economy has arrived. Right? What role would you say empathy should play in customer experience?
Todd: Well, that's a big question.
Kelly: It's a big question.
Todd: It's a big question. And what's interesting is that if you'd asked me that question 5 months ago, I would have said it's a critical importance to understand how people are feeling so you can understand how they'll behave, and how they'll act. And when we say customer, look at everyone as a customer, so employees as a customer outside inside. So it's critical we understand from the C-suite perspective, how important customer experience and employee experience are, and more importantly, we determine the importance of employee advocacy, and customer advocacy as part of that experience. Well, everything changed. If you asked that question before March 13 and you kind of look at with deer in the headlights, what does that mean? Well, we, all of a sudden understood what advocacy mean starting March 13th, saying it now means safety, security, and somebody has my back. And that pervasive understanding of what someone is feeling in this current state is critical for any brand to succeed. Then the world changed again on March 25 after George Floyd murder, and we understood a whole another texture and a whole another layer of what does safety and security mean. And so, let's start with the employee experience first, because everyone being a customer, and by understanding how you're going to engage, and what are the key experiences that are going to be most resonant with them in a remote environment for most of us, and then what is actually going to make them feel safe and secure through multiple lenses, and what's the best language to use to actually engage them and make them feel engaged, productive, and a part of making change. All those things that vary from brand to brand, but have an overall arching theme that has to be throughout all societies. So that at its highest level is what we're talking about when the importance of understanding how people are feeling when creating experiences, whether it be internally or externally.
Kelly: I think that's a good overarching frame. Most people are going to say, “Well, what about the economics”? So let's get into the economics. When we talk about them from both qualitative and quantitative KPI standpoint, how does emotionally or data lead experiences really impact a moment to drive an action?
Todd: So it's my favorite question. We are an insights company. But what good are insights just for insights sake? So our objective is to look at the economics of emotion. So understanding by creating emotionally optimized communications, emotionally optimized experiences, emotionally optimized, you fill in the blank wherever you're actually going to touch a customer. By making them feel something, you'll be able to move them to act. And actually, the more intense that emotion is, the higher the emotional intensity a brand has with its target, the higher degree of trust, loyalty, and spend will result. So in a world where no one knows where to turn to feel safe and secure, you were looking to brands and we will look to brands to make us feel safe, secure and trust.
Kelly: It actually makes me think of the recent Nike spot. I don't know if you saw that. Someone posted it on LinkedIn. I think it was Rod Hess from Rally Marketing who posted it on his LinkedIn, a client of mine and I shared it. It was such an amazing spot, incredibly emotional, really, really well done in terms of like the video production. And, again, it's exactly what you're talking about, right? It covered all of those emotional, obviously it was very on brand in terms of, it was showing the athletes in many different sports and sort of like showing them transitioning from one to the other of all different backgrounds and really kind of this very in solidarity type of message. But it was just incredibly done. I don't think that there was even a word spoken in the entire spot. It was just all done visually, but incredibly emotional.
Todd: Nike is a great brand, a great example, who hits the emotional button every single time.
Kelly: Every time.
Todd: And there are some brilliant strategists out there, some brilliant creatives out there. What we're saying is, what if you were to actually test those themes, test the language before you actually spent however many millions of dollars on a spot to test, what if you actually test it before it went to market. So you knew how somebody was going to feel before you spent a dime. So our whole philosophy is playing at the strategic phase of any sort of experienced development, whether it be a commercial, or whether it be a cultural event, or whatever it is, what somebody was going to feel, what their reaction was going to be and what their behavior would be before you spent a dime. So from an efficiency and efficacy perspective, and the economics perspective, we support optimizing not only your spend, but optimizing your emotional engagement.
Kelly: Right. I just want to go back for a second because you mentioned George Floyd. And I was wondering like, is there an example or some anecdote that you could share about how the proprietary approach that you're taking at BRANDthro is really going to benefit organizations as they respond to social justice and diversity inclusion efforts in their own organizations.
Todd: Absolutely. I can speak about it anecdotally. So we're working with a number of brands that have had particular interest right now around cultural development. And understanding that while D&I has been a guiding light for many brands today, it's taken on a whole new context right now. And I think that it's no longer business as usual. It’s no longer checking boxes. We know there is going to be an opportunity to optimize the language you're using when talking about what does race mean, what does it mean to be diverse, what does it mean to be inclusive, and what are the various kind of lenses you need to look at that including social justice, to say, how are we going to behave, how are we going to stand up as a brand internally, and we believe that, especially now, it's important to start with the employee and culture because then it halos out. And again, back to economics, that will improve productivity if someone is feeling safe and more comfortable in their in their own skin, in their own workforce, and then the ability to actually attract other employees because there is such a strong approach to diversity inclusion, and I don't believe it's the same approach. I believe now's the time that we're going to really see some catalysts of change. And we hope, and what we're working to do is identify what are some of those pivot points that we can actually take advantage of to not only benefit the organization as a whole but benefit society. So how do you ultimately stand up in an authentic way? Because every brand has to do it in the most authentic way possible. Because we've seen some of these steps already.
Kelly: Right. Yeah, it's interesting. There are a couple of really great organizations that are I think, leading this newer movement that is really rooted in the fact that talking about language, diversity and inclusion as a term, D&I as a term, maybe kind of misses the mark. And so there's this whole movement that's like, could we stop talking about D&I? It was really just checking boxes. Right?
Todd: Well, it's interesting you say that. We had our 2020 trend report that we put out for this year 2020 that we reframe D&I in a concept of brand justice.
Kelly: Oh I love that.
Todd: So it's all encompassing, and it's really understanding how does a brand step up. D&I still has connotations of checking boxes. Okay, we have this person, this person, this person, but yet, they don't have a voice. They don't necessarily have a seat at the table. There is no cross pollination of ideas. And that's the benefit of having a more diverse environment, is the diversity of ideas. I absolutely agree we've been testing different types of language. We did a bunch of testing. We did a study around COVID language and Black Lives Matters language, to see how it was resonating with voters who are 19 to 40 that are male, female, and that are white and nonwhite. So again, looking at how people feel emotionally and react to specific language, and then identify what language they are most emotionally resonating with. Again, this was not brand specific, but the opportunity is to customize it to a brand to ensure that they're using the right language to connect with their target and their employees.
Kelly: Right. So that 2020 trend report that you're talking about?
Kelly: You did that in December, but then you just mentioned some stuff around COVID and racial strife and things along those lines. Was that report updated since then? Or is the report that you're talking about from December?
Todd: The report I'm talking about is from December. We've just begun to release some of the insights from a study that we actually just completed a couple of weeks ago.
Kelly: Okay, great.
Todd: That’s a research study. Yeah.
Kelly: Okay. Got it. So definitely, we'll put the link to the 2020 trends reports in the show notes, for sure.
Kelly: So let's talk a little bit about the technology itself, because I think that that's kind of interesting. What are the downfalls of sort of that, like, positive, negative neutral effect from third party technologies compared to what you're doing with BRANDthro?
Todd: Okay, well, what's typically available, there are a lot of people out there doing very well is what's called sentiment analysis. And sentiment analysis is really reactive language. So they're calling, let's say, Twitter, Facebook, all the other channels. They're saying, listen, your target is using this language when talking about your brand. And then they're inferring what's positive, what's negative, and what's neutral; however there are false positives and false negatives. So the limitation is that is that there's no true science behind it. What we're doing is primary research; that before anything is created, we're looking at both through the lens of personality and brand experience; that we're looking at understanding who the target is. So creating commercial intimacy. And then we're looking at brand language through both primary and secondary emotions. So primary emotions predict behavior, secondary emotions identify where there are underlying tensions that might lie beneath that primary emotion. And then we're able to weigh the emotional intensity that someone feels when reacting to a piece of language because the higher the emotional intensity, the higher the degree of trust, loyalty, and spend will result. What's unique about our approach is that we're using data science and not statistical analysis. So statistical analysis can be applied to an environment where everything is black and white. There is no multiple choice. Well, you can have multiple emotions. You can have multiple emotions to any one piece of language. So emotion is thought not to be in equilibrium. So when applying statistical analysis models, they're flawed because there are too many assumptions. But by applying data science, which is something that our head of data science created an algorithm that is able to say, measure what that weight is of that emotion or continuum of love to anger. We're able to predict with accuracy of 99% with sample size of only 100. So we're basically putting math behind emotion. So it is the data and its math. So it's accurate to .01 decimal places. So 99%.
Kelly: Unbelievable. The power of that. If you really think about putting math behind the motion. Yeah, incredible.
Todd: And again, back to the idea of Nike. When you're not Nike. The power is, you may have great ideas and we may identify there's just subtlety between the ideas, but yet one is better because it's math. It is better than the other because of we've measured how somebody is actually emotionally reacting to it.
Kelly: Yeah, so because we have or you have the ability to do that to that level of accuracy, and all of the gradient and all of the spectrum in between, which statistical analysis does not provide, there's a huge opportunity in that and the opportunity is to create these experiences that are extremely interactive and extremely engaging because you have the ability to predict that they will be. So I guess as we start to wrap up, what are some of the discussions that you've been having either internally or with other organizations in terms of the types of applications that this could be used for. Because I would imagine that, really, it's almost unlimited what you could apply this to.
Todd: So we're marketers that have created a technology for marketers. We saw two major pain points being everyone out there who's listening knows that your customer segmentations just don't tell you enough. And they're not actionable and they're stale by the time you get them. So we have the ability to actually create a rich understanding who they are through the Big Five OCEAN model. So that's our personality framework views. We're able to look at brand experience features that are most important to the target. And again, because we need small sample sizes, we're able to get to micro targets within that overall sample. So it's very exciting. You can create niche understandings, let's say within a vodka drinker, you're able to get to three ethnicities within the vodka drinker community, and create custom experiences for each of those microsegment. So we're able to understand not only the experiences that are most important to them, but then actually do some analysis to do some pairwise analysis to actually drive innovation within that space related to that target. And then we're able to look at brand language to create customer experiences that actually will move the needle. And we know from experience that we're able to move the needle on engagement and actually drive sales. So that goes back to the whole economics of really what is one of the most exciting things about how we are applying what it is we're doing right now.
Kelly: Yeah. Unbelievable. I mean, it's absolutely fascinating.
Todd: Thank you.
Kelly: I will put a link to the website in the show notes. And thank you so much for coming on. Really want to stay in touch and hear how this is going. I don't know. It's really exciting. And I love the fact that yes, we are at this inflection point, we're finally really taking emotion seriously. So that's exciting to me.
Todd: I think it's an exciting time in culture because I think that what this quarantine has shown us how important empathy is. Finally, it's kind of like something we've been talking about for years. And really what drives empathy is language. In response to your last question, it does have application wherever there's a customer engagement. So wherever there's a customer, there's a need to improve your emotional engagement and your emotional EQ. So you're absolutely right. There's broad application.
Kelly: Yeah, great. Again, thank you so much, Todd.
Todd: My pleasure. Thank you.