Our experience as researchers and marketing strategists finds great mystique surrounding the concept of emotional drivers in marketing, and even more puzzling notions about how they should be assessed.

This article is the first in our series of essays regarding the problems, pitfalls, and available solutions for quantifying emotional end benefits/imagery and understanding how they relate to purchase, product features, & brand equity.


We have eight main points to make in this essay:

  1. An Emotional End Benefit is nothing more than 'something nice you help me say about myself by using your product or service'. They are linked to varying degrees with product features, advertising mood and tone, brand names, etc.
  2. Emotional Benefits Underlie Every Category And Are the Basis for Brand Equity & All Advertising Strategies
  3. Motivating Benefits Vary by Category: the emotions which motivate purchase and usage in vision care, for example, are much different than those motivating brand choice in beer
  4. Emotional Benefits Are Associated to Varying Degrees with Specific Product Features
  5. Assessing Emotional End Benefits Requires Special Techniques: this is because a) they often operate beyond the awareness of the consumer; b) social desirability bias prevents consumers from fully disclosing them in many circumstances even if they are aware of them; c) consumers don't like to know that they are emotionally motivated -- they prefer to think of themselves as making purely rational decisions & d) consumers are often frightened that advertisers will take advantage of their inner most motivations to sell them products or services they don't need.
  6. Projective Techniques are the vehicle of choice for assessing emotional benefits because a) they are capable of helping the respondent forget they are talking about themselves; b) they are experienced like a fun game which encourages expression of more deeply held thoughts and feelings; c) they remove the respondents need to take responsibility for their own motivations, thereby removing many of the above biases; d) they more fully allow for the expression of imagery
  7. Projective Techniques CAN be quantified successfully, preserving all of the above benefits and linking emotions directly to brand names, advertising stimuli, etc. all without having to ask the consumer directly.
  8. There are a variety of techniques available for doing #7 above. This article will present the first which we call Interface™ (fully demonstrated athttp://interface.executive-solutions.com)


Alternatively, an emotional end benefit is a cognitive self- statement which supports some key aspect of the consumer's esteem. For example "I'm an attractive person", "I'm a creative person", "I'm an accomplished person", "I'm a responsible person", "I'm a person who is in control of my life", "I'm a free person, unrestricted in the expression of my desires", "I'm a person with integrity, true to my principles before my immediate desires", "I'm an athletic person", "I'm a healthy person", "I'm a spiritual person", "I'm a nurturing person" "I am a person who values excitement", "I am an energetic person", etc.

Technically, there are as many emotional benefits as there are possible good things a person could say about themselves. However, via a complex series of statistical studies (beginning with a list of over 300 self statements observed in focus group laddering studies, then progressively factor analyzing the list and taking it back to groups and quantitative studies) we have refined a list of 37 emotional self statements which we feel represents the human spectrum of the types of desired self-esteem. (Subject of another issue).


Emotional and psychodynamic factors are long known to drive brand selection and loyalty. Even in today's price- sensitive economy, the imagery attached to brands goes far beyond product attributes, functional benefits and price.

All products and brands develop personas in consumers' minds. All project varying user images, which differ by audience. Members of one audience may buy a product because it makes them feel affluent. Members of another, which values thrift, buy a brand because it makes them feel like smart shoppers.

More generally, consumers buy products with imagery that is either consistent with their positive view of themselves ("I'm sophisticated and therefore buy this type of wine to complete my image") or which conveys a plausible aspirational model - something they would like to be and believe they could conceivably achieve ("I can be a real ladies' man if I drive a sports car.")

In fact, we have discovered that the essential component of Brand Character goes far beyond advertising slogans and packaging. The most powerful influencing factor in purchasing habits is the subtle, often-overlooked product/consumer relationship. A vital brand has a "relationship" with loyal users not unlike a healthy relationship between two people.

People maintain ongoing affiliations as long as each person in a relationship feels as though the other contributes positively to his/her sense of self. Relationships fall apart when perceived negatives begin to outweigh the rewards of the association. For example, being coupled with a successful friend casts a positive halo onto someone who values success.

If you want to build a strong Brand Equity relationship, (indeed -- to develop a truly effective advertising platform of any kind) you must first understand the core values of your target market. In marketing, we often talk about the assessment of these core values as "laddering up to emotional end benefits." These are the unspoken consumer values that are the glue to brand loyalty because they validate the user's self perceptions.


It's also essential to realize that the importance order of emotional benefits varies by product or service category. For example while "feeling like an attractive person" might be an important value for most people, there are only certain product categories that can provide features that support that benefit. "Feeling Attractive" might be a significant motivating emotion for eye-wear, fashion, deodorant, or automobiles, because each of these categories have features that are perceived as supporting attractiveness. However, it probably isn't an important emotional benefit for personal computers, stock brokerages, or long distance calling plans because there are no features that directly link to that feeling. The specific order of importance of emotional benefits varies by category. The differing product/service features in each category are each capable of supporting a different set of feelings. You need to know which feelings your category supports, and which particular concrete features of your product are most closely associated with those feelings.


It's not enough to know what emotional end benefits drive a category. To be truly effective at marketing we need to understand which concrete features and functional benefits of our brand (as well as the brand as a whole) evoke these feelings most strongly (more on this later), and which do so without simultaneously creating emotional anti-benefits (aversive feelings).

This is not a new concept. "Laddering" is a term used to refer to a technique wherein a moderator begins with a specific product feature and continues to ask the respondent 'what is good about that' until a specific emotional benefit that supports the respondent's self esteem is unearthed. The essential concept is that every functional benefit or feature which is sought after, is sought after for an emotional reason.

Even a completed price based benefit (e.g. 'costs less') is understood to be emotionally motivated because people in different categories may desire that benefit for different reasons. (Saving money in the automobile category may be found to lead to 'I am safe' or 'I am financially secure' whereas saving money on a package of gum may more likely lead to 'I feel wise' or 'I am a smart shopper'). Even brand choices can be 'laddered on' to determine the key emotional benefits which are associated with them. One limitation of laddering however, (discussed later in great detail), is that in reality there are MANY emotional benefits associated with each product or service feature (laddering tends to assume just one). To craft an effective marketing strategy we wish to know the extent to which each product feature supports EACH of the desired emotional benefits in the human spectrum. (We also need to know where the competition is in this emotional terrain, what the multivariate emotional field looks like -- what SETS of product features are most associated with desired emotions or desired SETS of emotions)


Unfortunately, understanding this picture has very much been the marketer's "Holy Grail", long sought after as a treasured prize, but surrounded with a kind of religious mystique that defies logical pursuit. This is the case because there are MANY obstacles which prevent consumers from discussing with us their emotional reasons for purchase, and many that prevent us as researchers from perceiving this information when they do. To begin to approach the Grail requires a thorough understanding not only of emotional benefits, but also of the psychology of the consumer's resistance to telling you about them (and even to becoming aware of them themselves)

While the importance of emotional end benefits is clear, it is very tricky to assess via direct questioning techniques. All but the most creative respondents are hard put to provide rich, detailed answers to straightforward questions such as "If this soda were a person, what kind of person would it be?" or "How does this soda can make you feel about yourself?" (Or even worse 'Which color graphic on the can would make you feel like a sexier person when you bought it?')

In some situations, it is possible to simply ask about these relationships. For example, the relationship between eyewear and attractiveness is not particularly threatening. Most consumers probably would not be uncomfortable telling you that they consider how attractive they look in eyewear before purchasing.

However, you usually DO need special techniques to probe emotional benefits for several important reasons. First, social desirability bias can severely distort the data if you don't use such special techniques to overcome it. People are often frightened of being judged and will only say what they think is socially desirable. For example, some people are uncomfortable verbalizing the desire to feel attractive. To them, Feeling Attractive is something to be quietly pursued, not publicly acknowledged. This is particularly true for older women, many men, and those from Asian cultures. When someone of this ilk is asked for an emotional connection, they will tell you something more socially desirable like "It makes me feels practical" or "It makes me feel safe." While social desirability bias is a small problem for "Feeling Attractive," it is a much bigger problem for many other motivators like "Feeling Sexy," "Feeling Excited," "Feeling Like I Belong" and "Feeling in Control."

Second, emotional motivation often occurs beyond the consumer's conscious awareness. The conscious experience of emotional benefits is usually vague. People have difficulty articulating their underlying motivations and even more trouble specifying how product features are related to these emotional benefits.

Third, the consumer's self concept is that of a completely rational purchaser. Most consumers want to think of themselves as logical, rational buyers. The idea that feelings influence purchase threatens this perception. Consumers don't realize (or don't want to admit) that advertising images affect their purchase decisions. Indeed, most consumers want to believe that they purchase based solely upon rational facts such as price, value, taste or performance. Moreover, since consumers tend to deny that emotions (and the product imagery with which they are associated) affect their decisions, they can become anxious that their answers to direct image-related or emotionally-laden questions are a reflection of their personality. The result of all these dynamics is a relatively quiet respondent, who gives sensible, general, barely useful responses.

Finally, some respondents are concerned that if strangers really knew what made them tick, they would take advantage of them and sell them things they don't need or want.


Despite these inherent difficulties, many market researchers (who are unaware of alternative approaches) attempt to ask direct questions to assess imagery in focus groups and in-depth interviews. However, a handful of qualitative market researchers have borrowed techniques from psychology called "projectives" in order to obtain richer, more detailed descriptions of product imagery. (Note - see Dr. Sharon Livingston's article on projective techniques at www.executive-solutions.com for a more thorough treatment of the subject).

A technique is projective when it indirectly encourages the expression of psychologically motivating material (imagery) of which the respondent is otherwise unaware. Most projective techniques do this by presenting the question so that the consumer believes her response is part of a game - a response which could not possibly reflect on her personality. Projectives allow research participants to sit back, relax, and to view their responses as if they were watching a movie screen, unaware, for the moment, that they wrote the film and that they hold the projector. Returning to the soda can example, instead of simply asking the respondent "If this soda can were a person, what kind of person might it be?" the moderator positions the question as an experience. She tells respondents that they are about to engage in a fun exercise, uses a relaxation technique, helps them imagine the soda can in their minds (as opposed to directly looking at it) and then says something like "Now imagine you see a hand reaching for the Diet Sunkist . . . what does the hand look like? Describe it in detail. Now, what about its owner? The owner's occupation? etc." (She continues to get a rich description of the image).

While on the surface, this series of questions may seem quite similar to the more direct question asked above, there are some important differences in the way it was presented. The primary differences are (1) the degree of intellectualization required of the respondent, and (2) the emotional state the respondent is in when the question is posed.

A projective technique doesn't require intellectual reasoning. For example, the respondent is instructed to imagine a hand, then to imagine the rest of the person. Properly presented, projectives are experienced like a game -- like playing make-believe as a child. This is markedly different from the direct, rational question "If this soda were a person, what type of person would it be?" To answer that question, most respondents feel they need a rationale to support their conclusions, which severely restricts their ability to respond. Projectives remove the need for rationale and make it much easier to elicit potent imagery which the respondent might not really understand (and therefore cannot rationalize). Another example of a QUALITATIVE projective technique is presented below (note -- quantitative to follow):

The moderator takes respondents through a brief relaxation exercise, followed by guided imagery where they imagine seeing a door with a soda can on it. When they walk through the door, they are told they will find themselves in an entirely different scene. After having them explore that scene thoroughly, the moderator tells participants that they will find a person in that scene. They can observe a typical moment in that person's day, knowing that this particular moment is just a snapshot. After thoroughly observing the person in the moment, they can imagine what their day was like before and after that moment. When they open their eyes, respondents are asked to talk about the people they observed. Following are two sample responses. (The results are for illustrative purposes only, and are based upon only one fictitious respondent's answers).

Diet Sunkist -- "I saw a young woman in her 20s drive up to a local convenience store. She was driving a red sporty convertible (I guess it was a Mustang) with the top down. She had just finished a game of tennis and was very thirsty. She wanted something light, sweet and sparkly. She went into the store and got the Sunkist. At the register, the guy flirted with her. She smiled at him, paid for the soda and jumped back into her car. It was a Sunday, the weather was warm, but not too hot. She took a long drink of her soda, felt refreshed and drove off to spend the afternoon with some friends."

Diet A&W Root Beer -- "A man in his mid 40s pulls up to the same store in his pick-up. He feels depressed and upset because he had an argument with his wife this morning. She told him he was getting fat and flabby and looking just like his father. They had a blow up about it. He gave her a hard time, but he really felt bad. He walked into the store wanting to soothe himself with some ice cream. On the way to the freezer, he passed the soda case and noticed the Diet A&W. He remembered how much he used to love root beer when he was a kid. He picked up the diet soda and paid for it. He opened it up and took a swig and was surprised at how good it tasted. He got back in his truck and headed home, feeling hopeful and excited to tell his wife that he had taken a first step in the right direction."


A little imagination should convince the reader that projective exercises like this one can yield a wealth of imagery, and frequently some very useful creative insights. However, many in the field have raised concerns over the interpretation of projective techniques. Their concerns are:

  • The complicated manner in which the questions are asked and the indirect manner in which they are answered makes it difficult to translate responses into concrete, useful marketing information.
  • A commonly agreed-upon purpose of qualitative research is often to develop hypotheses which later need to be validated in quantitative research. Traditionally, the rich imagery uncovered in projectives has been difficult to quantitatively verify. The most common practice is to revert back to direct questions about attributes in a quantitative questionnaire.
  • Because of the difficulty in quantifying projective methods, it has also been challenging to determine which specific aspects of the imagery elicited from these techniques actually drive purchase interest.

The question then is, how can projective imagery and the links between product features, brand names, advertisements, and emotional drivers be validly assessed quantitatively? How can we marry the creative brilliance of good qualitative work with the rigors of quant?


Traditionally, rich imagery obtained from projectives done in focus groups or individual interviews is quantified via simple attribute checklists or semantic differentials. These are limited direct methods that leave little or no room for the respondent's free associations and imagination. It also re-introduces social desirability bias and other confounds which we went through so much trouble to remove in the qualitative phase. In our opinion, using attribute checklists for emotional end benefit quantification effectively remove the "soul of research" in an attempt to achieve statistical stability.

Another (better) method of attempting to uncover emotional benefits quantitatively is referred to as "laddering" or the "benefit chain" (also implemented qualitatively). In this technique, the moderator probes with the question "what is the benefit of that" until an emotional end benefit is reached (a statement supporting the user's self esteem). Consider the following fictitious example:

  • M: Why do you purchase Sunkist?
  • R: I like the orange taste.
  • M: What's good about the orange taste?
  • R: It reminds me of eating real oranges.
  • M: What's good about eating real oranges?
  • R: They are good for you and they also taste good, that's pretty rare because usually if something is good for you it doesn't taste that great.
  • M: What's good about eating something good for you that tastes good?
  • R: Well, I guess it makes me feel like a healthy, responsible person while I get to indulge a little bit.

In this (overly simplistic) example, through a series of direct questions, the moderator was able to identify two emotional end benefits associated with the Sunkist brand → "makes me feel like a healthy person" and "makes me feel like a responsible person." When done on a large sample and if the initial stimulus and end benefit are tracked, correspondence analyses can be conducted to determine the level of association between them in the population. Maps can also be drawn showing hypothetical relationships between multiple sets of stimuli and end benefits.

Laddering is an extremely useful qualitative technique for understanding HOW and WHY a particular feature links to a particular emotional end benefit. However, laddering is limited as a method for quantifying emotional end benefits because:

  • It too is non-projective in nature, relying upon direct questions which are subject to social desirability biases and the other response-inhibiting factors noted above. (The consumer is aware of the relationship being investigated).
  • Assessing the strength of the association between the functional features and the emotional end benefits in each respondent is essentially limited to a YES/NO response. (Either a stimulus will lead to a particular emotional response or it will not). There is no provision for assessing the LEVEL OR STRENGTH of the association.
  • Each functional benefit/brand name/concept, etc. is artificially associated with only ONE emotional benefit (usually the strongest link) in each respondent. In reality, a given functional benefit may be associated with SEVERAL emotional end benefits. There is often no provision made for computing the relationship between a given feature and the many emotional benefits with which it is associated ON THE INDIVIDUAL RESPONDENT LEVEL. (It is possible to see these relationships over a large population - but there are limitations to how these data can be used in predictive multivariate techniques)
  • Laddering tells you the relationship between features and emotional end benefits, but it doesn't necessarily tell you which emotions are most important! (So how do you know which features and functions to highlight?)


There are a very few techniques available to the marketing research community which provide the benefits of projectives (removing social desirability bias, hiding the variable, etc.) in a quantitative environment. In this article, we will briefly highlight our proprietary Interface Research Methodology™.

Interface™ was designed by Dr. Sharon Livingston as a projective alternative to laddering. (A future issue will review methods for quantifying the projective technique of guided imagery -- also previously published in Quirks Marketing Research Review "Making Projective Projectable" - 1995).

Interface™ aims to:

  • Determine which feelings are most motivating in your category.
  • Link your product's full spectrum of features/benefits as well as the brand image and/or concepts to a comprehensive profile of emotional benefits. (Providing you with a table that shows the level of association between each functional benefit and each emotional benefit).
  • Provide perceptual maps of what your consumer's emotional world looks like. (Where your brand, the competition, and each functional benefit in the category stands).
  • Do all of the above projectively, without the consumer's awareness, in order to remove the confounds discussed throughout this article.

Interface uses facial pictures as placeholders in order to provide consumers with the protection necessary for emotional probing. A brief review of the technique is shown below. For a detailed review, demonstration, and case example please see the Interface Research website athttp://interface.executive-solutions.com/

How does Interfacetrade; use projective techniques? Suppose you were shown a set of photographs of people's faces and were asked:

  • To get a sense of their personalities
  • To choose four pictures with very different personalities
  • To provide imaginary detail about each of these four pictures until you felt like you knew the people. (How old are they? Are they married? Have kids?)
  • Once you felt like you knew these four people, what if we asked, "How important do you think it is to each of these people to feel attractive?" "To feel financially secure?", "To feel intelligent", etc"
  • Finally, what if we also asked, "Assuming each of these people was about to buy a piece of eyewear, how important do you think having transparent frames would be?"

Since we would then have both functional and emotional data about your perception of each picture, we could take your answers and see if the people who you assumed highly valued feeling attractive were thought more likely to prefer transparent frames? (Of course we could do this on a larger set of functional and emotional benefits). We could do this math "behind the scenes."

We would never have to ask you ANYTHING about your own feelings, nor ANYTHING about how these feelings linked to specific features, although we would nonetheless be able to quantify the association between feeling attractive and transparent frames in your mind. Later, if we knew how important each functional benefit was to you ("transparent frames," "sharp vision," etc.), we could combine that with the associations computed above in order to determine the importance of the emotional benefits.

That's how our technique works. The participant assigns emotional values to a set of pictures and is asked to rate product features, brands, and concepts overall using this same set of pictures. Statistical links are calculated behind the scenes. We then combine these links with the importance assigned to functional benefits by the respondent to derive the importance of the emotional benefits.

Interface™ produces three very important types of output, all based upon projective data. All tables can be run or compared for ANY defined demographical or market segment.

  • The Emportance™ table rank orders the importance of the emotional drivers for your category.
  • The Emotrix™ table shows the direct link of features and functional benefits to the emotions shown in Emportance.
  • The Emotional Field Map™ graphically displays the position of your product or service, each of its features, your competition, the ideal company, and ANY additional advertising stimulus such as concepts, names, commercials, etc.

In addition to the three tables above, Interface™ can also produce "EDEAL™ DISTANCE CALCULATIONS." Edeal distance is a multivariate analysis which assigns a single number to each product feature. This number represents the extent to which that feature is associated with ALL of the most important emotional benefits identified in the Emportance™ tables. Of course, all output can be directed to a standard SPSS or SAS file to be analyzed in any conventional manner.

How is Interface™ Administered?

Executive Solutions has built an Internet-ready custom software protocol for administering the technique. Interface™ can be administered to an online audience (we have partnered with several online panels internationally and linked our system to theirs in order to easily procure respondents in most categories), or, for tighter quality control it can be centrally recruited and supervised by interviewers in person.

Interface™ can be rented by research firms simply for its administration and computations, or you may hire Executive Solutions to conduct full scale projects complete with analysis and presentation.

You can review this technique and its administration in detail at

What type of quality controls are available in Interface™?

Interface™ has several functions and mathematical formulas built into it to ensure quality input AND output, regardless of whether it is administered online or in person:

  • MEASURES OF ATTENTION: Because respondents tend to become fatigued when taking surveys, Interface™ monitors the degree of attention they are paying to the test throughout. It not only reminds them gently when they need a break (if their ratings become more random later in the test as compared to the first few questions), but it also records their level of attention. This way, output can later be produced which filters out people who responded too randomly or showed other signs of fatigue. (You can also weight the data to give the most importance to good attenders).
  • GOODNESS OF FIT: The formulas upon which Interface™ is based require that the pictures chosen are perceived as fairly different from one another. (The statistical links are based upon correlations which are not as accurate if the range of observations is restricted). The system not only encourages the user to choose different pictures, but it also records how well this task was accomplished. This statistic "goodness of fit" can be used in the output to filter out respondents who chose pictures perceived as too similar.




Included therein is a case example, a list of FAQs, and a full demonstration of the technique, sample output, and much more!

CONTACT US WITH QUESTIONS OR PROPOSALS: Write to info@tlgonline.com, or telephone us at (United States) 603-537-0775


Contact Information

Phone: 646-600-6566

email: The Livingston Group for Marketing

The Livingston Group for Marketing, Inc.
347 W 57th St., Suite 25C, NY, NY 10019

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