Why Emotional Benefits Are the Key to Reader Response

Emotions

We humans like to think of ourselves as rational creatures. Intellectual curiosity took us to the moon and back, beat smallpox and polio, and invented the Internet.

But when you come down to it, emotion always wins. The most powerful man in the world can be humbled by a buxom girl in a blue dress. We use our brains, yes, but we’re driven to act by our hearts (and other body parts).

Market to the gut first

If you’re writing to persuade, you have to hit the gut before you get anywhere near the brain. The part that decides “I’ll have that” is emotional. The rational brain usually has to follow along afterwards and ok the decision, but if it doesn’t work emotionally, logic will never get a chance to weigh in.

Most of us know about selling benefits, not features. But you also need to be sure you’re leading with emotional benefits rather than logical ones. I’ll talk about a few of the more effective emotional benefits this week, and then show you how to close the sale with logic next week.

The classics: greed and fear

Crusty old advertising guys will tell you that greed and fear are the two powerhouses of selling. There’s no doubt that they’re effective. I would actually argue that most of the time, greed is fear–fear of not being able to provide for your family, fear of losing everything and living under a bridge somewhere.

Freedom from fear is one of the most powerful benefits you can offer. And the most powerful fear is the fear of losing what you already have.

This makes for an interesting paradox: you can sell more fear to people who have a lot to lose. People who have everything in the world worry a lot about losing it, and can be persuaded with campaigns capitalizing on the full range of human fear and insecurity.

Add in a little pain

Remember when we talked about marketing to pain? Because I’m a goody two-shoes, rather than creating or aggravating fear, my preference is to market by presenting a real solution to a real problem.

However, phantom fear (and its cousins, social isolation and embarrassment) are used by a lot of marketers because they’re effective. Customers often build up imaginary fear-based scenarios to be much more frightening than even a very difficult real problem.

The other advantage of fear is that it tends to linger, which keeps customers coming back for more solutions. So if you prefer not to lean too heavily on a fear-based message, how do you keep those customers coming back for more?

Connection and belonging

I know this sounds impossibly idealistic, but our impulse to connect and belong is just as strong as “fight or flight” is. We are hard-wired for social connection, and the socially fragmented postmodern world only feeds that hunger.

The classic emotional benefit for connection is the “Cheers” effect–a place where everybody knows your name. I think this is one of the reasons the conversation marketing model is so appealing.

Let’s take a blog with a lively commenting community. The blogger acts as a conversation proprietor, greeting commenters by name, welcoming them back, and creating a convivial tavern for his readers to hang out in. That conversation becomes a powerful emotional benefit. It doesn’t actually matter that most readers never post a comment. They still benefit from a sense of belonging to a warm, comfortable community.

You don’t have to have a blog to use the Cheers effect. Look for ways to create better connection with your readers. Try something simple like putting a real return address on bulk email newsletters, and actually replying to questions you get. (I can tell you from experience that this almost always surprises people.)

Membership sites are another powerful (and scalable) tool to capitalize on the desire to belong to something larger. A membership model creates a familiar, trusted resource—a village well that members can all draw from. Most membership sites include a forum or other social component as well, so members can create even more connections with one another.

If you want to get results with your copy, speak to the gut first: use emotional benefits before you follow up with logic.

And if you want to boost your repeat and referral business (which are always more profitable than that first sale), whatever other emotional benefits you might incorporate, include an element of connection. Fear or pain might bring them in the door, but it’s connection that will keep them coming back for more.

About the Author: Sonia Simone is CMO of Copyblogger Media and founder of Remarkable Communication. She’d love to hang out with you on twitter.

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Comments

  1. I think that’s why a lot of savvy marketers tend to shy away from using statistics. At least showing them outright in a bar graph. If you can find a way to illustrate the statistical advantage in a story, you can pull at peoples hearts. If you can get people emotionally involved, you can get them to care.

  2. Fear or pain might bring them in the door, but it’s connection that will keep them coming back for more.
    >> and damn good products that will turn them as your loyal customers.

    I’ll talk about a few of the more effective emotional benefits this week, and then show you how to close the sale with logic next week.
    >> I can’t help waiting for it! :-)

  3. Connection is key, for me anyway. When people can relate and see what you’re saying from an experience they’ve had, that’s a win for your marketing efforts.

  4. “We are hard-wired for social connection, and the socially fragmented postmodern world only feeds that hunger.”

    You said a mouth full there. Love this post. Combine emotional benefits with triggering events…how can it not work?

  5. While it is certainly true that we frail humans are not logic machines, and operate mainly on emotion, it is also true that one of the most wasteful uses of advertising dollars is to try to create emotional attachments to your brand.

    Most ads that try to use emotion are transparently pandering, usually generic, and rarely hit the mark.

    Contrary to all the bull you read, most consumers have little or no emotional attachment to most of the products they use.

    They don’t care which bank they go to (they go to the one that’s across the street.) They don’t care which airline they fly (they fly the one that has the best deal at the best time.) They don’t care what auto insurance they buy as long as it’s cheap or what tomato sauce they buy as long as it tastes good.

    They go to Target today and Wal-Mart tomorrow. They wear Nikes today and Adidas tomorrow. They sign up for Verizon today and Sprint tomorrow. Most of their buying decisions are for specific, immediate reasons, not for mysterious sociological, cultural or emotional reasons.

    There are probably 5 to 10 products we are each emotionally attached to, and the rest we use for perfectly obvious practical reasons. And when we do have an emotional attachment it is usually the result of satisfactory product experience, not clever copywriting.

    There is even research that indicates that advertising that just sticks to the facts creates as much emotional reaction as those that self-consciously shoot for an emotional response.

  6. Bob, are you confusing ‘brand loyalty’ (which you are describing) with ‘emotional attachment to a product’? Two very different things.

    Thanks for getting the discussion in play, Sonia!

  7. Pretty sure this is about persuasive copywriting, Bob, not branding.

  8. Totally agree. I don’t like sites that go for the fear factor. But the Cheer’s factor always gets me. I think people naturally gravitate towards positive, welcoming and warm communities.

  9. Huh?

    Maybe if we take the words “to your brand” in my first paragraph and change them to “in your copy” the point will be clearer.

  10. Bob, how familiar are you with direct response copywriting? I know that’s not what your agency does, but effective online copy tends to be of the direct response flavor, since the Internet is best employed as a direct medium.

    It’s emotional *response,* not attachment. Attachment (brand loyalty) comes from interfacing with the product or service provider.

    This may be why you don’t see the Internet as being very interactive… you’re not asking for immediate action. :-)

  11. Brian,

    Believe me, I’ve written and supervised a lot of (way too much) direct response copy. And my experience is that copy that tries to elicit emotional responses usually fails and copy that provides a powerful logical argument has a better chance of succeeding.

    It’s not that an emotional reaction isn’t powerful, it’s just that it is so rarely achieved by copywriters.

    Also, I think we’re confusing input and output here. Because the intent of copy is to elicit an emotional response doesn’t mean it will do so. Sometimes (I contend, most times) an argument that is built on powerful logic will elicit a stronger emotional response than copy that is self-consciously “emotional.”

    I love Sonia, but I can’t agree with her when she says, “you also need to be sure you’re leading with emotional benefits rather than logical ones.”

  12. Well, Sonia’s not the only one who feels that way. Leading with emotion and justifying with logic is a copy technique that serves many well, including myself.

    Put another way, what’s a logical benefit? It’s probably actually a feature. To employ the cliche, people don’t want a drill, they want a hole.

    But do they really want the hole? No, they want to hang the artwork.

    But do they really want to hang the artwork? No, they want a pleasing aesthetic experience, or they want to impress their friends.

    And so on.

    Appealing to emotion may not be the best way to sell a drill, but when you’re “selling the invisible” such as services or knowledge, you bet your ass you better be drilling down to the root emotional motivation (pun fully intended).

    We make decisions at a subconscious level and justify with our logical conscious minds… that’s just Psychology 101. And our subconscious minds operate on emotional stimulation.

    I think what you’re really objecting to is “advertisements” (whatever that means anymore) that appeal *only* or *inappropriately* to emotion. I agree that’s stupid, and the sign of an amateur.

  13. Brian: exactly. Perfectly put.

    My clients are creatives who must pitch ‘solutions’ to suits. When they try to pitch the drill they want to sell, I coach them on a version of your reminder:

    “They don’t want your drill;
    but they NEED a hole —
    because, what they really WANT is to enjoy the art they hang on the hook in the hole.”

    The emotional connection opens the door to their ‘heart'; then clear benefits speaks to their mind. Readers/Buyers write checks with one, the other, and both.

  14. Brian,

    One more comment, then I will shut up.

    Your whole business model is based on leading with logic.

    “3 Ways to…”
    “5 Reasons to…”
    “10 Steps to…”

    Whether you know it or not, there is no copywriter in the world whose work is more in line with my thinking than yours.

    You lead with logic. It elicits an emotional response. End of story.

    And by the way, sometimes people just want a good drill.

    Okay, I’m done.

  15. Bob’s certainly supervised a lot more big advertising than I have, but I have seen plenty of fact-based advertising tank, and plenty of fact-based communication sink quietly unread because it wasn’t emotionally engaging.

    I’ve also seen connection work like gangbusters. It seems to work quite nicely for Brian. It works like crazy for Dan Kennedy, who despite being a bitter, misanthropic crank, relentlessly pushes his customers to connect with “Planet Dan,” and rakes in gigantic dollars doing so. It works for the pizza joints and carpet cleaners and tire stores that Kennedy advises, who form “clubs” to create continuity income. I don’t personally understand why anyone would join a club for their local pizza joint, but they do, and it makes those businesses more profitable. It works for Mac, who turned computers into a religion.

    It’s a fair point that a lot of the advertising & copywriting that tries for connection ends up being cloying and sticky. But if we took every crappy ad and decided the techniques it executed poorly could never be useful, I don’t know what exactly we would be left with.

    Telling copywriters they shouldn’t go for emotional connection is like telling them to avoid the letter T. Using emotional benefits to drive reader response is a reproducible strategy, which is what Copyblogger readers are looking for.

    At the end of the day, we all have to test it. We have to try the strategies we learn about and test them against one another, to learn what works and what doesn’t for our writing voice, our product and our market goals.

  16. Scare tactics can only work for so long before people wise up. At this point, companies that were always “bullying” you have nothing left.

  17. I loved this, the post itself and the subsequent debate… I’m definitely on the side of the “emotional” benefits… But then, thats just my way of writing.. Stun the senses with something powerful, albeit possibly superficial, then move on to the logically appealing elements of your offering..
    Great post Sonia

  18. Good debate. I’ve got nothing to add except a finger pointing to some research, most notably Extended Problem Solving and Limited Problem Solving (both decision-making patterns) and the central route to persuasion and the peripheral route to persuasion (influence models). Google the stuff. In a nutshell, when people think hard about their buying decision (extended problem solving), the central route to persuasion (reasons and logic) is preferred. When people make snap buying decisions (limited problem solving), the peripheral route to persuasion is preferred, which involves more emotion and cleverness than logic. Neither approach excludes the other, it’s just a matter of weighting. The problem is trying to identify which decision-making pattern will be in play for the majority of the market. In most cases, the copywriter and entire creative team will do their clients a favor by appealing to both the heart and the head.

  19. Hi Sonia!

    I understand where Bob is coming from, but I still think emotion leads and reason justifies afterward. Buying decisions are a combination of both emotional and rational reasons coming together in the customer’s mind. It’s not either/or. I think Sonia (and I agree) is saying that emotion is batting first, and reason comes in and bats cleanup.

    How many people bought an iPhone because it was technically advanced? I’m sure many people appreciated it, but in my opinion the cool factor lead first.

  20. The christian statistician, researcher George Barna just came out with an emotional bombshell book called “Pagan Christianity?” . As I read it, I wanted to throw it through my television set!! but I couldn’t disagee with the research since it was so well documented. it was a clever blending of emotional appeal and research/stats. I think the two can go together sometimes.

  21. I’m so glad you brought out the social belonging need instead of recommending that we use fear-based marketing. Thanks for being a goody-two-shoes! :)

  22. This post I did a couple of months ago is, I think, relevant:

    http://www.daniboy.com/blog/?p=24

  23. People believe their emotions and go with them simply because of the fact that they believe their emotions are LOGICAL.

    There, you were both right :)

  24. Interesting. I actually feel the reverse about membership sites. They seem like an old boys’ club who are not really the warm community I am seeking. If they really welcomed discussion, I feel they wouldn’t hide behind a registration form.

  25. Brian,

    Once again, I am very happy I discovered our blog thanks to “Meatball Sundae”. I am enjoying your articles a whole lot.

  26. It’s possible to take the guess work out of narrowing down the emotional connection your target audience has with a service or product by using Means-End Analysis. It’s a concept used along with laddering techniques to map out the connections between features –> benefits –> valued end states. Albeit ME-A has limitations, but it’s better than having a copywriter use only their gut instinct in crafting copy.

    I’ve linked this comment to a post I wrote about the topic. Hope it helps.

  27. i go with the emotional benefit….it really works..i use it in writing…nice article….