Leveraging App Users’ Emotions: A Powerful (Under-Used) Tool

Written on
Mar 1, 2016 
Ari Brandt  |

Ari Brandt, CEO of MediaBrix, explores the power of app users’ emotional data to maximize a brand’s marketing goals.

Q: How can advertisers use data to leverage emotions in apps? What kind of data needs to be collected?

A: Advertisers can harness emotions in apps by tapping into data from bi-directional communication, which offers insights regarding what users are experiencing during their journey – what accomplishments they may have achieved, what their frustrations are, among others. One can infer from developer data when users are most likely to leave an app or make a purchase, for instance, and advertisers can interpret emotions from those events. What’s even better is that this is possible across a wide range of app genres – from games to fitness, photo editors to recipe savers. By understanding the user journey, advertisers or developers can identify key moments when users’ emotions are heightened – you just have to know where to look. From there, it’s a matter of figuring out how your brand could complement that user journey and enhance a user’s experience in that moment.

Q: Why is this different in apps than in the mobile web?

A: First, users opt in and make very deliberate decisions about what apps they download. The 15-30 apps on someone’s phone tells you a lot about who that person is. The app experience is much more intimate and predictable than the mobile web experience.

On average, whether you are male or female, you are spending 80 hours per month consuming app content and only 9 hours per month in mobile web. Why is time spent in app 9 times greater than web? Because apps are uniquely made for mobile, while mobile web is not.

Apps are proactive and interactive in nature, rather than passive environments. Users in apps are hyper-engaged. They are committed to the content in app since they had to discover the app, download the app and then proactively seek out the content of the app on a daily, weekly basis. Meaning the content of this app has to be extremely premium and engaging to retain users. App developers are experts in content creation, user flow and retention. They are borderline psychologists, making people subconsciously addicted to a specific experience. That’s how they increase retention and frequency. They base their content on achievements, which plays directly into basic human needs to feel successful and relevant. This makes the content and experience emotionally charged. And because content is achievement based, app sessions tend to follow a traceable journey. That journey has multiple potential paths, many goal-oriented, but all repeatable across users, with discernible emotional highs and lows not found on mobile web.

Q: What other mobile technologies or capabilities can heighten users’ emotional reactions to advertising?

A: Mobile is a much more interactive, intimate device than desktop, as a result of the technology that has developed with it. And yet, most mobile advertising is made up of holdovers from old desktop techniques that don’t work anymore – banner ads, interstitials, and the like. Standing by those old ad formats fails to capitalize on mobile technologies that can make advertising a much more emotional, immersive experience.

Brands have the opportunity to reinvent advertising, with units designed around mobile capabilities like touchscreens (and now 3D Touch), motion sensing, and haptic feedback. All of these features can add interactive, sensory elements to a brand message that create an emotional, memorable experience for users, all native to mobile hardware. Just consider haptics: users are already conditioned to respond with excitement to the vibrating of their phone, so if you employ haptics in your ads, you’re using the power of that stimulus on mobile. Of course, the idea of sensory marketing is nothing new, but mobile opens up new possibilities for eliciting a potent emotional response.

Q: How can advertisers measure users’ emotional responses to brand advertising?

A: First of all, creating a baseline and comparing ads delivered with context at emotional moments compared to standard banners, interstitials, and pre-roll will provide campaign performance validation. In addition, including third-party studies on brand sentiment, awareness, and purchase intent will further quantify that user response. Those tell a much bigger story than basic measurements advertisers usually settle for (impressions, viewability, etc.). However, a lot of major ad agencies are also turning to neuromarketing measurements like biometric feedback, facial recognition and eye-tracking, which can provide an additional layer of human response to help perfect your emotional targeting, as well as insight as to how your ads will resonate in the market.


Ari Brandt co-founded MediaBrix in 2011 and serves as the company’s CEO. He is a seasoned media executive and entrepreneur with more than 18 years of experience building profitable digital businesses and advertising platforms. Before founding MediaBrix, Brandt was the CEO at Linkstorm, an advertising technology company, where he led the company through consecutive years of triple-digit growth and global expansion. He has also worked as the head of digital media for Condé Nast Business Media Group and led the launch of Portfolio.com. Prior to Conde Nast, Brandt held management roles at prominent media and ad tech companies including Yahoo! and DoubleClick.

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