Are You Pushing the Right Emotional Buttons?

Despite what you learned in your economics class, we’re really not all that rational. Push the right emotional buttons nearly ensures a successful sale.

If you don’t believe me, maybe you’ll believe science. In his studies of folks whose emotional brain centers were damaged, but had fully functional rational brain centers, Damasio found emotional damage made it impossible to make decisions – not just buying decisions, but all kinds of decisions.

Peter Noel Murray, PhD goes on to say this about why consumers prefer brand names:

A nationally advertised brand has power in the marketplace because it creates an emotional connection to the consumer. A brand is nothing more than a mental representation of a product in the consumer’s mind. If the representation consists only of the product’s attributes, features, and other information, there are no emotional links to influence consumer preference and action. The richer the emotional content of a brand’s mental representation, the more likely the consumer will be a loyal user.

So, instead of being the rational utility maximizers envisioned by economists, consumers are a bundle of emotions about the products we buy and pushing the right emotional buttons ensures a successful sale.

Pushing the right emotional buttons

According to Geoffrey James at INC, consumers respond to 6 emotional buttons:

  • Greed
  • Fear
  • Altruism
  • Pride
  • Shame
  • Envy

Of course, sometimes the right emotional buttons involve more than one of these six.

A more science-based attempt to understand the right emotional buttons breaks down emotions into 3 types —

  1. Reptilian emotions such as sexual arousal and aggression
  2. Individualistic emotions like curiosity, boredom, and surprise
  3. Social emotions including love, guilt, shame

Whatever the emotions, we know pushing the right emotional buttons works.

Look at Apple. Why do millions stand in line to overpay for the newest iPhone or iPad, when similar products sell for less? This, despite the fact that, arguably, Apple technology isn’t always the best option. Part of the answer lies in the long-term strategy of Apple — to be simple and intuitive — thus avoiding frustration.

Part of the answer lies in humanizing the brand. I mean, take a look at this ad comparing an Apple to a PC and you’ll see how effectively Apple evokes an emotion of trust in Apple products. Plus, the attractiveness of the “Apple” versus the stinginess of the “PC” visually reinforce positive emotions about Apple products.

Using the right emotional buttons to motivate buying

Obviously, humans aren’t machines and they don’t respond automatically when you push the right button — not to mention that machines don’t have emotions. That’s why traditional advertising aimed at mass markets is challenging. Not everyone responds to the same emotional button.

Mindlessly pushing emotions and thinking you’ll send sales through the stratosphere isn’t gonna work. Instead, you need to understand your target market and their values. Then, combine emotion with those values to hit a home run.

Like Dove.

What could be less emotionally evocative than bath soap — and not some celebrity-endorsed expensive bath soap. Just humdrum, boring bath soap.

In hitting on the campaign for real beauty, Dove pulled at emotional heartstrings and meshed with the values of their target audience — everyday women. Many women are concerned that the media present an idealized image of what a woman should look like and that these images make real women feel unattractive and damage the self-image of millions of young girls. Instead of talking about soap — totally devoid of emotion, they talk about how beautiful real women are — something their target audience feels. And soap flew off the shelves.

If you want the sell your brand, the first step is figuring out what makes your target market tick. What’s important to them?

Then, make your target market “feel” something about your brand. Don’t spend all your effort creating reports showing your brand superiority, make your target audience feel your brand is “for them.” History is littered with the corpses of superior products that didn’t survive while their less adept competitors thrived. Don’t fall for that trap.

You don’t have to hit your target market over the head in your emotion-driving efforts. Sometimes images are much more powerful in pushing the right emotional buttons in your target audience. For instance, Coke used a campaign a couple of years ago featuring families gathered around the dinner table with a bottle of Coke positioned prominently. Later made into a series of TV commercials aired around the globe, the message embedded within the theme of family togetherness translated into every language. In an age when families often don’t have time to eat together or hide behind individual screens, the emotions locked into the family gathering still have tremendous meaning.

Social media and emotion

Just as images evoke emotion, celebrities symbolize emotions. When the sexy star of Private Practice asked, “When you turn on your car, does it return the favor” in a Cadillac ads, she’s evoking primal emotions of sexual arousal and when the District Attorney from Law and Order suggests we consider TD Ameritrade, we trust him. In each case, the actor is imbued with the emotions from the character they portray.

In social media, we talk about micro-celebrities — folks who show up in your social feeds so often, they begin to become celebrities. Just like actors in traditional entertainment, micro-celebrities gain a public image and we form an emotional bond with them. Micro-celebrities turn their status into $$$$ for themselves and the businesses they represent. Finding influencers who believe in your brand and harnessing their influence to create positive emotions surrounding your brand does more than a 1000 studies showing your brand’s superiority.

Add to this, the power of social networks to work our emotions. I mean, take a look at your Facebook feed right now. I’ll wait. Are you back?

If your Facebook feed looks like mine, right now there are posts about the poppies for all those who died in war, some really cute baby pictures celebrating premie day, some kids and parents mugging for the camera, and, of course, a cat. Need I go one.

A veritable cornucopia of emotion!

We’re now primed for positive evaluations of whatever product we see promoted (or advertised — if we’re adventurous or bored enough to look in the sidebar). Of course, we have want these products.

But brands can go even further in priming the emotional pumps on social networks by engaging with folks online. A little validation of your complaint or recognition of your efforts to talk to the brand go a long way in pushing the right emotional buttons.

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