The Ultimate Guide to Emotional Marketing: How to Leverage Feelings to Drive Action

What makes an advertisement memorable? What compels someone to click "buy now" or share with their friends?

More often than not, it comes down to emotion.

Brands that tap into feelings rather than just rational thoughts build deeper connections with audiences. People may forget what you say, but they will always remember how you made them feel.

In fact, research from neuroscientist Antonio Damasio shows that emotion is essential for almost all decisions. When the areas of the brain responsible for feeling are damaged, people struggle to make even simple choices, like what to eat.

Emotional marketing refers to strategies and tactics that primarily use emotion to make your audience notice, remember, share, and buy. By tapping into deeper psychological triggers, emotional marketing elicits a human response and forges bonds between consumers and brands.

And it works. Studies show ads with purely emotional content perform twice as well as those with only rational content (31% vs. 16%).

The most shared ads of 2018 relied heavily on emotional content:

Rank Brand Ad Title # of Shares
1 Amazon Alexa Loses Her Voice 1,851,576
2 Google Home Alone Again 1,361,361
3 NIKE Dream Crazy 969,650
4 Budweiser Stand By You 754,423
5 Hyundai Hope Detector 652,197

Source: Unruly

As Maya Angelou once said, "People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

Let‘s explore why emotional marketing is so powerful, and how you can wield it effectively to reach your goals.

Why Emotional Marketing Works

Emotional marketing is effective because it targets the heart over the head. While facts and figures appeal to the rational brain, feelings influence our instinctive, unconscious decision-making.

Consider these psychological principles that give emotion-based campaigns an advantage:

1. Emotion commands attention

In a crowded sea of content, emotionally charged messages grab focus and stand out. Our brains are wired to pay attention to stimuli that could impact our survival — including signs of danger and reward.

Jonah Berger, professor at the Wharton School and author of Contagious: Why Things Catch On, explains that physiological arousal is key for driving sharing and participation:

"When we care, we share. Physiological arousal is a key part of that process. If something makes our heart race, our palms sweat, and our face flush, then it‘s a sign we should be paying attention. It gives us the energy and wherewithal to take action."

Emotional ads generate higher arousal levels, and thus, increased attention, memory, and engagement compared to non-emotional ones.

2. Feeling leads to favorability

When an ad makes us feel something, we transfer those positive feelings to the brand itself through a mental shortcut called the affect heuristic.

Gerald Zaltman, author of How Customers Think: Essential Insights into the Mind of the Market, asserts that 95% of purchasing decisions occur subconsciously, and emotions shape attitudes and preferences toward brands:

"We are not thinking machines that feel, we are feeling machines that think. When we are confronted with sensory input, our emotions arise immediately, automatically, and unbidden."

By connecting your brand to certain emotions, you become associated with those feelings in the minds of consumers.

3. Emotion spurs action

Whether you want people to buy, click, sign up, or share, emotions are the catalyst that transform intentions into actions. Different feelings inspire different behaviors:

  • Happiness leads to more sharing
  • Sadness encourages giving
  • Fear/surprise triggers loyalty
  • Anger makes people more stubborn

A study published in the Journal of Marketing Research found that "emotionally based" advertisements are twice as likely to generate large profit gains than "rationally based" ads.

The goal is to pair the right emotion with the right marketing objective. More on that later.

10 Strategies for Emotional Marketing Success

Ready to start pulling on some heartstrings (in the best way)? Here are ten tips to infuse more emotion into your marketing efforts.

1. Know thyself

The first step in creating genuine, emotionally resonant marketing is having a strong handle on your own brand identity. What are your company‘s mission, values, personality, and reason for being?

Spend time articulating your brand story, voice, and style. The more authentic and well-defined your brand is, the easier it becomes to evoke emotions that match.

For example, Coca-Cola‘s brand identity is all about spreading joy and bringing people together. This clear identity makes it natural for them to tap into feelings of happiness, unity, and nostalgia in their marketing.

2. Understand your audience

To strike an emotional chord, you have to know who you‘re trying to reach on a deep level. What are their hopes, fears, challenges, and motivations? What kind of emotional benefits and transformation are they seeking?

Develop detailed buyer personas representing your target customers. Empathy mapping can help you get inside their hearts and minds to discern their emotional states and desires.

Only by understanding what makes your audience tick can you create marketing messages that move them.

3. Focus on feelings over features

It‘s a common marketing mistake to fixate on the logical details and specs of your product or service. But features alone don‘t generate feeling.

Instead of just listing what your offering does, focus on how it makes people feel and the aspirational identity it helps them achieve. What higher-level emotional needs and benefits does it provide?

For example, don‘t just say your state-of-the-art outdoor gear is durable and functional. Paint a picture of the adventures it enables, the freedom and confidence wearers feel exploring the wilderness, the sense of community among fellow nature lovers.

Convert product attributes into emotional hooks:

Feature Emotion
Durable Rugged, intrepid, built to last
Lightweight Agile, free, unburdened
Protective Safe, secure, resilient

Help consumers envision how your brand enriches their lives beyond the rational benefits.

4. Evoke a range of emotions

Emotional marketing isn‘t just about feel-good vibes. The most resonant campaigns often tap into a spectrum of feelings, from positive to negative.

Procter & Gamble‘s award-winning "Thank You Mom" campaign is a great example. The series of ads released during multiple Olympic seasons beautifully captures the highs and lows of athletes‘ journeys supported by their mothers‘ love.

One spot from the 2012 London Games shows the path of hard work, doubt, fear, triumph, and gratitude leading to the world stage. Viewers experience the gamut of emotions alongside the Olympians.

By evoking both "high arousal" feelings like exhilaration and "low arousal" ones like warmth, the campaign forged a strong emotional bond between the brand and its target audience of moms.

5. Tell authentic stories

Nothing elicits emotion like a good story. When we hear stories, our brains actually sync with the teller‘s in a process called neural coupling. Stories let us step into someone else‘s shoes and feel what they feel.

Infuse your marketing with authentic narratives about real people‘s experiences with your brand. Unearth stories of customers who have overcome obstacles, achieved goals, or transformed their lives with your help.

Airbnb‘s series of videos featuring hosts around the world is a powerful example. Each mini documentary profiles a different host and the impact opening their home has had on their life. By letting real users tell their stories in their own voices, the company builds affinity and inspires others to be part of its community.

6. Provide social proof

We‘re wired to follow the crowd. When we see others experiencing an emotion, we tend to mirror that feeling.

Include social proof in your marketing as evidence that others have felt positively about your brand. Testimonials, user-generated content, and influencer endorsements act as emotional signposts.

For example, Slack‘s website showcases glowing quotes from customers like NASA, Lyft, and Ticketmaster describing how the product has improved their work lives. Knowing these aspirational brands are happy Slack users makes prospects feel good about joining the bandwagon.

7. Design with emotion

Colors and images are powerful emotional conductors. Different hues evoke different feelings and associations:

  • Red: passion, excitement, urgency
  • Blue: trust, stability, competence
  • Green: growth, health, prosperity
  • Purple: creativity, luxury, spirituality

Choose a color palette for your brand and marketing visuals that aligns with the emotions you want to target.

Visuals of people‘s faces can also elicit strong visceral responses. Photos and videos showing the ideal customer experiencing positive feelings — smiling, laughing, looking confident — can help spark those same feelings in the viewer.

8. Write with empathy

Your copy and messaging should demonstrate that you understand your audience‘s feelings and needs on a human level. Write like you‘re having a conversation with a friend, not just pushing product.

Use "feeling" words that paint a picture of the customer‘s emotional experience. Describe the frustrations and pains they face, then illustrate how your solution makes them feel relieved, excited, or empowered.

Acknowledge and relate to your audience‘s emotions, then present your offering in an empathetic, supportive way.

9. Make it a movement

The strongest, most enduring emotions often stem from a sense of shared identity and belonging. Look for ways to rally your audience around a common cause or ethos that‘s bigger than your product itself.

TOMS shoes built a fervent following not just because they sell comfortable, fashionable footwear, but because they stand for a mission of helping others. For every pair purchased, TOMS donates a pair to a child in need.

By making customers feel like part of a movement, TOMS formed an emotional bond and loyal community that‘s endured for years.

Consider how your brand fits into cultural conversations or social issues that your audience cares about. How can you invite them to join you in making an impact?

10. Test and measure

Like any marketing variable, emotion should be treated as a testable hypothesis. Try infusing different emotions into your campaigns, then measure engagement metrics like views, likes, comments, shares, and click-through rates to see what resonates.

You can also evaluate emotional effectiveness through:

  • Surveys and focus groups
  • Sentiment analysis of social media and reviews
  • Facial expression and biometric response to your content
  • Brand recall and favorability scores

Over time, you‘ll get a sense of what emotional triggers work best for your specific audience and marketing goals.

The Dos and Don‘ts of Emotional Marketing

As you experiment with emotional tactics, keep these best practices in mind:

Do:

  • Match emotions to your brand identity and values
  • Combine emotion with key facts and benefits
  • Use emotions to tell an authentic story
  • Make people feel good about themselves
  • Test which emotions generate the best response

Don‘t:

  • Force emotions that don‘t fit your brand
  • Overuse negative emotions like fear or guilt
  • Forget the logical reasons to buy your product
  • Make false, misleading, or exaggerated claims
  • Keep using an emotional appeal that‘s not working

When done right, emotional marketing is a powerful tool for standing out, forging lasting connections, and driving action. By understanding your audience, telling authentic stories, and providing transformation, you can give them something to truly feel good about — and associate those good feelings with you.

Go forth and tug some heartstrings.