It’s pretty much impossible to get everyone to agree on whether emotions matter in marketing.

In one corner, we have skeptics who believe that even though we feel like it should, emotion does not affect whether we actually buy from brands. If this were true, there would be no point in trying to optimize for trust or convey a higher purpose. In the other corner, some consider every word and visual carefully and try to design their content for maximum emotional impact and brand affinity.

Is it worth putting in all that work? Just like our first myth, we’re turning to science to see if we can debunk the myth of whether emotions in marketing matters – and what that means for marketers and content creators.

Our brains thrive on emotion—even when we think we’re being logical

The human brain shares many similarities with others in the animal kingdom—apes, dogs, lizards, and the like. Neuroscientists have been scanning brain activity for decades, mapping out which sections predate human history and which have developed over millions of years of evolution.

In adults, decisions are made by ancient animal components of our brain collaborating with more recently formed lobes and cortexes. Many of our choices and preferences are determined by our subconscious thought processes, which constantly draws on emotion. That means, when it comes to picking brands, buying products, and choosing services, emotions become very important.

Harvard researcher Gerald Zaltman reckons that 95% of our purchasing decisions are made subconsciously, even though many people consider themselves savvy and level-headed. You may think you’re just comparing two potential PC purchases based on the size of the hard drive and the capacities of the graphics card, but there’s still an emotional undercurrent to your final decision. That’s why a dry list of features isn’t that compelling when it’s next to a creatively written product introduction from another brand.

What does the science say about emotion in marketing content?

There’s comparatively little research into how to create truly effective content. This is rather surprising given the popularity of content marketing in recent years. In a recent literature review, professor Dr. Clemens Koob investigated which kinds of content are most effective and what goes into optimal content design by assessing marketers’ data from more than 260 organizations. He concluded:

“Content marketing activities can be effective if they trigger superior levels of cognitive, emotional, and behavioral customer engagement at the appropriate points throughout the customer journey. They strengthen customers’ brand trust, induce favorable brand attitudes, and increase customers’ perceived value of a brand, leading to more favorable responses to the brand.”

Those findings have been also been echoed elsewhere. Research into the IPA dataBANK, which collates successful marketing campaigns, found that purely emotional marketing content was twice as effective as materials that relied on rational information.

In short, creating content that uses emotion effectively makes customers look at your brand as more valuable. This is especially true for adding emotions to marketing content where you want prospects to become more aware of your brand or desire your product. As a result, customers see you as more trustworthy and more deserving of their business. In spite of this, trust doesn’t necessarily correlate directly to success.

Marketing researchers Les Binet and Peter Field say that trust, compared to other commonly tracked metrics, is one of the least effective contributors to brand success. Conversely, campaigns that focus heavily on trust usually underperform, according to their research.

Mark Ritson, marketing professor and noted skeptic of overly friendly brands, also points out that despite more than 42% of Facebook users saying they distrust the brand, the social network is seeing an expanding user base and consistently high daily use figures.

The likelihood is that it’s a whole lot more complicated than whether a customer simply likes or trusts a brand. Effective content is about having the emotional intelligence to understand your potential customer’s mindset when they open up your email, brochure, or Turtl Doc.

How to put emotional intelligence into practice?

There are 11 stages in the customer buying journey—and different emotions and cognitive states will matter depending on where your prospects currently sit. For content to have the biggest impact, you need to give customers the right content (which speaks to the right emotions) at the right stage of the journey.

Consider where you want your content to reach your prospects…

  • Awareness
  • Curiosity
  • Interest
  • Understanding
  • Relevance
  • Need
  • Validation
  • Timing
  • Closure
  • Satisfaction
  • Affinity

… and then think about which emotions are most important. For instance, where does trust come into play? How can we build enthusiasm at the curiosity, interest, and understanding stages? Is there a way to respond to fears when considering relevance and need?

Shot of a group of young businesspeople using a digital tablet together during a late night at work

Using negative emotions works—but it takes care

When you start thinking critically about how you incorporate emotions in your marketing content, you might find yourself faced with a dilemma: What’s the best way to respond to a negative emotion?

Think about the power of “FOMO”—the fear of missing out—for making the most of social proof. Prospects are often looking for ways to keep up with their competition or overtake them entirely. That means “don’t get left behind”, and other hooks with a negative twist, can make for powerful marketing messages.

But what you really don’t want to do is annoy your reader.

Let’s step outside of marketing and consider, for a moment, the notorious Microsoft “Blue Screen of Death”. Your computer just crashed; you’ve lost a couple of hours of work. How does that sad-faced emoji make you feel? Frustrated?

Try to meet your customers with the same emotional energy that they’re bringing to you. Don’t meet unhappy customers with relentless positivity (or a flippant emoji choice). In the same way, don’t dampen enthusiasm with a dour bottom-of-funnel white paper either. Put that emotional intelligence to work and approach every interaction as a way to solve problems. The best way to build a positive relationship is to offer value at every stage.

Today’s exercise: Let’s look at your content’s emotional intelligence

Ready to stretch your content muscles? This will take a little more work than our last exercise, but it’s so worth it.

It’s time to take stock of the content you’re using regularly, and assess how well it uses and triggers the emotional response you’re looking for. Ask yourself:

  • Where does each content piece sit in the buyer journey?
  • What emotions do we want to convey at this stage?
  • Does our content elicit this emotion?
  • How can we strengthen the emotional component of this content?

You can even download our handy Content Mapping Template for an organizational head start.

Ready to explore more psychology and emotions in marketing?

Look out for the next myth-busting blog, where we’ll be taking down the “if sales are happy, that’s all that matters” myth. (Spoiler alert: your customer should always be at the center.)

In the meantime, get started on making your content more effective than ever with our Noggin Notes newsletter, a bite-size bundle of content tips and news delivered straight to your inbox every month. Just sign up using the form below.

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