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October 02, 2018

Using Emotion to Drive Response in the Digital Age

copy emotions


In today’s world of dynamic keywords and search rankings, it’s easy for copywriters and content specialists to focus their energy on satisfying the algorithmic directive for achieving optimal SEO rankings. 

Today’s digital marketing is missing something crucial: emotional appeal.

That’s a mistake, because even with straightforward PPC advertising, dynamic keywords can only take you so far. Yes, for 90% of digital ads, inclusion of dynamic keywords is probably the key factor in driving click-through rates. But once you get into the top 5% of highest performing ads, the line graph flips. Keywords no longer move the needle; but emotion does.

Fear, greed, anger—these emotional drivers can play a huge role in your digital marketing efforts, not to mention your direct mail campaigns. So how do you harness emotional power in today’s integrated marketing landscape?

Two direct marketing gurus—Axel Andersson of Sweden and Bob Hacker of Seattle—identified key emotional copy drivers that influence consumer behavior, which direct marketing consultant Denny Hatch unpacks in his book, The Secrets of Emotional, Hot-Button Copywriting.

These copy drivers tap into some of the most fundamental motivators of human behavior. Any one of them can serve as the foundation for a campaign that uses emotion to forge a direct link between your value proposition and the needs and desires of your customers. This link can then be used to invoke action, maximize customer interaction with your campaign and increase response rates.

7 Emotional Drivers to Provoke Action

1. Fear
Fear is one of the most primal motivators of human behavior. People will often invest more effort into avoiding something they fear than they will into attempting to attain or achieve something they desire. As Don Draper states in the pilot of Mad Men, “Advertising is based on one thing: happiness. And do you know what happiness is? It’s freedom from fear.”

To capitalize on fear, your ad must first identify a specific threat (germs, missing out, wrinkles) and then assert that this product/offer/service is the best solution. Acting now is your best chance of preventing this impending threat.

2. Greed
We all want more. More money, more time, more luxury, more savings, more friends…you name it, consumers want more of it.

Greed is an easy emotion to invoke in any marketing campaign—from direct mail to PPC and email. Identify what your business offers that your customers desire more of, then position your copy to appeal to this desire. Make sure to include a promise of exactly how your business will help the recipient attain more and what action they will need to take.

3. Guilt
There are two primary strains of guilt in advertising: guilt that you’re not doing enough for others, and guilt that you’re not doing enough for yourself. Guilt marketing plants a seed of doubt that you’re falling short or causing harm, then offers a quick-fix action to relieve the guilty feeling.

Guilt often appears in fundraising mailers, ads and emails that first present you with a problem (shelter animals need saving, children need clean drinking water) and then make you feel personally responsible for contributing to the solution.

Guilt can also overlap with fear, inducing worry that we’re not taking enough care of ourselves or our loved ones with messages such as “Are you giving your child the best healthcare?” or “Is your afternoon snack making you fat?”

4. Anger
You want people to take action? Get them riled up about something. Whether you’re reminding them of a daily nuisance (“you’re sick and tired of overpaying for razor blades every month”) or opening their eyes to an injustice, anger is a passionate emotion, and passion creates a sense of urgency that can be a powerful motivator of action.

Getting your customer wound up about something and then giving them an outlet for that emotion is a highly effective way to channel their energy into taking your desired action.

5. Exclusivity
Who doesn’t like to feel special? Included? Part of the club? Stating that an offer is being extended only to your most valued customers, providing an option to opt in to an “insider’s” newsletter for special deals, or stating that there are only a limited number of something available are all ways to add an element of exclusivity to your offer, suggesting that it is high quality and in high demand. When we feel we are being made an offer that not just anyone can redeem, we’re more likely to take advantage of it.

6. Salvation
If it’s true that humans will go to great lengths to avoid the things we fear, it’s also true that we will go to equally great lengths to have someone else neutralize the fear for us so we don’t have to face dealing with it ourselves. Salvation appeals offer easy solutions to consumers’ worries and fears, sweetening the deal with either convenience, cost-savings or expertise.

7. Flattery
Ads founded on flattery build up a consumer’s self-image before making the sell, catering to the notion that the consumer is a person of discriminating tastes, someone who deserves only the best and knows quality when they see it. The key is not to overdo it at risk of seeming insincere and making the consumer distrustful of your offer.

Flattery can also work in the reverse, tearing down a consumer’s self-image in order to make the case that only this product or service will help them become the person they want to be. Reverse flattering pervades beauty and weight-loss advertising.

Whether you’re trying to increase response from online and offline campaigns or just improve your SEO rankings (and by result, lower your cost-per-ad), appealing to consumer emotions is a powerful tool that can provoke action and drive leads.


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