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Can You 'Feel' It? How to Use Emotional Decision-Making in Marketing Marketing strategies that don't make us feel anything are boring and forgettable -- two things that you never want your brand to be.

By Nathan Chan Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


When it comes to marketing, most brands are sneakier than you think. To be successful, a modern company can't just create a product that appeals to your pain points and offers a solution.

Related: Connecting With Customers: How to Market to Their Emotions

Instead, your favorite businesses create a connection with you on a deeper level. This is why you can sum up the advertisements and marketing schemes that prompt people to share and buy with a single word: emotional.

"But, surely we make decisions based on rational thought!" you'll protest. Um, no.

While many people think rational thought wins out, studies show that people rely more on emotion than information to make purchasing decisions. Human beings are emotional by nature, which means that many of our decisions -- from what we eat, to what we buy -- are influenced by how we feel on any given day.

After all, if you think about it logically, your favorite pair of shoes is probably the same in structure as thousands of other pairs, but you rationalize that that favorite pair is better in some way.

The reason is that we're all emotionally compromised. The marketing efforts that companies make form a deeper connection with us, and force us to fall in love with whatever they're selling. In fact, the most-shared ads of 2015 were those which used emotional content.

If you're a marketer, this focus on emotion should be particularly important to you. After all, while it's important to educate your customers about your services and products, it's even more important to make them feel something.

So, if you're ready to get touchy-feely with your advertising efforts, it's time to start looking at the world of human decision-making and how you can use it in marketing.

Peering into the emotional brain

According to Antonio Damasio, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Southern California, we need emotion to make basically any kind of choice. Through emotions, we connect brands and products experiences with our personal feelings and memories.

For example, if the first time you ate a burger from a local fast-food restaurant, you ended up being sick for several hours, you're probably going to associate that restaurant with disgust. It doesn't matter that you might have just had a one-off bad burger; your experience is still going to influence you in the long run.

Related: Why TD Bank's Emotional 'Thank You' Video Is Marketing Magic

In the same vein, if you associate going to that local fast food restaurant with fun moments bonding with your family, then the chances are that you'll go back time and time again -- regardless of whether you really like the food or not. That's because our emotions create preferences which influence decision.

Damasio made his conclusions by studying people who had suffered damage to the emotional and rational parts of their brain. These people had no connection between those segments, and while they could process information, they weren't able to make decisions. Why? Because they didn't know how they felt about the options they had.

Delving a little further into the scientific part of marketing, Psychology Today has outlined some core areas where emotions interact to facilitate human choice. For instance:

  • Positive emotions, such as happiness, delight or satisfaction are more likely to build customer loyalty than anything else. Simply put: If you can make your customer happy, that matters more than all the great guarantees and refund policies in the world.

  • Popularity is crucial. Finding ways to make yourself more likable isn't a practice that stops after high school. In marketing, likability plays a huge part in brand perception, and whether an advertisement makes a positive impact.

  • Emotional advertising can have a much larger impact on a customer's choice to purchase a product than the content within that ad. In other words, it's the emotions you convey -- not necessarily the product features -- that sell your item.

  • Neuro-imagery shows that customers use their emotional brain rather than their logical brain to evaluate brands.

Think about the last time you really enjoyed an advertisement. The chances are, you didn't like it because you just thought the information was intriguing; you liked it because it was funny, touching, smart or interesting. We like advertisements for all the same reasons we like people.

So, which emotions really count?

There are plenty of core emotions. So, should you be appealing to all of them? Well, probably not . . .

According to the Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology, the emotions that we use to make purchasing decisions use social constructs and interactions. They include:

  • Happiness

  • Sadness

  • Surprise/Fear

  • Anger/Disgust

While you probably assumed that "happiness" would be an emotion that all marketers should appeal to, the other options might surprise you. However, it's important to remember that negative feelings can be just as strong as positive feelings when it comes to provoking a reaction.

Making the customer happy

Happiness is simple and easy and a wonderful thing for many brands to embrace. After all, what company doesn't want to inspire a host of smiling, happy customers? Studies indicate that emotional articles and advertising that generate positive emotions are typically shared more often than articles that provoke negative emotions.

In fact, in 2015, the most shared ad of all time was "Friends Furever" by Android, which showed cute and inspiration friendships between animals.

Inspiring sadness

Sadness creates a very unique type of advertisement. There's no point in a marketing scheme that makes your customer feel miserable and then suggests buying your product for no connected reason. Instead, you need to use sadness, then follow up with a product or service that can help to alleviate that feeling.

Studies have found that we are far more likely to empathize with sadness than any other emotion. That empathy can then be used to make us more generous and trusting. Sadness is best used when brands want their customers to emotionally connect and immediately develop that sense of trust and dependance.

Just take a look at this promotional video by MetLife Hong Kong showcasing the everyday struggles of a father.

Using fear and surprise

In all aspects of life, fear is a strong motivator. You push yourself to get out of bed and go to work because you're afraid of not having enough money to pay the bills. You make sure that you drive under the speed limit because you're afraid of hurting others, or getting a ticket. Scaring someone into action is hugely effective.

You'll often find fear and surprise-based advertising in public service announcements for everything from drunk driving to smoking, to global warming. This is because fear promotes change and tells us that we need to take action to protect ourselves and the people we care about.

Turning to anger and disgust

Anger is generally seen as a negative emotion. In marketing, most people want to avoid anger wherever possible, as the last thing you want is annoyed customers. However, anger is also a powerful motivator; it spurs us to do something about the way we feel.

Disgust and anger can force us to think about our perspectives or situations, and ask important questions, or speak up against injustice.

For example, an Emmy-award winning advertisement campaign "#Like a Girl" was created by Always to grab your attention by repeating a famous insult. The idea of the ad is to make you feel frustrated about a social stigma, and force you to become part of the change.

How you can speak to customer emotions

In almost every aspect of marketing, there's a space available where you can insert some emotion or feeling into the mix. From the pictures of happy, smiling people on your website testimonial page, to compelling videos that prompt your viewers to ask questions, there are plenty of tools out there that can help you to create emotional connections.

Some of the most effective emotional marketing solutions include:

  • Video: An inspiring video can help viewers connect with characters on a screen and share their experiences.

  • Emotional copywriting: Whether it's the words on your landing page that pack an emotional punch, or the blogs that you write concerning important issues in your industry, words that really appeal to human emotion are sure to create a reaction.

  • Storytelling: Human beings are naturally designed to love stories. Ever since your mother or father told you tales at bedtime when you were a child, you've learned to appreciate the simplicity and emotion of a story arc. In the same way, stories can shape the way we see the world through marketing, giving us an emotional investment in certain brands or companies.

  • Social proof: Finally, the opinions of our peers are always going to have an impact. From those moments at school where you absolutely had to have a new jacket because all of your friends had it, to deciding where to go for lunch based on five-star reviews: We use other people's opinions to form our own when we don't have any prior experience regarding a product or service.

Related: Effective Marketing Appeals to Emotions Instead of Reason

Conclusion: that emotional touch

Educating your customer is crucial, but it isn't enough if you want to make a lasting impression. Promoting an emotional response will help to create a long-standing relationship with any brand. After all, marketing strategies that don't make us feel anything are boring and forgettable -- two things that you never want your brand to be.

Nathan Chan

Publisher of Foundr Magazine

Nathan Chan is the publisher of Foundr Magazine, a digital magazine for young, aspiring and novice stage entrepreneurs. He has had the pleasure of interviewing rock star business leaders to find out what it takes to become a successful entrepreneur.

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