Tie marketing back to emotions

Emotions and Consumer Behavior

Marketers spend a lot of time worried about ‘power branding’ and ‘automation suites’ and ‘the biggest possible number,’ and in reality? Very few of those things actually matter. We live in a much different world than we did even in 2003. That has massive business implications. The sales funnel your grandfather worked within? That sales funnel is dead. There are dozens — if not hundreds — of ways for a potential consumer/buyer to understand your product or service before they even speak to a single person from your company.

Here’s the problem: most people look at that — the complexity of the modern marketing mix! — and do 1 of 2 things:

  • They focus on those aspects above because those are things they can control, and ultimately work is just a complex exercise in having control or ownership over something.
  • They run around screaming about complexity and how busy they are and how much stuff is on their plate and they don’t really get anything tangible done anyway.

There’s a dirty little secret around ‘the new era of marketing.’ Ready?

It’s not that complicated.

Some basic tenets:

Here’s some new research out of Northwestern on emotions and marketing/advertising, which very few executives take into account as they race from meeting to meeting to e-mail to e-mail, even though the entire premise of marketing is tied to emotions.

The study did this:

Rucker and Petty conducted an experiment in which the participants, undergraduate college students, were induced into angry or sad moods through reading an emotion-evoking narrative disguised as a magazine article. They were asked to imagine the events being described as they read the article. The article used to induce anger described hatred and protests against the United States in the Middle East. The article used to induce sadness described the effects of a natural disaster on a small village in Africa.

Participants in the experiment were then presented with advertisements for two vacation resorts in Orlando, Florida, and were asked to rate their preferred vacation. One vacation advertisement described a relaxing resort (passive frame), while the other advertisement described an active resort (active frame). The passive frame characterized “a perfect place for people to relax and rest,” while the active frame characterized “a perfect place for people who want to actively explore.”

So one group is made angry and one group is made sad — and then they’re shown resort ads. OK. What happened?

The results were consistent with the hypothesis, and the interaction between emotion and the framing of the message was statistically significant. Anger-induced individuals indicated a preference for the active resort. On the contrary, individuals that were induced to sadness showed a significant preference for the passive resort. This suggests that there is a matching effect between the consumer’s emotional state and the level of activity, passive or active, evoked by the location.

Read that last sentence — matching effect, consumer’s emotional state, level of activity, evoked by location. You can replace “location” with “product” or “service” and it works as well. Basically, marketing is about hitting an emotional target with a consumer based on where they’re at then and there.

So let’s say you want to buy some TV ads on, oh, the NFL. (Good luck. They are expensive.) The NFL would probably move more men to anger than sadness, so you’d want to showcase something active and moving, as opposed to passive.

That’s a very simple idea right there, but a profound one. The ROI of marketing and advertising is never going to be perfect — ignore the fact that most brands barely know what they should be tracking at all — but the goal of anything you do should be effectiveness and message and connection to the end consumer.

Here, you have research that shows you it’s all about emotional states and memories. If your ‘marketing strategy’ is really just a series of ads, that’s fine. But remember: ads are interruptions into the flow of something else. If you know where you’re advertising, you have a strategy for maximizing that interruption and potentially turning it into a story that resonates with someone. That’s much better than just a simple ad.

So remember: as you run around screeching about KPIs and margins and value plays and re-brands in your marketing strategy sessions, stop and take one deep breath. It’s not that complicated. It’s all just about emotions, memories, and telling stories that line up with those in the right spots.


Ted Bauer


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