A whirlwind of emotions: The impact of consumer emotional states on search

Alessandra Alari is head of search and mobile user experience at Google UK.

Humans are not always wholly rational beings. That is not to infer that we are irrational, but simply that not every decision is based on a set of practical, logical steps. Often, our current emotional state has a huge part to play in how we behave at any given time. 

For marketers it is important to understand that many external influences can impact a potential customer’s emotional state – from the practical, like where they are in their purchase journey, to the incidental, such as a news event or the weather. Marketers can’t always anticipate what a customer’s emotional state might be at any given moment, but they can understand the cues. With the right indicators identified, marketers can develop creative and plan search strategies to effectively respond with the right offer at the right time. 

While emotion is undoubtedly nuanced and often unique to an individual, there are six canonical consumer needs that marketers can address: 'surprise me', 'help me', 'reassure me', 'educate me', 'impress me' and 'thrill me'. The consumer’s need state has a profound impact on how they use search. It can influence how long the query is, how many tabs they have open, what device they’re on and whether they prefer text, image or video results. And just to take it to another level, consumers are often experiencing several emotions – or canonical needs – at once. 

How needs impact search behaviour

The six canonical need states each generate specific behaviours when consumers use search:

  • Surprise me: Search becomes fun and entertaining. It is wide-ranging and there are many unique iterations
  • Thrill me: A quick adventure to discover new things. It’s the ‘smash and grab’ of search. Just a few words and not much use of the back-button
  • Impress me: This leads to a highly focused search, using specific phrases. For these actions, it’s all about influencing and winning over the consumer
  • Educate me: This need state means customers delve into the reviews and ratings when researching a product or service: it is all about competence and control
  • Reassure me: Uncomplicated and usually peppered with questions, this search type is all down to simplicity, comfort and trust
  • Help me: Highly practical, this type of search is most likely to relate to family or location. It’s a to-the-point connection with the provider 

Mixed and dominant needs

Each need state or emotion appears, at first glance, to demand a specific approach from the marketer that is distinct from the next. But what happens when – as is often the case – consumers exhibit more than one need state at any given time? 

Take the query “Typical CEO’s wardrobe”. Certainly, there is a nod to 'educate me', searching for the right clothing brands, but there’s also a large dollop of 'impress me'. These are clothes, but not just any clothes, because they need items that send a message about their status and value. 

'Reassure me', on the other hand, doubles down on the extra help needed for a given product. Common in sectors like DIY, queries around ‘have I got the right tool for the job?’ won’t just throw up product listings or descriptions, but often video tutorials and reviews. 

All in the timing

While customers’ emotions and need states can change with the wind, there are a number of signals that marketers can tap into to anticipate what people want when using Search. The first is realising that search is more than a purely transactional tool. The marketing funnel is changing and marketers’ approach to search needs to change with it. 'Impress me' and 'surprise me' find a natural home at the top of the funnel, opening customers’ eyes to possibility, while 'reassure me' and 'help me' can take place at any point, even after purchase, to give consumers confidence in their brand choice. 

There are multiple opportunities in search to engage with customers’ need states across their journey. There are also numerous nuances marketers can work with to address emotions that are unique to each consumer, nuances that are revealed by that consumer’s individual emotion mix – impress with a dash of educate, Thrill with a side order of reassure.

Recognising need states through customer search behaviour and adapting results to match helps marketers solve consumer needs more readily. And the more needs you solve, the more growth you’ll see. 

Interested in hearing leading global brands discuss subjects like this in person?

Find out more about Digital Marketing World Forum (#DMWF) Europe, London, North America, and Singapore.  

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