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Emotions, Autonomy, and Customer Experience Management

It’s widely accepted among marketers, psychologists, and consumers alike that emotions play a role in marketing. We’ve all seen an ad that made us feel something—whether it was a tourism ad in a magazine that made you excited for your next trip or the famous ASPCA commercial featuring Sarah McLachlan that made you sad for all of the pets without loving homes. But pinning down exactly where and how marketing and human emotions intersect is more difficult. 

Dr. Markus Giesler, Professor of Marketing at York University, was interested in examining the psychological and emotional effects that the recent increase in marketing automation and targeting had on consumers.

Dr. Giesler and several colleagues wrote an article considering the customer’s perceived sense of autonomy and its impact on consumer choice and behavior. Although there is some existing research on the impact of new marketing technology on customer emotion and perception, the article points out that more is needed to fully understand the implications of the new marketing world we are entering.

This quote reads, "Explicitly categorizing consumers may reduce their perceived autonomy in identity expression, leading them to avoid products they would otherwise prefer." By Dr. Giesler

Let’s take a look at what we do know: Research found that when people perceive that their autonomy is threatened, they may behave differently than if they feel they have a choice. How does this apply to marketing? Research has found that in many cases, customers will forego convenience in favor of a route that they feel provides them with privacy, and therefore doesn’t threaten their perceived autonomy. As the article explained, ads that “explicitly categorize consumers may reduce their perceived autonomy in identity expression, leading them to avoid products they would otherwise prefer.”

Some aspects of digital marketing, like increased ease of search or some extent of personalization, can lead to a customer perception of expertise or identity-relevance, promoting customer satisfaction. But taking personalization too far with microtargeting, intrusive advertising, and sophisticated persuasion attempts may lead to preference reversals due to a perceived autonomy threat. As the article explained,

“Consumers often find computerized decision aids aversive, even when they promote better decisions (Dietvorst et al. 2015). Similarly, decision aids and algorithms that make consumers feel observed may decrease consumers’ perceived autonomy and systematically bias their choices.”

Applying this more broadly to customer experience management concepts, we can assume that customer experience must strike a delicate emotional balance; it must inspire desire and anticipation, but not reach the point where customers feel anger due to perceived coercion. Monitoring the emotions evoked by your content marketing strategy, whether with social listening, engagement analytics, customer surveys and feedback, or a combination of methods, will become increasingly important as technology drives marketing forward.

Some evidence suggested that increased transparency in marketing methods may restore a sense of autonomy, and a more positive emotional outlook, to the customer journey. More research is needed in order to determine the most effective practices in our new world of technologically enhanced marketing. As Dr. Giesler and his peers explained,

“It will be important to examine the implications of this increased transparency, which sorts of promotional practices are more threatening to perceived autonomy, and how consumers weigh these threats against the benefits of greater personalization.”


A focus on transparency and effective communication in your content marketing strategy accompanying any decision aids and algorithms you deploy may help find a balance between technology and emotions. How do you determine if your marketing strategy crossed the very thin line between acceptable technological enhancement for convenience and invasion of privacy and autonomy? Listening to your audience about the emotional experience of their customer journey, both in their direct engagements with your brand and through social media listening and monitoring, is the key to enhancing your customer journey management. 


Nuvi has several social analytics that can indicate the emotions and autonomy balance. The first two dashboards here are of emotions. The first is a pedal chart that displays eight emotion in a multi-colored flower design with eight petals. The second is the same as the first except displayed as a bar chart. The last one on this example is sentiment analysis.
Nuvi's emotion analytics dashboards

Learn more about the intersection of technology and emotions from Dr. Markus Giesler—register for our free webinar Designing Empathy Experiences: The New Way to Customer Loyalty and ROI on October 29th at 10 am MDT.

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