PR biometrics—how purpose messages evoke greater attention, arousal & emotion

by | Jun 5, 2019 | Public Relations

American consumers will go the extra mile to support responsible brands, but a compelling new study from Porter Novelli and recently acquired partner Cone reveals how they truly feel—and physically react—when exposed to Purpose-driven messaging. According to the first-of-its-kind2019 Purpose Biometrics Study, we are more likely to have a positive image of (89 percent), trust in (86 percent) and be loyal (83 percent) to brands that lead with Purpose.

“After tracking consumer data for more than 25 years, we’re confident the consumer appetite and demand for Purpose-driven brands continues to be strong,” said Brad MacAfee, CEO of Porter Novelli, in a news release. “However, in this study, we wanted to explore the power of Purpose in creating deeper emotional connections with consumers, that then inspire them to act.”

The groundbreaking research included an online study of more than 1,000 American adults combined with the results of a select group of respondents’ biometrics testing, which measured facial, heart rate and skin conductance impulses that captured levels of emotion, attention and arousal/stimulation upon viewing a randomized set of advertisements*—and found that Purpose-driven messaging has a greater ability to capture the physical and emotional attention of respondents compared to functional narratives.

PR biometrics—how purpose messages evoke greater attention, arousal & emotion

Purpose ignites physical and emotional responses

Brands that share Purpose messages evoke demonstrable heightened physical responses. The results of the biometrics study found the Purpose-driven advertisements were most effective in two-out-of-three brand categories tested—with higher levels of attention, emotion and arousal from these advertisements overall.

Further, when the advertisements’ narrators homed in on the aim of each ad—either sharing the product attribute/functional message or Purpose-driven message—the Purpose narrative outperformed among all three advertisement sets, with increased attention and arousal, and in cases, more positive emotion. In comparison, during the functional narratives, attention wavered, arousal often decreased and in one instance, respondents felt a negative emotion bordering on annoyance.

PR biometrics—how purpose messages evoke greater attention, arousal & emotion

Purpose builds deeper bonds

By leading with Purpose and connecting with consumers on shared values, companies are poised to build significant and lasting relationships with individuals. Nearly eight in 10 (79 percent) Americans say they feel a deeper personal connection to companies with values similar to their own. And, nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of consumers believe Purpose-driven companies care about them and their families more.

During the biometrics survey, when asked about each of the advertisements they were exposed to, participants overwhelmingly felt better about the companies behind the Purpose-driven ads. Respondents also felt the Purpose-driven advertisements were more unique, and in two-out-of-three instances, inspired more trust. The exception to this rule was an automotive advertisement, where a narrative around functional and safety features led respondents to trust the car brand more. However, in all three cases, respondents readily agreed they felt a more positive emotional connection to the brands behind the Purpose messages.

PR biometrics—how purpose messages evoke greater attention, arousal & emotion

“Through conducting biometrics research, we see the power of Purpose messages to break through and resonate with consumers on a deeper level,” said Alison DaSilva, EVP of Purpose at Porter Novelli/Cone, in the release. “Purpose-first communications spark an often-unconscious physical reaction by speaking to the hearts and minds of consumers, ultimately forming deeper emotional connections by appealing to individual values and what matters most.”

Purpose inspires brand advocates and amplification

The emotional bonds formed by leading with Purpose inspires individuals to promote the brand in many ways:

  • 72 percent – Feel proud to be associated with the brand (e.g., wearing the company logo)
  • 74 percent – Tell others to buy products from that company
  • 62 percent – Share information about that company on their social networks

These ardent supporters are also keen to support Purpose-driven companies even in tough times. Seventy-five percent of Americans said they’d be more willing to forgive a company if it makes a misstep, and the same amount (75 percent) would defend that company if someone spoke badly of it.

PR biometrics—how purpose messages evoke greater attention, arousal & emotion

The biometrics research proved Purpose-driven advertisements also led to greater propensity for respondents to become promoters on behalf of the brand. After viewing the Purpose-driven advertisements, respondents were then inspired to talk, share and advocate for these companies. In all three advertisement sets, respondents said they’d be more likely to talk about the advertisement and the brand with friends and family and share and discuss the advertisement on social media.

PR biometrics—how purpose messages evoke greater attention, arousal & emotion

Purpose creates audiences primed to take action

Americans indicate support of Purpose-driven companies in ways that will directly impact a company’s bottom-line—nearly nine in 10 (86 percent) consumers say they are likely to purchase from these companies. Beyond using their wallets, Purpose was found to be a key consideration in where to work and what companies to invest in. Americans are motivated to support these companies in the following ways:

  • 86 percent – Purchase products and services from that company
  • 81 percent – Support that company in their community
  • 70 percent – Want to work for that company
  • 64 percent – Want to invest in that company

Here, the biometrics research produced divergent results. When asked about the propensity to purchase, biometrics participants felt they’d be more likely to choose the advertisement featuring the product attributes in two of the three categories.

“When a company authentically communicates and delivers upon its Purpose, it will capture the hard-to-secure attention, favorability and trust of consumers. But it alone won’t trigger a sale,” said DaSilva. “Companies must find the right balance of sharing both their Purpose and functional product benefits to drive purchase. Equally important is that these messages are backed up with strong programs and policies. Consumers will do research and due diligence to make sure a company claiming it leads with Purpose is walking the talk and living upon those values – both internally and externally.”

PR biometrics—how purpose messages evoke greater attention, arousal & emotion

Americans feel the urgency to support Purpose-driven brands

There’s a clear reason Americans feel a strong sense of loyalty toward companies that pursue Purpose. Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of Americans say that in today’s uncertain social and political times, they feel an urgency to support issues in every way they can. And that sense of urgency is filtering into the brands consumers want to engage with. In fact, 72 percent of Americans say they feel it is more important than ever that the companies they buy from reflect their values. And supporting these organizations helps Americans feel they are contributing to issues that are important to them:

  • 79 percent say supporting companies that have similar values is a way for them to show the world they care
  • 76 percent say supporting companies that are addressing social and environmental issues helps them feel they’re doing their part

This push to support companies with values that align with consumers’ own also contributes to a shift in how Americans view businesses’ role in society evolving. Today, more than three-quarters (76 percent) of Americans believe it is no longer acceptable for companies to just make money; they expect them to positively impact society, as well. And although the majority believe companies should address issues that impact—or are impacted by—the business directly, such as the environment or human rights, the scope of a responsible business also extends beyond this. Americans believe companies should address:

  • 86 percent – Issues that directly impact, or are impacted by, the business
  • 79 percent – Issues that are important to them personally
  • 75 percent – Issues that are widely discussed in news and society

“In a time where consumers feel a heightened sense of urgency to address the issues they see as critical, they are looking to embrace brands that share those same values,” says MacAfee. “Now more than ever, brands that lead with Purpose can connect with consumers on the values that matter most to them—forming an emotional connection that builds deeper bonds, inspires brand advocates and ignites action that transcends any transactional relationship.”

Download the full report here.

PR biometrics—how purpose messages evoke greater attention, arousal & emotion

The 2019 Porter Novelli/Cone Purpose Biometrics Study is a multi-methodology study that presents the findings of an online survey conducted by Toluna from March 21-26, 2019 among a random sample of 1,193 American adults age 18+, comprising 510 males and 683 females. The margin of error for a sample of this size is ± 3% at a 95% level of confidence. The study also presents the findings of biometrics research conducted by HCD Research among a random sample of 21 American adults ages 23-38, comprising 10 males and 11 females. Participants were hooked up to biometric sensors (facial EMG [electromyography], heart rate and GSR [galvanic skin response] sensors) synced with eye tracking software to help gain an aggregate understanding into consumers’ subconscious reactions to testing stimuli. Participants were also asked to fill out a brief survey about the testing stimuli to help gain an understanding into their conscious reactions.

* Respondents viewed two ads from the same brand—a Purpose-driven advertisement (e.g., support of a social issue, responsible business practice) and an advertisement focusing on the functional attributes of the product (e.g., performance, features or specifications).

Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 17 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richard.carufel@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter


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