Emotional intelligence through data

Emotional Intelligence can be summed up as the ability to recognise and respond to how others are feeling at a particular moment in time. Without it, relationships tend to break down – and that’s the risk currently for the relationship between brands and their audiences on digital platforms.

People complain that brands ‘stalk’ them online and make them feel uncomfortable. Marketers either fail to realise how intrusive their use of online advertising has become – or choose not to care. Many believe that by targeting ads based on what they know about people’s behaviour they are being more relevant and more helpful. Unfortunately, their audiences don’t seem to agree. Tweet thisMost targeted online advertising is intelligent in the sense that it’s informed by online behaviour – but it is not emotionally intelligent. For that to change, marketers need to start asking harder questions of the data they are using – and what they are using it for.

Why brands’ use of data is stuck in ‘first date’ mode

Up to now, marketers have mined behavioural data with one goal in mind – who’s showing an interest in my category and how can I persuade them to buy from me? The result is that customers with very different existing relationships to that brand all get treated the same way and served the same direct response advertising: the shoppers being ‘stalked’ by ads for a TV get the same experience whether they are looking for a TV, bought that exact TV two weeks ago, or considered that TV but bought another one instead. People who’ve searched for broadband providers get bombarded with offers of high-speed connections long after they’ve signed up to an internet provider.

It’s one thing to keep encountering a brand in different places; it’s another if that brand keeps saying the same thing every time you encounter it – regardless of what your previous experience together might be. You can’t have a meaningful relationship with someone who just wants to keep reliving your first date. And by focusing their use of digital targeting solely on customer acquisition, that’s what brands are repeatedly doing. It’s significant that the more connected people are, and the more touchpoints that they encounter a brand through, the more this frustration builds.

From frustration to flashpoints: when campaigns get caught in the crossfire

Flashpoints occur when marketers set about to use a particular digital channel for one purpose – only to find a whole host of different people determined to use it for something else. When a business launches a clever brand campaign on Facebook only to find itself fending off very public complaints about defective products or customer service, it can’t afford simply to dismiss the perpetrators as ‘trolls’ or ‘saboteurs’. Its targeting has been guilty of treating people it already has a relationship with as if it’s just met them for the first time.

The solution isn’t to give in to audiences’ apparent desire for less use of data in targeting; it’s to integrate different forms of data into that targeting so that it can actually reflect the journey that a business and its target audience have taken together.

Why data quality is a thin excuse

In the recent past, a big portion of the blame for marketers’ one-dimensional use of behavioural targeting has rested with the nature of the data they have been dealing with. Data Management Platforms (DMPs) have provided information on the actions that a laptop or mobile phone has taken; they’ve been far less useful at identifying which phones and laptops go together – and who the people using each phone and laptop actually are. However, using the type and quality of data as an excuse is already starting to wear thin.

DMPs are increasingly able to amalgamate data from different devices using a process known as device mapping, to build a comprehensive picture of which devices belong to which people. When they construct a complete profile of someone’s digital behaviour, along with which phone and laptop they own, they are typically right at least nine times out of ten. The raw material essentially exists for marketers to start recognising the people they meet on digital platforms, recognising who they are, what their experience of the brand is, what products and services are relevant for them. However, translating this into the emotional intelligence that people demand from brands still requires several acts of commitment.

Working at emotional intelligence through data

It starts with a business’s own internal memory: tackling the siloes that get in the way of a coherent picture of each person’s relationship with it. It’s not uncommon for a major company to have hundreds of different IT systems that each contain relevant but essentially disconnected information about its customers. Connecting those internal systems so that they can talk to each other in meaningful ways is an intimidating task – but it’s an essential first step if businesses are to start using data on people’s online behaviour more intelligently. It’s noticeable that businesses that have been born in the era of Big Data (Dollar Shave Club being one obvious example) are far more effective at delivering intuitive experiences online. The lack of legacy siloes means that they start off with all of the relevant information about their customers readily accessible across the business.

Tweet thisDifferent categories have different challenges when it comes to achieving emotional intelligence through data. Financial services brands are fairly advanced in detecting what each customer’s situation is – and what’s an appropriate thing to say to them at a given moment. Their problem lies in finding the right way to use that information without overstepping the mark and shattering already-fragile trust. FMCG brands on the other hand, have greater inherent permission for delivering emotionally intelligent experiences – but far less joined-up data to base those experiences on.

Getting creative about the data that makes a difference

This is where a creative approach to generating relevant data becomes vitally important. It could involve interactive campaigns and rewards programmes that give people a reason to identify themselves; it could involve launching new content services and platforms to which they might want to subscribe. Businesses need their own view of their customers and potential customers if they are to safeguard their relationships with them – and creative strategies focused on building that view will become increasingly central to marketing.

The benefits of this owned data aren’t limited to relationships with people the data actually refers to. Through look-alike modelling brands are increasingly capable of identifying others with similar situations – even with similar past experiences of the brand. Emotional intelligence can be extended even to those with whom their prior contact has been only fleeting.

It can also be integrated across offline environments, as well as digital ones. The credit card company who knows its customers should not only be able to use data to detect when somebody is planning a trip abroad and suggest tailored services to smooth their experience; when that person calls to enquire further, it should recognise the number, know who is calling and why. When the person flies abroad, it should know to automatically clear their credit card for use in the country to which they are travelling. These are the kind of tangible demonstrations of value that people claim they need from brands. They can only come from a commitment to self-knowledge and emotional intelligence through data.


Jonathan is the Head of Global Market Development, responsible for anticipating shifts in the insights industry and for helping to develop new business propositions across Kantar. Advising Kantar’s key global clients on digital strategy and transformation, Jonathan works with a variety of client teams around the world.



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