5 tips for harnessing emotion in marketing

It’s never been more important to tug on a consumer’s heartstrings, but marketers must find a way to measure success without invading people’s privacy. Consider these insights.

How to harness emotion in marketing

This year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) conference in Austin, Texas, was all about emotion

Every event, presentation and brand experience focused on the manipulation of human emotion. Consider technology such as Sony’s Aibo robo-puppies, which get excited when you interact with them, or LG’s CLOi robots, friendly little machines that show emotion with their eyes. Even the augmented reality audio designed to help you daydream and reset your mood.

The power of emotion is a strong thread in marketing, and the concept kept my mind running long after I stepped off the plane back home.

Here are some of the things still on my mind following a frenzied five days in Texas:

1. Emotional marketing helps brands rise above the noise.

When it comes to striking a chord, emotional connections almost always fare better than logical connections.

If you’re able to drive some level of emotional response for your product, you’ll be more likely to sell that product. When was the last time you heard someone say, “Hey, did you see those sweet technical specs?” versus “Hey, did you see that ad where the kid used the Force to turn the car on and off?”

From a marketing and storytelling standpoint, emotion gives people a sense of community. In a one-to-one marketing world, where every campaign comes with fine-tuned targeting parameters and careful measurement, emotion builds something greater than itself.

In turn, thanks to word-of-mouth, single ad assets become bigger and more valuable than the single connection you paid for. When great creative messaging taps into human emotion, people remember.

2. Smart brands are exploring experiential data to quantify emotion.

As a marketing veteran, you’re familiar with basic operational data such as reach. How many households did a commercial air in? How many internet surfers saw your banner ad?

Yet, even if you know how many households your marketing reached, you don’t know the percentage of people who had a positive reaction, or even how many saw your content. Did Mom and Dad both catch your 30-second spot or was Dad in the kitchen getting a snack? Were Mom and Dad hosting a roomful of friends, some of whom saw the spot while others used the break to catch up on weekend plans?

Experiential data is a relatively new data set. How can PR pros analyze the viewer’s experience with branded content? What kind of impact (if any) did it have?

Experiential data is still difficult to quantify, so much so that no marketers have totally figured it out. One company at SXSW shared that they’re monitoring audience engagement during shows, including ads, but how they capture that data wasn’t clear.

Though much harder to get, experiential data is also more valuable than traditional operational data. At SXSW, a speaker from Fox said the network uses audience data collected on shows, characters, storylines and other elements to develop additional show plotlines and story ideas.

This is a great example of the evolution of the media landscape. Though this kind of thing is difficult to pull off now, I think it’s also only a matter of time before brands do it regularly.

3. Emotion plays a powerful role no matter the price point.

How can a brand marketer selling even the most technical products prove to their boss or CEO that an emotionally engaged audience will pay off? Marketers must validate everything they do, whether they’re dealing in emotion or logic.

Think about how you’re measuring your efforts but remember numbers will only take you so far. To take measurement a step further, can your results help you build a story around how you’re moving the needle? Can you connect classic operational data—reach, frequency, engagement, etc.— to experiential data?

4. Cultural norms influence the way we consume social media and technology.

Remember cultural differences will also dictate how people experience and react to your message. For example, Latinx consumers are super-users of social media and technology, because communication and community are deeply rooted in their life experiences.

That’s why you have to be aware of any communication’s cultural significance for your audience before you put it out in the world. Who are you talking to? What are their passions and interests? What’s going to move the needle for them? Will your message resonate, or will it fall flat—or worse, offend?

5. You can take a good thing too far. 

Marketing is becoming more and more targeted. On the one hand, this helps ensure consumers get relevant messages, in turn giving brands a better shot at closing the sale.

On the other hand, increasingly media-savvy consumers are becoming more aware of how targeting works and noticing when ads seem to follow them. Suddenly, what felt convenient at first now can feel like an annoyance or even a violation of privacy.

This goes even further than ad targeting. Digital futurist Brian Solis says app developers are manipulating our emotions to keep us on our devices, disconnected from reality, distracted and, ultimately, from doing our best creative work and living our best lives.

The same science that makes apps and other technology really relevant and useful are feeding a worldwide addiction, which isn’t good for human relationships, personal productivity or general well-being. That’s why, in his newest book, Solis encourages people to “escape from the dark side of distractions.”

How should PR pros and marketers respond?

You must strive to deliver information that educates and inspires, and products that make people’s lives easier. If you want to make the sale, you must not only appeal to your audience’s emotions, but also put their needs first.

Meanwhile, in Solis’ words, maybe it’s time for all of us to get back into balance and master our own destinies in this hyper-connected, data-driven world.

A version of this article originally appeared on the Wray Ward blog.

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