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Emotional Marketing: The Secret to Success in the Attention Economy

By: Michael Okada | 12 mins read |

Marketers are adapting to the attention economy, where human attention is perceived as a limited commodity. We are constantly scrolling through an endless flood of information on social media, but it’s impossible to process it all. Because of this, we must be able to quickly capture people’s attention now more than ever.

Emotional marketing is a favorite tactic because of its undeniable impact. Emotions drive us to try out products they have never seen, promote products to others, and even stay loyal to a brand for years.

As legendary salesman Zig Ziglar famously said, “People buy on emotion and justify with logic.”

The science of emotional marketing in the Attention Economy

Emotional marketing takes into account that our emotions are an integral part of what makes us human and then uses that to sell us something. For centuries, scientists have studied how emotions drive us and everything we do, including the psychology behind our purchasing decisions.

The role of emotions in decision-making

Emotions shape how people make decisions in their lives. When we encounter things that trigger our emotions, we behave in certain ways. Scientists explain that emotions can influence how we perceive information, making us more attentive to certain aspects.

Our emotional fixation on certain details can impair our ability to make fully objective decisions and we will not process new information thoroughly once our emotions have taken control. It makes us tend to overlook other details and make decisions based on how the information taps into our emotions.

During the buying process, emotionally-driven consumers will likely not consider whether they need certain products or services. They may also not think about comparing prices with similar products on the market.

Emotions are even more effective than factual information when it comes to influencing purchasing decisions. The lack of in-depth information processing also makes emotionally-driven buyers decide to purchase the product quickly. Marketers take advantage of this natural tendency by creating emotional content that can influence consumer decisions to purchase certain products or services – for example, just think of all the limited-time offers that are designed to trigger our fear of missing out.

Harnessing the power of emotional marketing

Numerous brands have successfully run emotional marketing campaigns. Nike’s “Just Do It” remains one of the most iconic campaigns of all time, and the tagline is so famous it’s become part of the cultural lexicon. It helped the sportswear brand gain massive success in the 1990s and become a well-known global name today. The campaign featured professional athletes who experienced struggles in achieving their goals. Although many of Nike’s audience do not play professional sports, they can relate to the message delivered by the tagline because everyone experiences hardships regardless of who and where they are.

Tech giant Apple also launched the “Creativity Goes On” campaign, which highlighted how people had become more creative while having to stay at home. The audience was able to emotionally relate to the campaign message due to shared experiences and Apple’s sales surged to a record level during the pandemic. Creativity, much like life, seems to always find a way, no matter what obstacles or hardships we face, and that message is not only extremely relatable but it also hits deep within our emotional subconscious.

But emotional marketing’s impact goes beyond boosting sales for a brand. It keeps our attention on the company and builds brand loyalty among consumers. Brands that implement this marketing strategy will build attachments with their target audience, and consumers already attached to a specific brand will keep using its products, especially if you reward those emotional attachments with a good loyalty program.

Identifying emotional triggers that drive customer actions

Different emotions trigger different behaviors. Here are a few of the most popular emotions that marketers love using in their campaigns.

The impact of joy and happiness

Positive emotions like joy and happiness can increase engagement with certain advertising materials. When you experience joy and happiness, your body releases “feel-good” hormones, including dopamine. Dopamine is responsible for learning and attention in humans, allowing us to process information more effectively.

Humorous and inspiring content that induces positive emotions will gain attention because it makes people feel good. Furthermore, positive emotions are vital in viral content because people are more likely to share content that incites this kind of positive emotion than negative ones.

Fear and anxiety as marketing tools

Although fear and anxiety are negative emotions, they can be made to work in the your favor. In fear marketing, you tell the audience about a specific threat that may unpleasantly affect their lives. After creating fear, you then offer a solution to that threat.

But marketers often worry about alienating customers with this tactic. If the threats aren’t something people can relate to, that leads to an unsuccessful campaign. To overcome this challenge, we must conduct thorough market research to know the major concerns among our target consumers.

And that’s not even mentioning the power of outrage and its impact on engagement. In fact, many algorithms favor content designed to outrage us because it gets comments, likes, and shares. Plus, outrage also has the added benefit of getting us to stay on the platform longer.

But outrage is neither good or bad – it can be either. Harnessed the right way, it can be a force for inspiring change for the better. On the other hand, it can also be exploited by bad actors to harm not only individuals but society at large.

As the saying goes, “With great power comes great responsibility”, and the marketing industry as a whole has a lot more power over the culture than we might think, especially when many of the most widely used platforms in the world including Google, Youtube, and Instagram, rely on advertiser money.

As a marketer, what we do with that power is up to us, but at Viral Nation, we believe we can help people and make the world a better place while running a successful business. We don’t have to choose between one or the other.

Sex sells… or does it?

The notion of “sex sells” has been prevalent in marketing for decades. This strategy uses sexually suggestive imagery or content to draw attention and attract potential customers. It is based on the idea that people are naturally drawn to sexual stimuli, making it a powerful tool for capturing attention and interest.

However, the effectiveness of this marketing technique is increasingly being questioned. While it’s undeniable that sexual content can grab attention, its effectiveness in creating a positive brand image or increasing sales is debatable. Firstly, sexual content can easily overshadow the product or brand being advertised, causing viewers to remember the sexual elements but forget what was actually being advertised.

Secondly, the use of sexual content in advertising can backfire if it offends or alienates certain segments of the audience. For example, ads that objectify women may alienate female customers, or any viewer who values gender equality. Similarly, overtly sexual ads may not resonate with more conservative audiences.

Furthermore, societal attitudes towards sexual content in advertising are shifting. Many consumers today value authenticity and social responsibility in the brands they support, and may view the use of sex in advertising as manipulative or exploitative. Therefore, while “sex sells” may still hold some truth, its effectiveness is highly dependent on context, audience, and execution. It’s crucial as marketers for us to carefully consider these factors when deciding whether to use this strategy or not.

Cultivating trust and security

Many marketers aim to create a sense of trust and security in their promotional materials. Brands can disclose internal information, such as their supply chain footprint, just like Adidas, Reebok, Patagonia, Esprit, and H&M. Publishing product testimonials from past consumers is another way to increase trust because many people will look for brand reviews before making a purchase.

Trust in a brand will affect loyalty and attention retention. Customers say they will continue to purchase products from brands that they trust. Furthermore, when customers lose trust in a brand, they are more likely to share negative information about it.

3 effective emotional marketing strategies for the Attention Economy

An emotional marketing campaign typically incorporates several strategies to deliver the intended message. Here are three common approaches that brands implement to create emotionally-moving campaigns.

1. Engaging audiences with storytelling and brand narratives

Storytelling is an effort to communicate a message that can move or inspire the audience. It presents information more compellingly to capture attention and emotions. Storytelling can improve brand-customer relationships because customers will develop affection for the brand.

To craft compelling brand narratives, we must define our audience clearly. It will help us develop messages that are relevant to the audience. The audience should be the center of the narrative because it will heighten the emotional connection between them and the message. We should also seamlessly insert the brand’s value into the narrative to help the target audience identify how that value aligns with them.

To build a narrative, plot out your campaign so it has a defined beginning, middle, and end because a great story is as much about the journey as it is about getting from point A to point B. Incorporating storytelling in your marketing approach will be highly effective as stories are deeply emotional and a critical part of our culture – from blockbuster movies to the Bible.

Stories also tap into something almost primal because much like our ancestors gathered around the campfire and told each other stories thousands of years ago, we’re still enthralled by stories, whether it’s on the big screen, in a great book, or part of an award-winning marketing campaign.

2. Mastering emotional language and copywriting

We digest information better when it’s packaged attractively. Because of that, effective copywriting should showcase the emotional content you want to deliver as it will move the audience and push them to take action.

At the same time, the audience will have difficulty digesting the copy if we overburden it with excessively emotional words and phrases. We should keep our copy clean and easy to understand by delivering the message using short, simple words. Additionally, consider using the audience’s perspective for greater impact as it puts them at the center of the story (since aren’t we all the main characters in our own stories?). It is also better to generally use encouraging words rather than the opposite.

3. Leverage visuals and color psychology for emotional appeal

Researchers have found that colors influence emotions. The visual stimulation from certain colors will activate areas in the human brain connected to specific emotions. Red, for example, can stimulate excitement, passion, lust, and hunger (is that why so many fast food places use red in their logos?). Meanwhile, blue is frequently associated with stability, trustworthiness, and calm. Bright colors are catchier than subdued colors, but older people prefer less bright colors.

Knowing the impact of colors on emotions and human attention, we must incorporate them into the design of our promotional materials. For best results, align the color palette with the storytelling and copy to maximize the impact of the message and delivery.

Measuring the impact of emotional marketing

Measuring emotions and their impact on human behavior is challenging due to their intangibility. In the marketing context, we can focus on several concrete indicators to measure the performance of our marketing tactics.

Essential KPIs for emotional marketing

Many brands these days publish their marketing content on social media platforms due to how easy it is to reach a larger target audience. We use social media metrics such as likes, shares and comments to determine the performance of our emotional marketing campaigns. Conversion rates, brand recognition and leads captured are other Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) used to measure the success of a campaign.

It is necessary to track our emotional marketing KPIs to ensure the brand effectively allocates its limited resources to a marketing strategy that gives a satisfactory return on investment. Tracking helps the brand determine the right marketing strategies to implement in the future to gain better results.

Essential tools and resources for emotional marketing success

The internet is a vast place, and it is difficult to track our marketing results manually. Doing this without help can result in erroneous KPI measurements, employee burnout, and wasted time and resources. Luckily, solutions like Viral Nation_Secure™ and CreatorOS can help monitor brand performance online.

We should decide on the aspects we want to measure to leverage analytics in the marketing campaign. Establishing a benchmark will also help us identify the key areas where we can improve faster. Use analytics to identify present weaknesses as well.

Case studies: Emotional marketing success stories

The following brands provide great examples of how to use emotions to leverage our marketing tactics.

Coca-Cola: Harnessing the power of happiness

Some still talk about Coca-Cola’s late 2000s “Open Happiness” campaign today because of its impact. The campaign aimed to encourage people to enjoy their simple pleasures in life — and it did just that.

Coca-Cola wanted to relate to people through this campaign, encouraging them to drink a bottle of Coke after a long day. It not only featured big-name celebrities but also ordinary people living their ordinary lives.

The brand also managed to capture attention by strengthening the campaign through various promotional activities, including encouraging social media feedback and holding online competitions to boost engagement and reach.

UK HM Revenue & Customs: Leveraging fear to drive action

HM Revenue & Customs in the UK launched a campaign encouraging landlords to pay their taxes, saying it was “closing in on undeclared income.” An image of a pair of eyes staring intently through a hole in the wall accompanied the tagline.

The government body incited fear in its target audience, emphasizing that landlords who did not declare their taxes would face severe penalties. At the same time, it assured that the campaign was not trying to punish people who made “genuine mistakes,” acknowledging that some landlords were uninformed about the regulation.

Domino’s Pizza: Fostering trust with emotional storytelling

Domino’s launched the “The Pizza Turnaround” campaign when they experienced a sales downturn. The restaurant chain published documentary-style footage to show its effort to change ingredients and recipes on menus that consumers had responded negatively to.

This campaign captured attention because it disclosed the inner workings of the company. It also gained sympathy from the audience because it showed how hard the team worked to improve the quality of Domino’s products and meet the public’s expectations. It also connected with consumers because it had a sense of authenticity because Domino’s wasn’t hiding from the negative sentiment. Instead, it addressed those sentiments head-on which helped build credibility and trust.

The Future of emotional marketing: Emerging trends and predictions in the Attention Economy

The trend of emotional marketing is constantly evolving, just like any other facet of the attention economy. The future of emotional marketing lies at the intersection of empathy and technology, where brands not only understand and respond to their consumers’ emotions but also leverage cutting-edge technology to do so more effectively and personally.

Embracing empathy-based marketing

Empathy-based marketing has grown in popularity these days, especially after the pandemic. Brands tried to deliver empathetic messages during the pandemic to show solidarity with their audience. Some were successful with their campaigns, but others failed to deliver the expected results and were even considered “tone-deaf” by the audience.

Marketers must keep up with a constantly changing society to know what are the best messages to deliver. Incorporating visual designs into the marketing materials also sets an empathetic tone. Ernst & Young’s website showcases pictures of nature, society, and aspirations to fit its empathetic tagline, “Building a better working world.”

The potential of AI and machine learning in emotional marketing

In an era where data is the new oil, artificial intelligence and machine learning will have a more central role in the future of marketing. A deeper understanding of the needs, preferences, and behaviors of consumers is possible for marketers thanks to the real-time analysis of massive amounts of data by AI and Machine Learning (ML) algorithms. This allows for unprecedented levels of personalization, making marketing campaigns more effective and resonant. Around 41% of marketers say these nascent technologies accelerated revenue growth and improved marketing performance. Marketing teams that utilize AI and machine learning embrace a growth mindset, leading to higher productivity as it is fundamentally about embracing change, learning, and continuous improvement.

AI-based technology enables marketers to enhance the prediction of consumer responses to emotional marketing due to its adaptability to constantly changing databases. It helps marketers craft the right strategies to engage with their audience.

But how good are robots at being emotional? Do they even have emotions? Companies and research initiatives like Empath and Hume AI are making AI more emotional and empathetic. Only time can tell, but we can bet the machines will only get better and more human from here.

Final thoughts: Unlocking the full potential of emotional marketing

Emotional marketing is a powerful tool when used appropriately. In order to do so, it is necessary to pay attention to the authenticity of your message and understand your target audience.

The critical role of authenticity in emotional marketing

Even though we are trying to incite the audience’s emotional response with emotional marketing, we should always maintain authenticity. About 88% of consumers agree that authenticity is key to engaging with a brand and sharing real-life experiences in your promotional materials is a great way to get closer to the audience in a genuine manner.

Adapting emotional marketing strategies for our target audience

Marketers must be prepared to adjust their emotional marketing strategies to align with their audience’s unique needs. We need to keep in mind that our audience’s emotional requirements may vary significantly depending on factors such as demographics, lifestyle, and personal preferences. Hence, it’s crucial to first identify who our audience is and then categorize them into different segments for a more focused approach.

Personalizing emotional marketing strategies to resonate with our audience’s feelings or perceptions of themselves is an effective approach. In certain instances, brands may choose to craft their messaging to reflect the aspirations or ‘ideal selves’ of specific market segments. This strategy fosters a connection between the brand and its consumers, as it helps to align the values of both parties.

In essence, understanding your audience and tailoring your emotional marketing efforts accordingly is not only vital for the success of your campaigns, but it also strengthens the bond between your brand and consumers.

_About the author
Michael Okada

As Content Manager, Mike brings over 10+ years of content marketing experience to the Corporate Marketing team. He is a veteran writer who specializes in engaging, well-written, and accessible content, and he’s covered a range of verticals including SaaS, marketing, entertainment, journalism, and cannabis. At Viral Nation, he’s handled technical writing and copywriting, in addition to owning the blog and creating numerous case studies that showcase some of Viral Nation’s best work. In his off-time, Mike dabbles in music, rap, and spoken word poetry, and he excels at making his friends and colleagues roll their eyes at his cringe-level puns.