Marketing Messages: Make People Feel, Not Think

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I’ve seen organizations make a lot of mistakes in marketing communications, but one looms over all of them as the most common with the greatest impact. It’s the mistaken belief that the best way to motivate people to a course of action is to make them think.

The most successful marketers and salespeople know better. They realize there’s a far more effective way to get people to buy your product, use your service, support your cause, or even simply listen more closely to your pitch: you want to make them feel.

You see, the people who believe that getting others to think are working from a flawed assumption. They believe human beings are rational animals. They believe we make decisions based primarily upon a long list of facts. They believe we compare various facts and come to the most logical conclusions, and then make our choices accordingly.

If that were the case, nearly every facet of our marketplace would come to a crashing halt. Only a handful of automakers would survive, and they’d offer only a few models. Most restaurants would go out of business. The entire fashion industry would collapse. The value of real estate would plummet. Many companies would no longer have a reason to exist.

The simple fact is that humans are emotional animals, and our decisions are driven primarily by our emotional responses. Oh, we’ll come up with a lengthy list of rational reasons to explain those decisions, but that’s only after our emotions have pointed us in a direction.

The best example of how this works is how people buy cars. They’re drawn to a particular model by the way it looks, the way they believe they’ll appear behind the wheel, how they believe others will feel about their purchase, and similar factors. And then, once their emotional side has settled on that shiny sedan, they cite rational reasons to justify the decision. It has superior engineering. The handling is crisp. It’s a comfortable ride. It maintains its value longer than other models.

If I asked you why you bought the car you drive, those are the kinds of answers you’d offer. You’d deny that you ever envisioned yourself being admired by some attractive individual as you motored down the highway on a warm spring day, but you did. You did similar things when you bought your home and what you’re wearing as you read this. Your favorite bourbon may be mighty tasty, but the first time you picked up a bottle, your emotions were doing the heavy lifting.

Now, I’m not taking anyone to task for being an emotional animal. It’s who we are, as much a part of our makeup as the flight-or-fight response that’s at the heart of what we call stress. What I’m saying is that we need to remember that whenever we seek to communicate with humans — and yes, that includes CEOs, accountants, attorneys, network administrators, and even engineers — they’re emotional animals.

Wait, you say. That may apply to consumer behavior, but our company operates in the business-to-business world, where rational decisions prevail. We manufacture veeblefetzers and our customers buy them because they have the right specifications. That, to put it politely, is the southbound product of a northbound steer.

Your customers buy your product or service rather than someone else’s because you’ve managed to address some emotional need. I engage your audit services because I don’t want to make a mistake that will bring the IRS to my doorstep. I hired your law firm because I know its name intimidates my adversaries. And I bank with you because that teller treats me like I’m someone special. Confidence, pride, gratitude, serenity, joy, contentment — those and many others are the factors our emotional sides seek.

If you’re selling a commodity, yes, price is a key motivator — but I’ll wager that your customer’s overriding decision was based on confidence in how you do business. You deliver on time, so I don’t have to worry about missing deadlines and being yelled at.

Don’t focus on making people think your company or your product is better. Instead, create messages that target emotional factors. Ask yourself what makes your customers feel fear or discomfort, and find your message in how you keep that from happening. Instead of talking about your production engineering, emphasize that customers won’t have to worry about downtime due to component failure.

Facts are important, yes, but emotions… they’re far more powerful.