Emotional Marketing: 3 Principles That Convert More Leads

Let me tell you a story that I hope will demonstrate how emotion works with branding and people’s buying decisions:

I once knew a guy who loooooved Nike shoes. He studied engineering, and through that, wrote a research paper on how Nike shoes were made. He would explain how Nike Shoes were in research for 15 years (though, it seems to be more now). He could draw diagrams to prove that a Nike sole was amazing for basketball. He had stacks of Nike shoes in his closet. And if you mentioned the technology of another brand’s sportswear product, he could get angry, because, guess what – Nike invented that first. And you would not want to get him started on the idea that Nike brand shoes are ‘expensive.’ Oooooh no. No, no, no, no. Do you know how much it costs to develop a Nike shoe?

To this guy, Nike has no flaws. He is in love with Nike. He could marry Nike.

Do you know what this type of buying behavior exemplifies? It is “what scientists know about the brain now – that people feel first, and think second” (source: Courtney Seiter in this Buffer article). And it plays into marketing in a significant way.

If you’re a business reader, you must now be wondering:

How do I make people this passionate about my own brand?

And if you’re not, you should be. Because emotion-based marketing, emotional targeting, or whatever you want to term it, can be a powerful force for online sales. It can explain why some companies make commercials that barely mention their company or product and still do well. It can explain the new era of video marketing with hilarious YouTube ads that keep you watching. It can put understanding behind the purchases of over-priced products. And it can tell you why the smart online marketers out there are making big bucks by using effective, but oh-so-simple copywriting strategies to sell their X-Y-Zs.

So let’s delve into it, and find out how you can use emotional marketing to increase online brand awareness, and thus, sales.

How Does the Science of Emotional Marketing Work?

Multiple articles have done a really good job at delving into the ‘how’ of emotional marketing. Here are some to check out:

The basic premise is this:

Humans are emotional. They feel before they act (according to what we learned above). We can’t help but use our ‘gut’ to make decisions. Some people are proud of that, rather than opting for the rationale that can also go into decision-making, if you take the time to do it (ever watch character Olivia Pope on the Scandal TV show talk about trusting her ‘gut’? It’s gotten her into trouble a couple times!).

But this lack of rationale in decision-making means that, in marketing, the way you evoke emotion can determine how people will respond to your advertising or conversion efforts.

Think about our Nike fanatic above (let’s call him ‘Nike Guy’). Did you know Michael Jordan actually wanted to sign with Adidas shoes, but only Nike would give him a contract? So there you have it; I can tell you of at least one basketball pro with street cred who had a different opinion than ‘Nike Guy.’

Who was right about which shoe is better? Who used logic for their buying decision? I’ll tell you what: in marketing, it doesn’t really matter. Facts don’t matter as much as emotional impact does.

And, in this world, there are multiple emotional triggers: the things, sensations or events that get people to feel emotions or experience flashbacks. In marketing, they can vary based on the individual’s demographics, the meaning interpreted in imagery or words, the culture or context a person is in, and so on. Sometimes marketers refer to these as “pain points” that you are trying to solve for your customers. You have to do research on your audience to find out what their emotional triggers are.

But there are common ones we could say would affect people in (at least) Western culture in very similar ways. Shanelle Mullin (article above) uses the example of animal cruelty in an ad that lures people into donating. We sure love dogs and cats in North America. Sometimes colors are psychological triggers to us. We will delve into more real-life examples below.

The other thing to know is that there is a myriad of emotions that can be used in emotional targeting campaigns. You don’t just have to use ‘happy’ or ‘joyful’ tactics to get a response out of your target customers. Anger works too, as does sadness, jealousy, awe and so on (different articles above explore these in various facets and categories).

So how do you start with emotional marketing? The key is to build your foundation with some basic principles.

Emotional Marketing Principle #1: Don’t expect hard numbers with emotional targeting measurements, but do expect better results

Emotional marketing can be hard to measure because it’s mostly based on qualitative research, rather than quantitative research. That said, it’s not impossible to measure results of best-presumed emotional triggers using split testing (see here and here for more about split testing on our blog). You can also create models to then measure emotional impact based on qualitative research like this article explains. But unless you have access to an MRI machine and can interpret brain scans, it’s safe to say your own audience’s emotional triggers to your brand can be relative, as explained above.

So at best, you can come up with a good hypothesis of what you think will work for your company’s advertising when it comes to emotion-based online conversions. And even better, you may be working with a pro who has done this before and knows what works in common cases, or how to help you draw out your customers’ emotional triggers in a brainstorming or research project.

Note that any marketer you hire should be addressing emotional triggers and audience behaviors to some degree with you (even if it’s not as deep as we’re discussing here). It’s hard to do marketing without it, and impossible to define a brand without it. So these concepts may not be completely foreign to you if you’ve gone through a persona exercise or marketing discovery process before.

But, all that said, it is important to note that emotional targeting in its more ‘concentrated’ form helps your online conversions by improving your strategy and directing your methods. It helps you waste less time by using tactics that are more likely to work in your favor (since they’re based on scientific understanding of human psychology). In short, it creates less guesswork for you and eliminates the ‘shooting an arrow in the dark and hoping it works’ method.

Emotional Marketing Principle #2: Take time to find out ‘who’ your brand is and who it resonates with, so you can start converting better

Before you get into the nitty gritty of emotion-based marketing tactics, which the articles linked to above help to explain, you will need to know your brand’s personality; the ‘who’ of your brand, if it were a person. Then, realize your brand personality MUST align with your target market’s personality. From there, you can start capitalizing on your customer emotions (ethically) when converting leads.

Be like the best: practice branding exercises

There are great branding exercises to do, which you can Google or discuss with a branding expert. A simple one would be by Aarron Walter, a designer who helped develop the MailChimp design (and design must be based on this type of research!). Here is his Design Persona template:


And here is how MailChimp came up with their company’s personas, which you can see is an exercise that has strengthened their brand significantly:


No doubt, the MailChimp smiling monkey, its non-threatening fonts, big fat UI elements, and friendly color palette make you feel welcome and at ease. It is saying, “you won’t be intimidated by our product. We will be nice to you. You won’t get frustrated here like you do with competing products. We believe in simple, but effective.” People can respond emotionally to that. It solves their ‘pain points.’

Develop your “golden circle” before you start with emotional targeting

This is now where we must insert Simon Sinek’s “golden circle” rule. Watch it on YouTube here (if you watch the whole thing you’ll understand why it’s called the “golden circle”):

According to Simon Sinek, when you develop a brand, a product, a company, etc. you have to “start with why.” Why do you get up in the morning? Why do you do what you do? What do you believe in? Here is an excerpt of Sinek’s TEDTalk, which blew the Internet away (a fact based solely on my memory):

“If Apple were like everyone else, a marketing message from them may sound like this: ‘We make great computers. They are beautifully designed, simple to use, and user-friendly. Want to buy one?’


And that’s how most of us communicate. That’s how most marketing and sales are done and that’s how most of us communicate interpersonally. We say what we do, we say how we are different or how we are better, and we expect some sort of behavior – a purchase or vote or something like that…”

“Here’s how Apple actually communicates – ‘Everything we do we believe in challenging the status quo, we believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use, and user-friendly. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?’

Totally different, right? You’re ready to buy a computer from me. All I did was reverse the order of the information. People don’t buy what you do, people buy why you do it.”

Sinek’s example is ‘right on the money’ when it comes to emotional impact in marketing. When Apple communicates they are ‘challenging the status quo,’ that triggers an emotional response in a potential customer. No one wants to be left behind (think: acceptance). Everyone wants to fit in (think: envy). Incredible design inspires people and makes them feel darn cool (think: awe and admiration). These are not logical facts. These are feelings.

You see how this starts to come together?

It matters A LOT that you take the time to understand your brand persona, and thus your audience’s emotional triggers BEFORE you start marketing, copywriting, designing, or recording a video. It can affect the conversion rate optimization (CRO) you’ll get out of your efforts.

You’ll waste less time by getting your message close to right the first time (you have to start somewhere). Then you can start perfecting what’s almost perfect, instead of scratching your head wondering why multitudes aren’t buying the product you believe in so much, that you poured your sweat equity into it, to say the least.

How does your brand persona relate to online marketing conversions?

That’s the prime question. We’re trying to convert sales online here, right?

This is where one of my favorite videos becomes very topical. It basically expounds on Sinek’s “golden circle” idea and applies it to online conversions. It doesn’t have a lot of views, but it’s one I reference a lot when working with my clients on this subject. It’s a talk given by Joanna Lord at a Moz gathering a few years ago. It has two parts:

In these videos, Joanna basically challenges us to ‘pull out all the stops’ when it comes to customer acquisition through our websites. Having what people are looking for is no longer enough.

Yes, SEO matters. Yes, conversion goals matter. And yes, your unique selling proposition (USP) matters. However, nowadays, it’s more than that. “They’re just not going to convert the way they used to,” she says.

You need to “invest in your story” in a big way. You need to inspire people to love what you love as a company. You need to “delight” your site visitors. Not with the ‘what.’ Not with the ‘how.’ But with the ‘why.’

This requires a lot of work, attention, and unison within your company. It also requires a shift not just in your marketing strategy, but in the way you think about your marketing strategy. From now on, you need to connect at a human level with your customers, not at a product level.

Remember ‘Nike Guy’? He was all about the ‘why.’ He believes in what Nike believes in. He believes a great shoe should be well-researched or use certain materials, or whatever. He aligns with what Nike aligns with: basketball. He loves the Nike story because it’s a story about basketball shoe history. He exudes the Nike legacy. And because of that, he’ll buy whatever shoe they make, even if he has 10 pairs already.

The ‘why’ is emotional. Target Emotions.

Emotional Marketing Principle #3: Stay logical

This is going to be a short point because it’s really simple. It’s just this: stay logical.

On the one hand, yes, you are going to veer away from listing products and features only. You’re going to start targeting emotions in advertising or promotion. But on the other hand, don’t stretch it too far.

Don’t say your product will save people money so they can spend that money to go skiing where they will truly be happy. I saw a commercial do this, and it defied logic. You know why? Because you can also save money to go skiing by not buying their product. It was a stretch. Don’t market to fools. Customers are smarter than you think.

Don’t over promise and under deliver. Don’t try to imply your product will evoke an emotion if someone buys it. That’s not what we’re doing here (though many big brands still go this route). On the contrary, we’re using emotion to get people to later buy your product. It goes in reverse order.

Think Dove soap. Their advertising tells you what they believe in: looks don’t matter and stereotypes don’t matter. You have no reason to feel insecure about your body or your identity (evoking the emotion of acceptance and self-worth). They are not communicating that if you buy their soap, you will be as beautiful as a celebrity you envy. You already are beautiful. And the company sees all women as worthy. When customers buy Dove, they buy into their belief system (or, that’s the goal).

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Written by Joyce Grace

Joyce goes around saying she's an Internet marketer who makes WordPress web sites, blogs and performs SEO for companies both in Canada and abroad.

She loves all things Dutch.