Welcome to the first in a four-part series in which we’ll be exploring major trends in communications for 2022. In this initial installment, we’re examining the concept of emotional marketing, its traditional definition, and its current state.

People have been appealing to emotions to motivate others for millennia. Aristotle himself established techniques for emotional appeals that were quite persuasive. While appealing to emotions may seem manipulative, it’s usually not nefarious. Emotional marketing connects people with the things they want and need on a deeply personal level. True, some marketing and advertising campaigns play on negative feelings of fear or greed. Here, however, we’re looking at how emotional marketing can elicit positive results, and why it’s a major trend in communications with tremendous staying power.

What is emotional marketing?

Emotional marketing identifies and builds on an audience’s emotions to market to them more successfully. Rooted in current best practices in research and behavioral psychology, today’s emotional marketing requires a deep understanding of the feelings a specific audience has toward a product or service and its competitors. To work, emotional marketing has to get a good handle on an audience’s vibe, and how it affects their view of the entire product genre.

A very simple example is marketing campaigns for online talk therapy providers where emotional marketing is essential to conversion. The target audience naturally includes anyone who’s experiencing distressing emotions and could benefit from online mental health counseling. You don’t have to look far on Twitter to see people tweeting about their struggles with mental wellbeing – and you also don’t have to look far to see ads for these therapy providers in the same places.

Is it ethical?

Our country is undoubtedly in a mental health crisis thanks to the pandemic, extreme political unrest, and other disruptive factors. This means emotions are not just running high, they’re on the surface. Emotional expression on social media today is often bold, honest, and even raw.

As marketers and communicators, this puts us in an interesting position. It’s never been easier to get a better sense of the psychographics of our audience simply by paying attention to what they’re saying openly. But it also means we have information about our audiences’ emotions that in pre-pandemic days may have been reserved only for their close friends, family, or therapists. In the wrong hands, it can be used to spread dangerous misinformation. In the right hands, it can help increase good public health practices, and offer more choices. In its best form, emotional marketing is about establishing connections with an audience and using messaging that authentically appeals on a deep level. Without guilt trips or manipulation.

How is emotional marketing used?

Emotional marketing has been used for years in everything from television commercials that tug on our heartstrings (or are sometimes downright devastating for sensitive people) to the psychology behind logos and branding – using shapes and colors that are intended to elicit a specific emotional response. As people react more emotionally by default, emotional marketing has taken on a whole new form.

If we’re marketing something people need, we should appeal to the emotions that motivate them to learn more about the brand. This journey of discovery hopefully leads to more conversions. The tactic succeeds because they’ve become emotionally involved during the process. This means we need to craft careful messaging that is encouraging, nurturing, and never manipulates. Our audience is more than a potential sale. They’re people who are being confronted by feelings they may not have experienced before. We have to identify ways to elicit or create positive emotions that attract them to what we’re marketing and usher them to the conversion process.

Positive emotions to include in emotional marketing messages include interest, excitement, sympathy, and a sense of belonging, to name a few. We can see it happening organically within someone’s online network. On social media, it’s common practice for emotionally distressed users to ask others to cheer them up with cute pictures of their pets. Other users rally with genuine expressions of concern and well wishes. Emotional marketing is just a more sophisticated and long-term way of making that same emotional connection.

How does it fit into integrated communications?

Emotional marketing is more effective when part of a strategy involves integrated tactics like content, social media, and remarketing. The content in emotional marketing should not contain any sales jargon or too many calls to action. Less is better when it comes to actively selling in emotional content, so one impactful CTA could be all it takes. The content also needs to be so memorable people will want to share it. (Sharing itself is a small act of emotional investment.)

With emotionally appealing content and social media in place, remarketing becomes particularly effective. Utilizing the tools provided by ad services, you can show ads to people who have visited a website or a social media profile or looked for something specific, and tailor the messaging to have the same warm, emotional connection you’ve worked to establish with other tactics. One study found ads with emotional appeal were 31% successful, whereas ads with no emotional approach were only 16% successful.

One more benefit of emotional marketing is customer loyalty. If you develop a relationship with an audience based on what they’re feeling and what they need, and how a product or service can help them, they’re more likely to turn to the brand you’re marketing for future needs and recommend it to others, too.

Approach the journey as if it’s a blossoming friendship because that’s really what emotional marketing is all about.


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