Let’s be clear: You need emotional appeal in your writing.
Compelling stories keep readers on your website, and since you must discover their worldviews and understand their experiences so that you can serve them better, you’ll naturally learn about their emotional states.
But when you communicate with your audience, you need to strike the right emotional balance.
In fact, getting heavy-handed with emotional appeal in your writing can backfire and potentially harm your credibility.
The dangers of overstating the problem
If you really know your readers, you know their pain points. You’re aware of their daily struggles and aspirations.
But if you only focus on the small percentage of people who are in dire straits — those who literally lose sleep about the problems you’d like to help them work through — you may be ignoring a lot of readers.
Here’s an example.
Let’s say you help people declutter their homes. Some of your readers may be at the end of their ropes. Perhaps they have a serious hoarding problem or large collections that take over their living spaces — and their lives.
If they had to put their level of willingness to address their problem on a scale of one to 10, your most desperate readers may find themselves at a nine or 10 — and the magnitude of their problem could be just as severe.
But unless you only want to help out the extreme cases, writing directly to that archetype may leave readers with a more moderate need for decluttering feeling like they don’t need your service.
Perhaps the boxes in their basements or unfiled papers in their offices are a nuisance, but they haven’t taken over their lives.
If you stick with extreme examples, any readers unable to relate to those circumstances may feel like your message doesn’t apply to them.
I recently started reading a post about public speaking, which is a skill I’m interested in further developing. I didn’t make it through the post, though.
The opening paragraphs explained the level of panic some people feel when speaking publicly.
The writer assumed that my hands would be sweating and I’d get knots in my stomach simply by entertaining the possibility of getting up on a stage.
I got exhausted just reading the introduction.
If I had that level of panic about public speaking, I imagine that there’s a very good chance it would be insurmountable.
And although talking to a crowd isn’t something I’m entirely comfortable with, it’s not something that instills my fight-or-flight response — so the post was draining to read.
Even if your readers sometimes work themselves up in a frenzy over concerns related to your area of expertise, it’s likely that they’re not in that frame of mind while reading your post.
Overplaying their emotional responses can therefore create a disconnect, causing readers to disengage with your writing.
The biggest danger of overplaying emotional appeal is that a thoughtful sales offer for a credible service or product can start to sound like a slimy sales pitch.
A reasonable sales pitch begins with a problem people have, and then explains a solution and its benefits. It doesn’t rely on manufactured fear or an artificial need, nor does it promise an instant fix.
It will speak to the audience’s emotions, yes — because that’s how we make decisions. But it also offers a real solution to a real problem, and follows through with that promise.
A slimy sales pitch relies on exploited emotions and exaggerated claims. It may overstate or twist the facts to boost a weak case. It overplays the extent and severity of a problem and the effects of doing nothing.
An unethical salesperson highlights an unlikely extreme and presents it as an inevitable fate for anyone who doesn’t buy.
Let’s look at the wrong way to sell a water filter as an example.
An overhyped sales pitch for a water filter begins with an exaggerated emotional claim, such as “Are you embarrassed by the taste and look of your drinking water? Worried that your friends will find out the truth and declare you an unfit parent and a danger to the community?”
An artificial fear then follows the exaggerated emotional claim, such as “Studies show that people without water filtration have a 543 percent greater risk of cancer!” (Never mind that these “studies” carry as much scientific validity as a Harry Potter novel.) “Are you willing to risk the lives of your family? I only have five filters left! Your children’s health may depend on you making the right choice.”
The ethical way to sell the same water filter would be to explain its features and discuss health, environmental, and financial benefits, followed by a call to action to try the water filter in order to experience better-tasting, contaminant-free water.
How to avoid emotional manipulation
The first step is awareness. You must acknowledge that even readers with strong pain points aren’t necessarily losing sleep over the problem you can help them fix.
And if the issue does lead to sleepless nights, they may not be experiencing that level of anxiety at the moment they read your post.
Here are three ways to offer the right amount of emotional appeal in your writing.
1. Vary your examples instead of only highlighting extreme cases
When you avoid overstating problems or the mindsets associated with them, you can still discuss worst-case scenarios if they provide value for your audience.
However, make sure to temper dramatic extremes with moderate cases.
For example, you can include a case study featuring a client who only needed a little bit of help alongside a case study of a person whose life was completely changed because his situation was so dire.
If you offer multiple levels of services, writing about different scenarios that appeal to different types of readers is a no-brainer.
2. Improve your offer
Make sure you’re completely confident about your offer. Adjust it or even start over until you’re sure you’ve created a special presentation.
If you have your finger on the pulse and consistently adapt to address your audience’s changing needs, you won’t need to rely on emotional manipulation or hype.
3. Get to know your audience and figure out their problems
The more you tap into your readers’ experiences, the more you can produce smart solutions to their problems in your content, products, and services.
If you truly address their issues, you won’t need to manufacture extremes to remind your readers how much easier their lives would be if their problems were alleviated with your solutions. They’ll already know.
When you create content, what steps do you take to thoroughly understand your readers’ experiences?
And how do you make a deep connection with your audience without exploiting their emotions?
Let’s continue the discussion over on LinkedIn …
Flickr Creative Commons Image via julochka.