Prepare to get emotional. You may not know this, but 100% of the customers who buy from your site or convert on your site are driven by emotion. We are emotional creatures. We cannot remove emotions from the equation of decision-making in daily life.
I’ve written this article in order to communicate two things: 1) To explain the power of emotions in decision-making, and 2) to tell you how to create these emotions to increase conversions.
Emotions drive decision making.
For all our modern-day praise of “analytical skills” and “data-driven thinking,” emotions play a huge role in decision-making. In fact, as I will explain below, emotions are the primary drivers of our ability to make decisions. Far from being a complicating factor to effective decision-making, emotions are central.
Emotions are the motivators of personal behavior.
The only reason we act is because we are motivated to do so. What motivates us? Lots of things.
This brilliant video from The RSA will help explain just some of these motivating factors:
But emotions back this up. They are a huge source of motivation. As Teresa M. Amabile and Steven J. Kramer explained in their Harvard Business Review piece:
People experience a constant stream of emotions, perceptions and motivations as they react to and make sense of the events of the workday. As people arrive at their workplaces they don’t check their hearts and minds at the door. Unfortunately, because inner work life is seldom openly expressed in modern organizations, it’s all too easy for managers to pretend that private thoughts and feelings don’t matter.
And that’s the point — we carry our emotions into our everyday lives. They are driving us in our work habits, performance and personal interactions.
Social psychologists have long understood that emotions are part of the driving, motivating and operating force of human behavior.
Daniel Pink has identified that we are driven by three things — autonomy, mastery and purpose. It’s called the “motivation trifecta," and has powerful implications for leadership and management. Underlying this trifecta, however, is an emotional lifeblood that pushes it forward and trains its energy.
Chip Conley, author of Emotional Equations, explains how, from a personal perspective, emotional issues are the matrix through which we develop integrity and derive motivation.
(Image from DanPink.com)
Often, I had to think of life as sort of an emotional boot camp and that the way I created meaning from a challenging situation was to imagine what emotional muscles I was training – whether it’s resiliency, humility, compassion, or courage – that could serve me later in life.
Emotions drive behavior. But that’s not all. Emotions are an indispensable part of our decision-making ability.
The brain’s emotional system is interconnected with the brain’s cognitive function.
Some of the most intuitive and capable decisions we make are driven by emotion, not purely by cognition. When we try to peel apart our brain’s “analytical” from its “emotional,” we are trying to do something that is neuroscientifically impossible. The two are inextricable.
The HBR article, “Inner Work Life: Understanding the Subtext of Business Performance” explains it brilliantly:
Recent research in neuroscience has found that emotion and cognition (which includes perception of events) are tightly intertwined. Areas of the brain associated with rational thought and decision making have direct connections to areas associated with feelings. They do not exist in separate psychological compartments, and they interact in complex ways. Like any system, the brain cannot be understood simply by looking at each individual component. Inner work life functions the same way: It is crucial to consider all components and their interactions.
When faced with decisions, humans employ their brain’s cognitive functionality and the emotional effectiveness simultaneously. Richard Davidson from the University of Wisconsin summons the research to back this hypothesis.
From a scientific perspective, this is what it is going on:
Of primary significance is the fact that the brain circuitry of cognition and emotion is not segregated. The idea that the “limbic system” was the seat of emotion while cognition resided in the cortex has yielded to the experimental fact that subcortical structures assumed to be part of the limbic system are critical for certain cognitive processes (e.g., the hippocampus for memory) while cortical regions once thought to be the exclusive province of complex thought are now known to be intimately involved in emotion as well (e.g., the prefrontal cortex). The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is likely to be an essential convergence zone for cognitive and affective [emotional] information.
This fact is confirmed through fMRI and PET studies that can identify the regions of the brain that are active in decision-making processes. Both are active. Both are needed. Both help to inform accurate decisions.
Emotions enhance and complicate our decision making.
The problem comes when we mistakenly view emotions as ruining our decision-making capacity. Emotions don’t ruin our decision-making ability. They enhance it.
We make the process too complicated when we try to sort out cognitive decision-making from emotional decision making. Since the two cannot be separated, why do we even try?
The error of judgment does not lie in our emotions, but in our fighting these emotions.
But emotions are not always conduits of absolute veracity and truth. We can’t trust our emotions, in the same way that we can’t always trust our judgment. The two, while interconnected, are not unalloyed sources of gospel truth.
To make decisions effectively, we must be aware of emotions and sensitive to them, while also exercising full cognitive function.
The bottom line.
Let me frame this section as a logical syllogism, while at the same time narrow this psychology into a conversion-related issue:
- All decisions include emotions.
- Your customers make decisions.
- Therefore, your customers make decisions that include emotions.
Want to get smart? Start using this emotional power to unleash a torrent of conversions.
How to use emotion to drive up conversions.
Emotions drive decision making, and as a marketer, you are trying to get your audience to make a decision. That decision is a conversion.
Thus, you can and should use emotion to influence that decision. How do you do this?
Ask two questions:
- What emotions are the strongest among your target audience?
- How can you appeal to these emotions?
Let’s dive into each of these.
1. What emotions are the strongest among your target audience?
Although emotions are universal, the types of emotion that people feel differ. Certain demographic groups experience emotions in differing intensities and frequencies because of their shared interests, passions and situations.
For example, the Reddit demographic is mostly young tech-savvy men who live in urban and some suburban settings.
Researchers discovered that Reddit users were more likely to share content that elicited surprise, amazement and interest. Here is how their shares corresponded with emotion on a heatmap overlay using Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotion.
The Reddit analysis is just one example of a single site’s audience. You may not be fortunate to have a Pew Research project analyze your demographic. However, you can make some pretty accurate surmises about your audience and their corresponding emotions, and then make decisions.
The strategic discernment of demography and emotion are two powerful weapons in creating emotionally resonant message.
A ConversionXL article uses the following example:
For example, let’s say you run a tax-relief service. Your prospect has been putting off their tax problem for some time, so it’s a BIG DEAL they’re on your site in the first place. They’ll likely need to a dose of anxiety to remind them the problem they’re trying to solve is very real, but also need signs of relief and reassurance that the problem is manageable and worth fixing.
That’s what you need to do. Find out what gets your audience emotional, and stir up those emotions.
Here’s how you identify your audience’s strongest emotions:
- Describe your audience demographic, e.g., female, ages 50-70, etc.
- Describe your product, e.g., hair coloring, hair extension, etc.
- Describe the strongest emotional motivations that might inspire a purchase, e.g., fear, embarrassment, youthful vitality, happiness, romance, conceit, etc. If these emotions are nameless, then describe the feeling that someone might experience — their words, thoughts, attitudes, etc.
In three steps, you can go from your persona to their emotions.
Now, it’s time to use this knowledge to create an emotional message that resonates with your target audience.
2. How can you appeal to these emotions?
Now that you know these emotions, the next step is to target them with your message. The big idea behind “appealing to these emotions” is, more specifically, creating these emotions.
For a target audience inspired by the emotions of adventure, excitement, being a hero, feeling adrenaline, you want to stir up these emotions. On the landing page, create excitement!
For an audience fueled by fear, secrecy, sexual desire, or illicit excitement, you will use an entirely different set of images, symbols and marketing. What feelings does this inspire?
Where do you use these emotional appeals?
You’ll want to create emotional messaging wherever you can. Landing pages, email marketing, PPC ads ...
How do you create emotional responses?
You should use a variety of techniques. Here are the most important:
Craft a title that creates emotion.
The title is what your users will see first. It sets the emotional stage for everything that follows. Although you don’t need to use words of emotion — e.g., hate, love, fear, etc. — you should use words or phrase that elicit emotion.
Coca-Cola creates the emotion of fun and refreshment with a single word: “Ahh.”
McDonald’s wants you to feel happy — ”I’m lovin‘ it” — and hungry. Check that killer headline:
The Huggies diapers site will be frequented by moms — moms who love their babies, who want to enjoy their babies, who want to care for their babies. It’s about feeling. That’s a powerful emotional word.
If you were a mom, how would you feel when you saw this, and read this?
Use images that resonate with users' emotions.
Images elicit high emotional responses. They are the most noticeable elements of marketing and web design. In the Harvard Business Review coverage of the Reddit user analysis, researchers derived nearly all their findings based on “30 of the top 100 images of the year from imgur.com as voted on Reddit.com.”
Images are top-shelf in your creation of emotion.
Patagonia’s target audience craves adventure and excitement, a sense of mastery and achievement. Thus, Patagonia uses images that nail these emotions with explosive power. What sensations tingle through your body when you look at this?
UnderArmour sells clothing to people who think of themselves as athletic, strong and powerful. Their images are intensely emotional. What do you feel when you see this image?
Who wouldn’t want to buy a pair of shorts from this company?
Choose colors with an emotional connection.
Color is a powerful influencer of emotion, too. Though its power is subtler, it is not to be ignored. Each color has a subtext of emotional influence. When you use these colors strategically, you can create a more persuasive emotional message.
For example, blue is the color of trust. A company that is helping the incarcerated apply for bail wants to inspire trust.
People seeking to get out of jail want someone they can trust. They are in jail because they are mistrusted. They need an ally who trusts them, whom they can trust, and who will be able to post bail for them. It’s all about trust.
Play down your branding to focus on emotion.
Trumpeting brand identity can reduce emotional impact. Using your brand as a huge part of website design may cause you to come across as too salesy. You’ve lost the emotional engine by pushing your marketing identity. This is a mistake. Play down your brand.
Scripted’s identity as a brand is played down on their landing page. It appears seldom throughout the longform content. Instead, they are appealing to the desire for creativity and originality, among their target audience of creative writers and content marketers. These are people who love to hole up in their studio, and develop great content. “What’s Scripted? Who cares? Let me loose on the keyboard!”
Use video for highest emotional impact.
Though images are powerful, video is even more so. To make videos maximally powerful, don’t use a single dominant emotion. Instead, create a tug-of-war with emotions — a tension that is overcome with a climactic emphasis upon the user’s single most dominating emotion.
Here’s the advice from Harvard Business Review:
When your content is in video form, be sure to give people an emotional roller coaster. This should be done by “pulsing” the emotionally heavy hitting points in your content with breaks or gaps. It is helpful to think of it as “cleansing of the emotional palate.” By creating contrast between the high levels of emotionality and areas of less emotional activation, the audience won’t find themselves becoming bored, satiated, or overwhelmed with too much of the same.
If you have six minutes to wisely invest in your future, watch this video. And pay attention to one thing: The amazing emotional variety in each single video segment. Kids nearly die. Family members hug. People dance. Dogs breed. And the emotions go up and down. And it’s powerful.
Emotion makes things happen. It’s what compels users to convert.
If you want conversions, then you need emotions. Once you’re able to identify your customer’s emotions, you can target them with power and effectiveness.
Remember, your customers aren’t making purely rational decisions, stripped of every vestige of feeling. They are making rational/emotional sense of what they're doing. If you put them in the perfect emotional state, then you will have a far greater chance of converting them.
Knowledge is power. But so is emotion.