Ep. 568 – How to Measure Consumer Emotions Using Passion Points with George Carey, Founder and CEO of The Family Room 

My guest today is George Carey, Founder and CEO of The Family Room. 

Founded 29 years ago, The Family Room is a market intelligence company that helps brands connect emotion to brand relevance and growth. 

Fifteen years ago, The Family Room launched a global longitudinal tracking with a proprietary framework called Passion Points. This data is used by top brands including Nike, HBO, YouTube, McDonald’s, LEGO, and Disney.

Prior to starting The Family Room, George was a Senior Vice President at Saatchi and Saatchi Advertising. 

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Jamin Brazil: Hi everybody, welcome to the podcast. You’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast. I’m Jamin Brazil, your host. Our guest today is George Carey, founder and CEO of The Family Room. Founded 29 years ago, The Family Room is a market intelligence company that helps brands connect emotion to brand relevance and growth. Fifteen years ago, The Family Room launched a global longitudinal tracker with a proprietary framework called Passion Points. This data is used by top brands including Nike, HBO, YouTube, McDonald’s, Lego and Disney. Prior to starting The Family Room, George was a Senior Vice President at Saatchi and Saatchi Advertising. George, welcome to the show.


George Carey: Thanks, Jamin. I’m happy to be here.


Jamin Brazil: The Michigan State University’s Master of Science in Marketing Research program delivers the number one ranked insights and analytics degree in three formats. Full time on campus, full time online and part time online. New for 2022, if you can’t commit to their full degree program, simply begin with one of their three core certifications; Insights Design or Insights Analysis. In addition to the certification, all the courses you complete will build towards your graduation. If you’re looking to achieve your full potential, check out MSN news program at b-r-o-a-d dot m-s-u dot e-d-u/marketing. Again, b-r-o-a-d dot m-s-u dot e-d-u/marketing.

WX is a research operations platform for private panel management, qualitative automation, including video audition questions and surveys. For a limited time, user seats are free. If you’d like to learn more or create your own account, visit have u-x dot com. It’s a huge honor to have you here. I got a fair amount of exposure to Passion Points. I’m excited about talking about that topic but I wanted to provide a little bit of context for our audience. Everybody knows that emotion is really important. In fact, it has never been more important for brands to connect to consumers at an emotional level. We’ve kind of moved away from the commodity framework and more to the emotional framework which is an interesting transition. How are brands doing this?


George Carey: Jamin, I think it falls into a number of different approaches. Different brands and different categories are trying to find emotional connections in different ways. One approach is the kind referred to as put your finger to the wind a little bit. You start with a hunch and work backwards from there. So you might have a hunch that Gen Z are really all about the environment and so you will work backwards from there into a campaign or a product or some content that speaks to that. The trouble with that is, you may beyond a hunch which really isn’t held by the broad population that you’re after. Another approach is to start with a social cause. I think people often conflate the idea of emotion and social purpose and work backwards from there. There’s lots of people who are doing lots of work in the social causes as a way to create more strong emotional connections with their consumer. Then there’s a few people that start with a human and work backwards from there. To me, that’s where the real sweet spot of this emotional marketing comes from. People are people first. They are consumers first and so to the extent that you can find a genuine human truth which is true and authentic beyond any category or any brand connection and work from there back to what works with your brand. That tends to be the most successful.


Jamin Brazil: Are there brands that you’ve identified or see that have done this really well and if so, can you think of a specific example?


George Carey: Yeah, well, there’s many number of brands that have aligned themselves with a social cause. Climate change and sustainability is probably the most frequent one and frankly, it’s the one which can be often sounds the most tin or the most hollow because I’m not exactly sure what many of these brands have to do with climate change. So without naming any names, that tends to be one of the problematic areas. Then there’s other brands that have more of a natural authentic connection to one of these emotional triggers for kids or for adults or for teens for that matter. Crayola for example has taken a huge standard promoting kid creativity. Now that makes sense. Create Crayola stands for creativity. It has always been about creativity and so for them to be a champion of creativity and the emotional connection between creative self-expression is a perfect one. And of course our friends at Nike who often gets cited in these kinds of podcasts are also brilliant at this. Their whole connection with this whole idea of agency and personal advocacy and not being pushed around by the authorities and having the courage to make sacrifices for your beliefs, that’s very much a part of their brand DNA. There is very much a part of the emotional connection they have with consumers. Beginning with Colin Kaepernick and working back to the future, they have done a brilliant job of prepping that alive in a very authentic fashion.


Jamin Brazil: It’s interesting you brought up Crayola. I just did an interview with a Black professional and she was talking to me about her identity. This was relative to DNI and growing up, she had Crayola just like most people do in the US. She would draw her family not using the black crayon but using the brown crayon and because of that she’s self-identified. This is a woman now in her 50s until very recently identified herself as Brown which speaks to the power of brand at connecting to consumers and then how that consumer then connects to the world at large.


George Carey: That’s exactly right Jamin. I refer to it like a motion done right as Goosebump Marketing. By that I mean it’s when you sort of on those rare occasions, where you have nailed like an emotional imperative at a human level for your consumer audience. And you have connected it in an authentic, completely honest way back to your brand. It’s like when those stars align, goosebumps, and that sort of be provoked in the in the consumer audience and suddenly, your brand becomes something you must have.


Jamin Brazil: That’s so funny I’ve never- it is interesting how that’s a really nice segue into my next question which is around Passion Points. But before we do that, it’s interesting how you, like your culture, it sounds like is and your views which is culture of the world is really framed around an emotional experience like you said goosebumps. Literally when she talked to me about that Crayola framing, I literally got goosebumps at that moment.


George Carey: And that’s a really good test. If you don’t get goosebumps when you see a concept that is meant to be an emotionally evocative, there’s something wrong there. The cause isn’t really a genuine emotional imperative or there’s not the real authentic connection to your brand.


Jamin Brazil: At The Family Room, you’ve created a tracking tool that measures consumer emotions towards brands, products, services and categories. I’d really like you to talk to us about that framework.


George Carey: It began with our, just, fundamental belief philosophically that as much as we would like to convince ourselves that we as people are these rational, empirical, logical individuals who make decisions based on good sound reasons, we are absolutely not. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have these emotional impulses that emanate from deep within us. They tend to be the triggers of our choices and once we have them, we then look for rational reasons to support them. It’s not the other way around. Our belief is that feelings come first. That you feel things before you do things and it seemed to us that if we could create a data set that turn that whole notion of human emotion and these emotional triggers in the concrete data, rather than kind of supposition or qualitatively defined hypotheses or worse, then that would be a really good service to the market in the content community. That’s what Passion Points are. In its simplest form, Passion Points quantify human emotion. And we look at these passion points through three different lenses. At a human level, we just measure on a quarterly basis among 80,000 consumers around 11 markets around the world, which of the 80 emotional priors that we track are most and least relevant to that given audience at any given time. We just want a quarterly basis. We’ve been asking the exact same Passion Point priorities for the last five years. And so we can now measure over time exactly how the wobbles in our world and there have been plenty of wobbles in the world lately, how those are impacting who we are as people, as humans. The second lens is to apply those human priorities in the categories. We tracked 11 different categories and from that, we can see the emotional jobs that kids or teens or young adults or parents expect of any one of these categories to perform. So this is not looking at the world of say gaming or restaurants through the traditional lens of category drivers, it’s much more at a human level. What is it that I expect for you to do for me as a person? Then the third lens is for subscribers of this research. We also put in your brands and if you’d like us to we compare the brands. And at that point we have this beautiful red thread that connects the dots from a bona fide, certified human priority, to an emotional job of your category, to a legitimate emotional asset of your brand. And when you put those three things together, in great content or marketing, and guess what you get Chairman? Goosebumps.


Jamin Brazil: I know you do work with McDonald’s or as their subscriber, and I’m happy to be a big fan of McDonald’s as a brand, been a consumer my whole life and still to this day, there was cash pre pandemic. They started this two for whatever breakfast sandwich thing in the mornings and it happened to be this remarkable deal for like $3. It was just such a materially better deal than any other menu options. So I was buying this thing over time and then I attended this conference where I actually got to hear the VP insights, give a presentation on the exact topic of how they had decided to partner with their customers, their constituents so that they could offer the best financial deal for basically calorie to dollar for them but in a highlight way. So it’s not like categorically across a menu, it was specific to individualized package deal. So, it is really interesting to me how a brand is rethinking that whole paradigm and how they are, it’s not about extraction from the consumer, it’s more about enablement or value their partnership that they’re getting with the consumer.


George Carey: Yeah that’s right Jamin and they’ve gone on beyond that to use our work to help them on a couple of other fronts. One is as you certainly are aware is the use of their celebrity meals. They’ve gotten various influencers to say this is my meal, this is what I like to have at McDonald’s and suddenly, they have now imbued the same old quarter pounder with the emotional cachet of some of these incredible influencers in the world and that seems to have done amazing things for their business.


Jamin Brazil: Sorry as we kind of fan boy on McDonald’s a little bit more, I have two young children, a five and a six year old, you would never guess what their favorite meal is?


George Carey: Tell me?


Jamin Brazil: Happy Meal. It’s still. Like even me growing up and for them today because there’s this emotional reward. It’s the free gift at the bottom of the Cheerios or the bottom of the cereal box, right? That is the big motivator there. It’s not the cereal. It’s the reward part of that.


George Carey: Yeah, but then we can also help them look forward. One of the things that we track is as a group of Passion Points that speak to our desire to engage in the world. It’s like get out of our shell and go out in the world and have fun and spontaneity and surprises and connection, versus our need for shelter, psychic shelter. And by that I mean, staying close and safe and in the home and around familiar people. And we can track exactly how say teenagers or young adults for example are trying to ignore that. Are they in a shelter mindset or an engaged mindset. And that has huge implications for McDonald’s because if you’re in a shelter mindset, that’s Drive Thru. I’m going to be buying my food through the Drive Thru, I’m not coming into your restaurant. And if I’m in an engaged mindset, that’s, hey, let me come out, let me get into your restaurant with my friends. So understanding that the reality that most young adults are still completely in the sheltering mindset and going up more by the day. Being away from pandemic has not made us any more inclined to reengage with the world because other things have replaced it as fear points for young adults. That has huge implications on how McDonald’s plans to invest their money in their marketing, based on Drive Thru dining versus in store dinning.


Jamin Brazil: Yeah, versus Apt To which works both ways.


George Carey: Exactly.


Jamin Brazil: So, can you talk to me a little bit about the construct of Passion Points. Is it a derived variable or is it like a stated variable?


George Carey: It’s stated variables. We began with Maslow. We wanted to route this in a pretty respected and well established model of human behavior in decision making. And that’s one that everyone can get their head around. Maslow was very clear about the hierarchy of human needs and that each needs to be filled before they can move on to the other. So we began with five categories of human emotion based on Maslow’s model and then we populated that with a number of individual expressions of that. And these are the Passion Points, these are these emotional priorities. So for each one of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we have about between five and 20 Passion Points. So we have this really nice contemporary expression of a very well respected academic theory. And then we do it through survey based research. It’s almost all done through a mobile platform. We ask respondents to tell us which of these are most and least important to most at least connected to our brand or category every quarter again for the last five years. We we’re able to look all the way back to that simple innocent time before the pandemic in 2018 and quarter by quarter, period by period, see exactly how these unchanging survey items, these passion points are shifting. And one of the thing is that you quickly realize Jamin as you do this is that a generational marketing is kind of a thing of the past in the sense of it does not take 20 years for people’s values to change. It used to have, we had this notion that yeah, over 10 years, 20 years, the notion of the very core essence of childhood or teen hood, things might shift there. That is not the case any longer. These human values, these emotional priorities shift quarter to quarter. I can only imagine what the US data is going to look like in our next wave when we have that the school shootings in Texas is a part of our cultural ecosystem. It is going to completely change this whole idea of child shelter versus engage and that in turn is going to change the kinds of snacks, the kinds of restaurants, the kinds of toys, the kinds of games that these young people want to play.


Jamin Brazil: It’s interesting from a longitudinal perspective, a lot of companies, they threw away their old trackers. In fact, I did, gosh, maybe 200 interviews, 50 of which were with major brands through the pandemic or after that 18 month period. The thing that stood out to me was the old way of doing tracking was useless. For example, they were thinking about set top box or rather TV viewership has completely changed. And they hadn’t accounted for that in their trackers materially to streaming services. Now, this is just a little carve out right but then once the pandemic hit, they realized, wow, our trackers are so disconnected from the actual consumer and their day to day life that we’ve got basically all the stuff that the 20 or 30 or 50 years of content that our data that we’ve collected is no longer valuable because the normative data set just doesn’t have a comparative point in the pandemic. What is interesting about Passion Points is you have a pre during and post point of view.


George Carey: Correct. Yeah, that’s exactly right. You can begin doing this kind of research today if you wanted to and you will see that 35% of teens think climate change is a huge emotional priority for them but like OK, big number or small number? Should I be paying attention to that or is that insignificant. So it’s through that movement that you can really begin to see the cultural zeitgeist.


Jamin Brazil: In that comparative against your normative database is the value, right? I mean to your point.


George Carey: Yeah.


Jamin Brazil: It’s like a balance sheet, a financial balance sheet. It’s are we doing better or worse. We’re doing good or bad and you can’t get to that question in the silo of a single project. It has to have that performance over time.


George Carey: Yeah, you’re exactly right Jamin and the thing that makes it not to beat our drum a little too loudly but, there’s lots of data out there but most of that data measures two things, behaviors and transactions. How often did you watch this show? What time did you watch this show? How much did you spend? That’s really important data. But it’s all about the behavioral what. And what our data tries to sort of fill in is the emotional why. Behind most data is a transaction or behavior. Behind our data is a human being expressing in their simplest possible way what’s really sacredly important to me. And so ours is a really nice kind of the end of the end behavioral data that gives you the emotional why.


Jamin Brazil: You’ve given us a few examples so far. I feel like it’d be useful if you could end on maybe one more example if you need to sanitize or redact the brand, that’s fine. But did you have any moments of surprise of what consumers were stating in the last few years?


George Carey: Yeah, there have been some to me some really remarkable things. Some of it’s been good news. I have to say has been hopeful news. There’s so much sadness, if you look and you read about the emotional stress and the anxiety that people are under right now but a couple of just super quick things that I have been surprised by and given hope by. The first one is the trend which we have named multicultural melding. And by that I mean out of all the terrible things that came out of the pandemic and God knows the list is a very long one, perhaps one of the bright spots is that through the shared suffering that everybody went through, it didn’t matter whether you were rich or poor, you’re Christian or Muslim, and importantly, Black, White, Hispanic or Asian. Everybody suffered. Everybody lost something. And it was through that shared experience that the emotional values across these multicultural segments came much, much closer together. If you look at the human values of multicultural Gen Z before the pandemic, they were very disparate, very far apart. Today, much closer together. And if you’re a brand or a property trying to find more inclusive content or inclusive brands, this has a huge impact because it’s not so hard anymore. If you know what these shared human values are, you can become much more inclusive much more quickly. So that’s one surprise. And then the other one is, there’s been some really remarkable changes in gender roles through the pandemic. One of the things that we’ve seen over the last four years is that girls and by girls, I mean, Gen Alpha girls, are absolutely done being pleasers. I’ve got two daughters so I can speak with some authority on this from my sample of two. But girls used to be very focused on doing things that got them praise and love from the outside world. And they are done with that. Girls’ interests in making my parents proud went from a number three emotional priority to number 32 over the course of a pandemic. Whereas boys, Gen Alpha boys, there’s this really interesting movement towards what we call the softer side of boys. They’ve become much more sensitive, much more spiritual, much more interested in creative self-expression. Much less interested in winning and domination. So anyway, you never know what the world’s going to throw at you and you never know how it’s going to change but this data gives us some insight we didn’t have before.


Jamin Brazil: I have one last question for you, what is your personal motto?


George Carey: Well, I’ve used it once before but I’ll just kill it and restate it. Feelings come first. That’s my motto. We feel things before we do things. And the more that brands and media properties can begin to orient themselves in that way, to start with a human and work backwards from there, the more relevant and I suspect commercially successful they’ll be.


Jamin Brazil: Our guest today has been George Carey, founder and CEO of The Family Room. George, thank you very much for joining me on the Happy Market Research Podcast.


George Carey: It’s been great Jamin. I’ll see you soon.


Jamin Brazil: Everyone else, if you found value in this episode, and I believe that you did – I certainly did and I’ve only done 400 plus of these – I hope you will screen capture and share this on social media. If you tagged myself or George, I will send you a t-shirt. How about that? Also you can find contact information for George and The Family Room in the show notes. I hope you have a great rest of your day.