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Guest Post: I Get So Emotional, Baby

By April 30, 2018November 6th, 2021Energy Rant

Sorry, it’s not Whitney Houston, or Jeff Ihnen, writing this week’s Rant. It’s Kristin Laursen filling in while Jeff puts his feet up, sips martinis, and listens to 90s love songs (at least two of the three of those are true). Last week in Jeff’s Rant, he told us that consumers rule and drive everything, and that we’re “notoriously bad at math and buy for emotional and other reasons.” I can personally attest to the bad at math part, but the buying based on emotions can be explained through behavioral economics.

Behavioral economics gives us insight into human behavior to explain economic decision-making. Using behavioral economics research, we can uncover the role emotions play in consumer judgements. It helps us develop personas and create an emotional connection strategy to truly reach people in our outreach efforts.

Emotional marketing is often used to make that connection – triggering various emotions quickly and effectively. Various types of emotional marketing exist, and can elicit intended and unintended responses. This is why it’s especially important to develop personas before crafting our message. We can move customers to action using relevant, personalized content that connects with them quickly, meaningfully, and with the right emotional connection.

The Science (don’t worry, I’m better at science than math)

Even though we consider ourselves logical human beings, studies have shown that many of our decisions are made by the instinctive parts of our brains, sometimes referred to as the “reptilian brain”. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the quality of our decisions stinks. Some behavior experts even argue that quick, gut-level decisions are better than those we ponder for a lengthy period of time – saving us time and agony. We don’t spend time thinking our way to logical solutions. We feel our way to reason. This is why a quick, emotional connection is especially important – we’re buying based on our feelings.

When developing our emotion-based marketing strategy, we typically refer to four basic emotion groups: happy, sad, afraid/surprised, angry/disgusted, as categorized by the Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology. Each of these categories are built from the many different emotions we feel, triggering similar responses to the basic emotion group. Using the basic group principals, brands are better able to utilize emotion-based strategy to drive connection and awareness with their audience across all of their marketing efforts; whether it be branding, advertising, web design, storytelling, or social media.

The key is knowing our audience and utilizing the right strategy and NOT misusing emotions. For example, narratives and storytelling engage consumers’ subconscious and create an emotional connection with the brand and the story. An emotionally-charged story creates a rush of dopamine in the brain, which plays a role in memory formation. So it makes perfect sense for us to leverage storytelling to make an emotional and psychological impact with our customers, and create a lasting impression in their minds.

But misusing emotions can have the opposite effect. See the example below from DiGiorno. They thought they were using humor and reaching people with a trending hashtag. They didn’t know the issue at hand, and clearly did not understand their audience. #WhyIStayed is about domestic abuse. It gave women the opportunity to speak out about why they stayed in violent relationships. Many twitter users pointed out this insensitivity and it was the type of unintended response we definitely want to avoid.


Knowing our audience is the component that makes or breaks a successful emotion-based strategy. And emotional marketing can be an extremely effective way to demonstrate that we know our customers, as long as we keep a few things in mind when setting our strategy:

  1. Know the audience and develop the right emotion-based strategies. It will create that deeper connection with our customers and assure that when they’re feeling their way to reason, we’re guiding them down the right path.
  2. Keep the message clear and the emotional connection instant. We may not get it exactly right the first time, but tweaking the message and testing it until we achieve our desired results will set us up for more success in future marketing efforts.
  3. People decide based on their gut, so keep the message simple. Because we don’t often think our way to logical solutions but instead feel our way to reason when making purchasing decisions, we shouldn’t make our message a puzzle or maze for people to figure out. We have a tendency as an industry to over-complicate and force education on our customers. We need to move away from that.
  4. Don’t be afraid of the unlikely or the uncomfortable. Use humor or sentiment or even fear in emotional marketing – whatever it is that connects with our customer personas and stays true to our brands.
  5. But beware of unintended responses. Use humor carefully and don’t promote a stigma or poke fun at who someone is. Use fear wisely as it can cause unnecessary panic and actually disconnect people from our brands. Be aware of social and cultural issues and be sensitive to them in our emotional messaging strategies. And always focus on the who and the how to best achieve that powerful emotional connection with our audience.

There’s a lot more information to share on successfully using emotion in your marketing strategies. Check out my presentation and synopsis, Stop Sending Mixed Signals – Make Sure Your Message Elicits the Right Emotional response, from the 2018 AESP National Conference, and stay tuned to the AESP What’s New emails for a webinar with some emotional marketing case studies from programs across the energy industry. But… you do have to be a member of AESP to access both – you won’t regret it (shameless plug alert).

Liz Haworth

Author Liz Haworth

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