Sentiment Analysis Symposium: Uncovering Human Motivations

The following post explores just one of the many talks at the Sentiment Analysis Symposium. To find out more about the Sentiment Analysis Symposium, check out our recap.


Starbucks Sign, marcopako – CC BY-SA 2.0 

Relatively speaking, coffee beans are cheap. A simple cup of coffee (plain, hold the cream!) is largely affordable. So why has Starbucks built an empire on charging upwards of $5 for coffee drinks?


The answer, it turns out, is “sentiment.” By tapping into human motivations and uncovering consumer emotions about an item or experience, brands can charge more for the same product. Tribal engagement is at a premium. Consider tennis shoes, for example. In the United States, a basic pair of tennis shoes might run an adult $20-25, yet Nike sells thousands of products each day at a price five times that.

What’s their secret? Nike doesn’t just sell sneakers, any more than Starbucks just sells coffee. Both offer a packaged experience, a sentiment that drives their sales. Above all else, Nike sells athletes and “victory”—not shoes.

What separates Nike from a reseller, or Starbucks from your mom-and-pop corner deli? David Rabjohns of MotiveQuest took the stage at the Sentiment Analysis Symposium to explain how mapping human motivations helps retailers move products. It turns out that consumer conversations nowadays are much more about what customers are sharing with each other than what brands are pushing out and marketing to their followers. So how can a brand tap into that conversation? This is where data science—and sentiment analysis—come into play.

As we saw above, it’s no longer enough for a brand to hawk shoes or specialty drinks to their customer base. Now, marketers must work to capture customer stories, passions, values, and beliefs. In the “Old World” of marketing, retailers sought to understand and convey the strength of a product. In this “New World,” however, the best brands try to work with their customers instead of selling directly to them.

Sentiment analysis represents the perfect way for brands to take the temperature of their customer base. MotiveQuest, for example, taps into the big data of social media to get a feel for customer needs. Rabjohns shared that in a recent study, 55 percent of conversations expressed a basic human need. As he said, the tools of sentiment analysis allow researchers to “map linguistics back to humanity.” In order to do, brands must identify their customers’ motivation and tap into it. Nike, for example, discovered that their customers want to feel accomplished, savvy, and powerful. They enabled this with their “Just Do It” mentality, which has been a huge success. As Rabjohns says,

The best brands tell archetypal stories we recognize without explanation, [which] gives us an immediate way to connect with each other.

This technique can backfire, however. Rabjohns told the story of the Dodge Ram truck, which attempted to market as both “rebellious” and “innovative.” Instead of speaking to their customers’ desired motivation, they were sending mixed messages, and the product was struggling. A deeper analysis, however, showed that customers most wanted to feel “powerful.” By concentrating on the truck’s powerful features, the Dodge Ram marketers were able to create a successful campaign that spoke to their customers’ needs.

The runaway success of Greek yogurt highlights another side of the sentiment analysis/human motivation discussion. Marketers of this snack have been able to connect with things that people care about—feeling accomplished, transformed, and pure. However, Rabjohns made a key distinction here: Different customer segments are driven by different needs, and so they need to be spoken to in different ways. In the case of Greek yogurt, this meant marketing to dieters AND foodies, two customer segments motivated by different things.

What role can motivations play in social analysis? As David Rabjohns’ talk showed, it’s no longer enough for brands to learn “how to sell.” With the advent of sentiment analysis, marketers must now focus on how to connect with the customer base and how to become a symbol. Brands who don’t turn their attention to human motivations risk getting left behind.

Want more from the Sentiment Analysis Symposium? Check out our other posts: