We all do it. We fight the battle between our hearts and our minds as we try to decide which one is right. Some days we try to bury our emotions and think with logic, other days we cast aside reason in favor of following our hearts. It should come as no surprise then that consumers are the same way about making buying decisions. Logic and data has it's place in marketing, but ultimately consumers tend to spend more when they let their emotions lead them.

Better still, a marketing message that strongly affects a person's emotions is far more likely to stick in the memory and get passed along to others. That's why tapping into emotions is the fifth key to creating a viral message that sticks.

(I've pulled these six components from Chip and Dan Heath's Made to Stick and put my own spin on them.)

Part One: The Need for Simplicity
Part Two: Deliver the Unexpected
Part Three: Be Concrete
Part Four: Carry Credibility

Our Emotions are the Fastest Way to our Wallets

One of the most interesting chapters in the Heath brother's "Made to Stick" is the chapter on using emotion rather than facts to sell. The brothers talk about a study that kept tabs on the amount of money donated to a cause and how that amount varied depending on the pitch used for the charity.

The first pitch focused on broad level facts about the state of hunger in Africa. The letter offered up hard core statistics showing the true desperation of the situation and how many people were affected. The second letter focused in on a single girl living in Mali and told how a donation would impact her personally.

The results were surprising. Individuals who received the second letter donated more than twice as much as the individuals who received the first. The story of seven year old Rokia made a much stronger emotional impact than a list of statistics that made the situation almost so overwhelming as to be unsolvable.

The More We Think, the Less We Feel

africastats.gifSo why is it the folks who got a clear cut picture of how desperate the situation is gave less money to the cause. After all, data showing how many millions of people are going without food and have been forced to flee their homes should make it crystal clear how badly help is needed.

Researchers theorize that data like this is simply too overwhelming for people. When you know that millions of people are starving, it's hard to believe a few dollars out of your own pocket can make an impact. We've all seen this type of thinking in play around election time. We all know at least one person who doesn't vote because they can't see how their single vote can make a different.

Of course that's not the only thing at play here. The researchers decided to test a third scenario where individuals received both letters. Donations from this group remained low. It seems the impact of the stats and data was enough to put the brain into "logical" mode, thus dampening the emotional impact of the story of seven year old Rokia.

In other words, making people think made it harder for them to feel.

The More We Feel, the More We React

africaorphan.jpgOn the other hand, something powerful happens when we tug at someone's heart strings. This should come as no surprise to experienced marketers. After all, marketers have been trying to win over consumers with warm fuzzies, misty eyes and cute snuggly things for years.

The key to making your campaign a sticky one isn't just to fill it with babies and puppy dogs, but to figure out what strikes a chord in the heart of your target audience. New mothers worry about the safety and comfort of their young babies. Senior citizens worry about their ability to care for themselves as they age. Teenagers care about how well they fit into their peer group. Environmentalists care about the sustainability of products and resources.

Every group you may be targeting has points of passion that appeal to their heart more powerfully than their mind. Your job is to know your audience base well enough to identify those passion points. This is why it's so essential to be tapped in to your community online. You need to be reading their blogs, following them on Twitter, observing discussion forums and digesting what they are saying.

In the original case from the book where the goal was to raise money for Africa, the marketers did this very well. They understood that the stats and data would be overwhelming. They understood people would think their donation couldn't make enough of a difference to matter. They also understood that emotions often have a hard time grasping a situation so large in scope.

That's why they worked to create an emotional appeal that would tug at the heart strings of individuals and make it crystal clear how their donation would have an impact. By telling the story of a single girl and how she would be impacted, the marketing team was able to create an emotional connection. It's easy to ignore a plea to help millions, it's much harder to ignore a plea to help a single girl, pictured before you.

Coming up

In part five of this series, I'll take a look at the idea of telling stories to give your viral message traction and help it spread.

(Orphan image courtesy of Creative Common license from Flickr user The Dilly Lama.)

December 5, 2008

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.


Jennifer, Good Morning,
This one is spot on. If our marketing efforts Engage the Emotions, the trek to the sale becomes much closer. When we add a little Entertainment, we can really start to evoke some Emotion.

From my corporate days, I would fly weekly from Detroit to Chicago via Southwest every Tuesday morning, conduct business that day in Chicago, then fly Northwest from Chicago to Minneapolis that night. Southwest has the cattle call lines, no assigned seats, no frills, sometimes even a middle row seat, yuk!. Northwest I consistently got First Class, almost every flight,drinks, snacks, they even hang up your coat. HOWEVER, I liked, I enjoyed, I laughed with, I had a favorable experience with, Southwest. Herb Kelleher somehow figured out how to deliver a consistent, value driven experience, and permitted his employees to fix it when it wasn’t. That is amazing, and, highly profitable for them. Too, the Southwest staff entertained us along the way, evoking those Emotions!

Hey this is great. It reminds me of my days of learning emotive writing back at school.

It's so true that emotions is what drives our actions. Studies have shown the most purchases are made on impulse. Of course for products or items that are higher priced, some statistical data might be required, but even then the emotive appeal is still the main driving force. The link between emotions and desire is unbreakable.

Most people make purchases according to emotion. They really don't need that new i-pod but the heart tells them they need it so they buy.

I am building a new local search engine click2connect.com which will have some interesting social application layers ontop of a good business directory listing.
Since this is your field of expertise, I wonder if you have given any thought to how businesses could leverage this information more effectively with respect to their local listings?

The more we think the less we feel, also the more we think the more we make mistakes.. it was just my point of view..

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Search Engine Guide > Jennifer Laycock > Six Keys to a Viral Message that Sticks - Part Five: Tap into Emotions