Love at first sight?

By Danica Allen, Ph.D. and Dirk Moersdorf, GfK

Conversations with consumers predict product success

In today’s experience economy, consumers are bombarded with new experiences every day – proposals for new products, new services, and new consumption models – to improve their lives. In a world that promises compelling experiences, fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) brands struggle to deliver against these aspirations in a way that has a real effect on targets.

The field of market research is slow to adopt the behaviors of the present, digital generation. Traditional survey design remains exactly what it is – traditional. As researchers, many continue to impose feedback mechanisms and structures that – given today’s technological capabilities – are foreign to consumers. To be sure, people use words and conversations to express their attitudes and preferences, not marketing research scales.

In their widely-recognized book Built to Love, Boatwright and Cagan (2010) emphasize how crucial consumer emotion is for successful product creation. The authors demonstrate that the payoff of emotion as a lever of new product success is more than linear. In our exceedingly noisy world, consumers are constantly bombarded with new offers. As a result, consumers largely filter all they see and hear. A bit of love and excitement can capture the attention of consumers, and have a significant impact on sales.

Brand and product managers are responsible for a pipeline of new products that create sustainable and relevant consumer experiences. Many suspect that traditional ways of testing new concepts and products do not provide sufficient direction for well-founded decisions primarily because of these three factors:

  1. Existing key performance indicators (KPIs) do not adequately measure emotional engagement, therefore falling short in predicting adoption.
  2. Data collection no longer matches the prevailing ways in which consumers interact, and thus is neither sufficiently engaging nor does it collect authentic feedback.
  3. New technologies get us closer to measuring “real” excitement.

Two major technology developments boost our ability to implicitly rather than explicitly measure complex emotions. GfK can now – in a scalable and cost-effective way – measure excitement, and capture spontaneous, more authentic reactions of consumers who are exposed to innovative ideas through three (3) key approaches.

  1. Broad availability of cameras and microphones

The ubiquitous availability of devices with cameras and microphones enables us to capture spontaneous emotions, associations, and behavioral indications that are much more predictive of what people will actually do than their traditional responses to scaled questions.

The use of audio analytics upgrades our KPIs by introducing sheer emotion based on how people verbally express themselves, and the behavioral indications of structured analyses of what people say.

  1. Machine-learning and unstructured data analytics 

The big data trend enables research agencies to generate insights from unstructured data sources. By applying machine-learning algorithms and using interpretative frameworks, vast amounts of data can be interpreted.

For the first time we can interpret what and how consumers verbally express themselves by having open conversations with them. We are now able to understand the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of new product adoption.

  1. Open answers do not equal open-ended responses 

Some believe open consumer feedback is not a new concept; market researchers have worked with open-ended questions for decades.  But our intuition suggests that there is a big difference between consumer’s written responses to open-ended questions and their verbal, spoken responses.

A systematic comparison, as shown in the below table, reveals that speech and writing (typing open-ended responses), in fact, differ substantially. When asked for reactions to various stimuli, consumers provide sometimes subtle – and sometimes significantly different – responses. The most notable differences between typed and spoken responses involved the use of intonation, pauses, and other vocal traits that can impart sarcasm, sympathy, or even humor into otherwise static communication.

Verbal Reactions 

Perhaps the most valuable aspect of capturing verbal reactions to stimuli is the spontaneity that is associated with spoken language. Typed responses tend to be well thought out prior to

being transferred to hard copy (or digital format), while verbal responses tend to be more spontaneous and therefore reflect a “top-of-mind” reaction to the stimulus. This latter reaction is a better reflection of behavior, which is incredibly valuable in an FMCG environment where purchase decisions are often made on “auto-pilot.”

Voice analytics overcome traditional gaps in concept screening and testing 

Voice recordings not only provide more insight than typed responses when we look at what people say when they see or hear a new idea. The real breakthrough is in the capability of analyzing how people express themselves.

Our voice analysis systems measure the emotional strength via a consumer’s excitement, arousal, or surprise to indicate early success (or failure) of a new product or concept. We complement the emotional strength analyses with the content of consumers’ statements that reveal the adoption behaviors. The following questions are central to these analyses:

  • What are consumer’s verbal reactions? Are they about benefits or about drivers and/or barriers to trying a new product?
  • Which aspects of an idea or a concept make it fit into the consumer’s life? What role do traditional KPIs play?

The most obvious effects for business decisions in an innovation environment are: 

  • Increased discrimination and sensitivity across concepts to drive choice, optimization and launch
  • Understanding which concepts are “loved,” that is, ideas that consumers can emotionally connect with. We now know that ‘loved’ concepts are favored over low-excitement, incremental innovation
  • Automation and scalability of the process accelerates development
  • A tool that saves all voice recordings creates a wealth of consumer feedback to test new constructs and diagnostics


At GfK, we embrace the shift in measuring and evaluating future market performance using the latest technology. By engaging consumers in an open conversation, we capture rich data from our consumers not only in the language they speak, but using the medium (speech) that matters most for them.

We measure real excitement and interpret how the consumer responds. Traditional market research fails to acknowledge the nuances and the media by which today’s consumers communicate.

We capture true consumer-centric predictions of behavior rather than static product evaluations, providing line-of-sight for innovation opportunities.