Yesterday, Josh Kamowitz and Brent Snider of BrainJuicer presented a webinar, “Love at First Test: Why Feelings Matter When Optimizing Concepts.”

Traditionally, concept tests have focused on measuring consumers’ rational reactions to product concepts. First, a concept for a product, service, or ad is described, expressing an overall consumer insight, describing benefits and RTBs (Reasons To Believe), with a possible illustration. Then respondents are interrogated to determine:

  • Purchase intent
  • Advantages of the concept
  • Ways the concept can be improved
  • Value for money
  • Standard concept ratings (how different, believe, relevant, understandable the concept is; how it fits with the brand)
  • Custom attributes
  • How the concept would be described to a friend (“telephone test”)
  • Anticipated usage, including when and by whom
  • Substitution question


Brent said, “We are not going to dismiss previous business testing but open your eyes to a new way to measure concepts with emotion as the lead metric. Our approach is more in line with the latest thinking of making decisions emotionally first.”

Brent discussed Daniel Kahneman’s book, Thinking Fast and Slow, which describes System 1 and System 2 thinking. System 1 thinking is fast, intuitive, instinctive, metaphoric, and unconscious, while System 2 thinking is slow, analytical, effortful, propositional, and conscious. Fast thinking is emotional reaction, while slow thinking is rational contemplation. Brent said, “Thinking to humans is like swimming to cats: we can do it but we’d rather not.”

Relating this to research, Brent said, “Here’s the rub: the two systems are not equal in weight, but until now marketing has treated the rational and emotional as equals.” Why does traditional research get it wrong? “Quantitative approaches are way too rational; qualitative approaches are way too prescriptive. When is the last time asking ‘so tell us what you dislike about X category’ unearthed a revolution?”

“‘We think much less than we think we think,’” Brent said. “Yet most traditional concept testing tools require people to overthink and overrationalize their answers, while consumer decision making is rarely rational and always highly emotional. If your research is mainly about asking people to think rationally, you could be missing the honest truth about your idea.”

BrainJuicer’s System 1 Concept Optimizer includes all the traditional measures above but starts by asking consumers three questions to measure their emotional reaction to a concept:

  1. “How do you feel about this product?” The respondent is shown 8 facial expressions, each labeled with a universal emotion: contempt, surprise, anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, or “neutral.”
  2. “To what degree did this idea make you feel [selected emotion]?” Respondents are shown a rating scale.
  3. “What was it about this statement that made you feel this way?” Respondents are asked for an open-ended comment.


Based on these three questions, BrainJuicer uses a proprietary calculation to measure “Emotion-into-Action” on a five-point scale, from 1 star to 5 stars. In a followup email to me, Brent elaborated on Emotion-into-Action:

While we can’t give away the actual formula of how we calculate the star ratings, we can say that the largest contributor to the Emotion-into-Action score (1 through 5 Stars) is Happiness. It carries the greatest weight in the calculation, followed by Surprise. The negative emotions detract from the Star potential and Neutrality is a detractor as well. We take into consideration all of the emotions felt, as well as the intensity of each of those emotions. Since there are no degrees of neutrality, it can hurt an idea a lot when it comes to the Star ratings.

The benchmark database rates over 4,000 tested concepts, from 16 categories in 43 countries, across the 5 Star ratings:

  1. High Loss Risk (17% of concepts) – “Below average concept, do not progress.” An example of a 1-star concept was a “Soft Drink Party Keg.”
  2. Low Returns (28%) – “Around the average, but unlikely to make much impact in its market. ‘Progress with improvements’ where diagnostics show clear way forward.” A 2-star concept was a “Stevia & Cane Sugar Sweetener.”
  3. Solid Investment (35%) – “Above average concepts and in most cases recommended for progression.” A 3-star concept was the Dole Fruit Squish’ems.
  4. Market Beater (14%) – “Very strong versus the database (within the top quintile) and like to deliver in-market success. Progress.” A 4-star concept was the Fig Newton Triple Berry.
  5. Next Big Thing (6%) – “Rare, top of the database concepts typified by high levels of happiness at a high degree of intensity and likely to deliver strong in-market success. Progress without delay.” A 5-star concept measured by BrainJuicer was Nutella & Go.


The Nutella & Go concept test showed a lot of positive emotion around happiness and surprise. “If a high level of surprise is felt, it can get people to feel differently about a brand or category. Surprise never lasts long and ultimately turns into happiness.”

How did the product do in market? “It is the best-selling confection at front of Walmart and Publix,” said Brent. “It disrupted a fairly substantial category in a short period of time.”

In cases like this, measuring emotion in concept tests can produce happiness and surprise for brand managers!

Author Notes:

Jeffrey Henning

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Jeffrey Henning, IPC is a professionally certified researcher and has personally conducted over 1,400 survey research projects. Jeffrey is a member of the Insights Association and the American Association of Public Opinion Researchers. In 2012, he was the inaugural winner of the MRA’s Impact award, which “recognizes an industry professional, team or organization that has demonstrated tremendous vision, leadership, and innovation, within the past year, that has led to advances in the marketing research profession.” In 2022, the Insights Association named him an IPC Laureate. Before founding Researchscape in 2012, Jeffrey co-founded Perseus Development Corporation in 1993, which introduced the first web-survey software, and Vovici in 2006, which pioneered the enterprise-feedback management category. A 35-year veteran of the research industry, he began his career as an industry analyst for an Inc. 500 research firm.