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The Empathetic Consumer Product

Empathy is the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions, the ability to share someone else’s feelings ( Further, it is the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another.

A few weeks ago, I attended the SSP 2016 conference ( SSP has a single focus – the sensory professionals – and this conference is a place where the latest sensory research, methodologies and ideas are discussed.

This year, I noticed a theme that seemed to be threaded through every day of the conference and through many of the talks… Empathy.

However, they weren’t referring to empathy among people. They were referring to empathy from products; empathy between a consumer and a product or brand.

But is that even possible?

Emotional Products

We know that the stronger the emotional impact of the product, the stronger the brand loyalty expressed by the consumer. But how can a consumer product create emotional impact? Consumers can form emotional bonds with products in many ways. But often a loyalty is built after repeated successful use of a product that is able to connect emotionally with the consumer. How can that be done?

Sensory attributes are a great way to non-consciously and emotionally communicate with a consumer. By appealing to the consumers senses (smell, taste, touch, sound, sight) in a way that is congruent with an emotional concept, it is possible. And when all the senses are communicating in a cohesive way, this emotional message can resonate strongly with the consumer. In fact, when more senses are reached, the brand impact becomes greater, creating more consumer loyalty and emotional connections and associations.

It is important to include empathy (or emotion) when designing your product. Creating a personal bond, an emotional connection, will help the consumer become loyal to the brand. And perhaps more importantly, help fulfill your consumers’ needs.

Methodology to Empathize with the Consumer

Given the complex nature of emotion, it is clear that there is no golden standard method to measure emotions and that each methodology emphasizes a specific part of the phenomenon.

Using a combination of psycho-physiological measures, traditional quantitative questionnaires and conjoint analysis, we aimed to understand the consumer’s experience when exposed to branding, packaging, and sensory elements. Autonomic measures for arousal (skin conductance), motivation (heart rate variability), emotional valence (fEMG), and eye-tracking, we were able to observe consumers’ physiological and behavioral responses. Psychological measures for implicit associations were used to assess how consumers associated products with important product attributes. We also used the traditional market research methods for ranking importance of these attributes to understand what product attributes were most important to consumers for product categories.

Adding neuro and psychological testing to traditional research approaches provides insight into the consumer emotional and implicit reaction to products. The need for understanding the emotional responses in sensory and consumer studies has become more and more frequent and necessary in the last ten years. This can be observed by the increasing number of both scientific papers and approaches developed in private companies to measure emotions alongside traditional consumer testing. The addition of emotional profiling to traditional liking measures and sensory profiling has added a new dimension in product development.

Product experiences can have distinct emotional messages that support brand and positioning, enabling differentiation of samples and product attributes within a product category based on liking, intensity & appropriateness. We have developed a new methodology for differentiating the liking/intensity of similarly liked stimuli by combining traditional with psycho-physiological measures: heart rate (HR), skin conductance (galvanic skin response, GSR), and facial EMG (electromyography). This is an innovative approach that captures the emotional message of products that are not detected by traditional measures of overall liking or fit-to-concept by incorporating physiological measures with psychological measures.

Making Empathy a Product Attribute

Understanding how consumers perceive your brand is paramount and a good first step in uncovering the unmet needs of a product or product line. Knowing how consumers perceive your brand compared to other brands can provide insight into consumer need gaps that can drive innovation and uncover innovation opportunities. Once you identify the need gaps of your brand, it is then possible to make informed decisions on messaging, packaging elements, and sensory attributes that will help build the story you hope to achieve with your product. We propose a combination of methodologies we call “MaxImplicit”, tapping into online qualitative, traditional quantitative (MaxDiff), and psychology (implicit testing) research methodologies.

This powerful combination of research tools informed us how brands are associated and fulfilling (or not fulfilling) these needs (need gaps).

Through identifying the top consumers emotional and product needs and then uncovering how your own product is suiting these needs, it’s possible to make changes and innovations that can better appeal to the consumers emotions and expectations, creating better products.


Real and thoughtful applied consumer neuroscience is about using the right combination of sensitive measures from psychology and neuroscience so we can understand the “why” of consumer behavior, something that can extremely useful for making better products and packaging. In a larger viewpoint, it’s possible to see how understanding consumer needs for can help improve consumer communications.

Emotions are a strong way to bond and communicate with your consumer. It’s no wonder that it was brought up so frequently in the SSP meeting. Please keep it in mind as you design, improve and innovate. Ensure you are communicating emotionally through proper research.

Please contact us if you are interested in how to communicate emotionally and empathetically with your products!



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