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How to use psychology to create stronger emotional connections to your brand

How to use psychology to create stronger emotional connections to your brand

By Christopher Horne


Psychology is ‘hot’ when it comes to pharma marketing. And for good reason, because if you are going to develop and launch a successful product, a brand, a logo, a marketing message or a campaign you need to make sure your target audiences are going to be engaged by it and that it causes the reactions you want.

But, every customer decision is based on both rational and irrational drivers. The most successful products in any marketplace therefore have both rational and irrational appeal. This is even the case in scientific and technical markets like pharma and this should not be surprising – your customers are human beings not computing machines and so they can’t help being led by their feelings and emotions.

We found the recent article by Kevin Dolgin on this platform (“Understanding the Person Behind the Patient”) fascinating and it reinforced our own thoughts about understanding customers as individual people.

A fundamental task for the pharma marketer therefore is to create stronger emotional connections to the brand.  To do this you need to understand the emotive motivations that drive interest at each step of the customer journey.

To make those connections you need to make sure your brand and its communications work before you invest large sums into promoting. This means investing a smaller sum up-front into market research – to identify those motivations and test your concepts.


The problem is that traditional market research has always been much better at measuring our rational responses than our irrational responses.  Asking people about their feelings or emotions simply doesn’t work – often they either won’t say or can’t say.

So how do we do that crucial testing around emotions if market research is no good?


There is an increasing array of new tools we can use to investigate irrational responses – enabling us to delve deeper into the levels of consciousness to get the insights we need.

So what is the background to these new tools and how do they differ from the more traditional ‘qualitative’ and ‘quantitative’ market research tools?

Thanks to Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman’s best-selling book ‘Fast and Slow Thinking’ (1), many people have become more familiar with how conscious and unconscious processes seem to work and the terms  ‘System 1 and System 2’. ‘System 1’ refers to the automatic processing of stimuli in the brain whilst ‘System 2’ refers to controlled processing. Kahneman greatly popularised these terms which were originally coined by Keith Stanovich and Richard West (2) 18 years ago.

Traditional market research tools are mostly limited to measuring the System 2 space. Hence the problem. It is into the System 1 space that the new market research tools I describe are aimed. Hence the good news.

These tools are often derived from psychological or neuroscientific techniques. We have seen more and more of them becoming available to market researchers over the past decade or so.

The underlying brain processes in this ‘automatic’ or ‘uncontrolled’ world are thought to be:

  • Fast
  • Unintentional
  • Unconscious
  • Utilising no or very little cognition

In this new era of ‘System 1’ tools there are three main categories currently available:

  • Biometrics (e.g. eye-tracking, facial coding, voice-tracking, facial EMG, pupillometry, physiological responses)
  • Neurological tools (e.g. magneto-encephalography, fMRI & SPECT, PET & fNIRS)
  • Indirect Measures (e.g. clinical psychology, experiential assessment, motivational assessment, implicit association test & affective priming)

Some of the tools listed under Biometrics have seen the most extensive use in market research. They measure the physically expressed reactions to stimuli material. Recent advances have enabled a number of quite sophisticated tools to be marketed and used commercially. For example we have had good experiences investigating reactions to video material using our facial coding application that measures strength of engagement with the material plus six core emotions:

  • Happiness
  • Surprise
  • Anger
  • Disgust
  • Fear
  • Sadness

The Neurological tools’ listed are typically used to measure or produce images of brain activity.  They are still mostly used in neuroscientific research or in clinical situations rather than in market research due to cost and other reasons. fMRI is an exception to this rule with some limited use already in market research and fNIRS is also showing some early promise.

We are now using an exciting new tool under the broad category of Indirect Measures’. We like it because it is extremely practical and effective for marketers – it runs as a web survey, is fast, inexpensive and fits a number of situations where we have a crucial need for insights. E.g.

  • Brand & communications testing
  • Innovations/Concept testing
  • Customer needs exploration

The recent article here by Mike Pile (“The Creative Science of Coining Drug Names”) was very informative – and testing such new names would be another good use for this tool.

It can be used either stand-alone or as part of a broader market research study, maybe integrated with some of the other tools listed above. It is called MindSight® Direct.

MindSight® Direct targets motivational emotions…the impulses which fuel the choices we make, the actions we take and just about everything else.  It is driven by a powerful psychological model of human motivations, linked to a unique fieldwork technique.

It works by exposing the respondent to the test material (e.g. an ad, a message, a logo) and putting them through a series of  “rapid response” image selection exercises. The image choices they make indicate the subconscious motivations driving those decisions.

The magic behind this fascinating and powerful tool is that it works during the emotional discovery window – this means before cognitive processes kick in and reasoned responses are developed.

The motivational model within was created by David Forbes (3) and developed into a market research tool at the marketing agency Isobar in the USA.  It describes nine key motivations and is based firmly on 100 years of psychology. Both the model and the carefully curated set of images and words used in the exercises have been robustly tested and proven in practice.

Forbes introduced his model as follows: “Motivational theory has taken many forms throughout history, reflecting the scientific paradigms and current concerns of the day. The result is a diverse array of theoretical constructs and core motive concepts, with no systematic integration of this work”.

He proposed a “Unified model that places motivational concepts from past work within a comprehensive descriptive structure, akin to the periodic table of elements in chemistry”.

Forbes’s model is structured as a 3×3 a matrix with nine motivational domains—each reflecting the properties of its respective rows and columns. His model accounts for virtually all of the motives proposed by the major motivational theorists of the last century.

He hoped that “The model can provide a foundation for the systematic study of individual development, for the analysis of personality and cultural differences, and for investigating situational dynamics in human behavior”.

If this all sounds rather theoretical the final good news is that the market research tool based on this model gives marketers valuable and easily usable output to inform their marketing decisions, to help them to understand their target audiences as people and build those emotional connections to their brand.


So, if you want to succeed, next time you are developing (for example) a new product, new brand name, new logo, new message or new advertising consider measuring the subconscious reactions – don’t rely just on traditional research collecting logical (reasoned) responses. There is a powerful and expanding range of new tools that can help you to understand deeper needs and measure emotional reactions.

Please feel free to contact me at any time to discuss any of the topics raised in this article.


  1. Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking Fast and Slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  1. Stanovich, K.E. and West, R.F. (2000). Individual differences in reasoning: Implications for the rationality debate? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 23, 645-726.
  1. Toward a Unified Model of Human Motivation; David L. Forbes, Review of General Psychology 2011, Vol. 15, No. 2, 85–98.

MindSight® is a Registered Trademark of Isobar. All images courtesy of Isobar.


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