All too often when evaluating content performance, digital marketers dive deep into detailed metrics without first asking a simple, fundamental question: Are we connecting emotionally with audiences?
That is a huge mistake. Building emotional bonds isn’t just part of content success: it’s absolutely essential.
An fMRI neuro-imagery study found that when evaluating brands, consumers rely primarily on feelings and not on information/facts to make decisions. A separate study found the most shared content on social media is eight times more likely to include a strong emotional hook compared with other content.
In other words, if you don’t first establish an emotional connection, the other elements of your content will not matter much to consumers.
Yet, despite this, many marketers continue to create digital content that falls flat: A facial expression study found that just 20 percent of brands’ Facebook posts generate any sort of emotional reaction at all.
So, what can you do to overcome this? Here are four key approaches every brand can incorporate into its content strategy to build strong emotional connections with audiences.
Map Out When Emotion Matters Most: While building emotional connections with audiences is always a good thing, there are certain times during the buyer’s journey when it is especially important.
Specifically, sparking positive feelings during the awareness, purchase, and post-purchase phases tends have a higher impact compared with during the more information-focused research and evaluation phases (this overview does a good job of explaining those nuances).
Of course, the exact areas where emotion matters most vary from situation to situation. Given that, take a step back early in your content planning and think about where your particular brand needs the biggest emotional boosts: Do you want stronger brand awareness? More powerful nudges to purchase? Better approaches for encouraging loyalty?
Before doing anything else, map out these points where emotion can have the biggest impact so that you know where to focus your efforts.
Decide Which Emotions You Want to Evoke: Content success doesn’t come from sparking any emotions; it comes from sparking the right emotions. Broadly, that means that you want to inspire positive feelings about your brand/products/services, rather than negative feelings.
However, even within the range of positive feelings there are some that have a bigger payoff compared with others. This can be seen in psychological research on “framing”, which shows that people will make different decisions, even given the same choices, if the emotional motivators are slightly different.
Again, these outcomes vary significantly from situation to situation. Different triggers work better for different brands and in different industries—just think of what motivates people to buy insurance versus candy. That’s why it’s important to think hard about which emotions you want to inspire—delight, comfort, love, etc.—and experiment to see how each impacts your content performance.
Establish Trust With Your Audiences: Once you’ve mapped out where you need to spark more emotion and what sorts of emotions you want to evoke, what comes next? For every brand the answer is the same: Start by establishing trust.
Consumers say that the emotions most related to a good brand experience are feeling safe, reassured, relaxed, and satisfied. The emotions most related to a bad brand experience? Feeling disappointed, frustrated, and unsure. In other words, your content will not spark deeper emotions from audiences unless your pieces are first seen as being accurate and credible.
Establishing trust in your content can be done in a number of ways, including being upfront with your motivations, clearly explaining the expertise of your authors/creators, and—most of all—being informative/engaging, rather than sales-y, in your approach.
Go Light on the Snark and Heavy on the Kindness: Finally, what are the core qualities of evocative content? What are the right creative approaches to take?
One mistake that marketers often make is thinking that cutting-edge humor and hipness are the keys to the connecting emotionally. That, however, is not borne out by research.
A survey of 1,003 consumers found the approaches/tones people value most in brand content are honesty, friendliness, and helpfulness. The approaches/tones valued least are snarkiness, political correctness, and trendiness. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t be funny or current, but rather that these aren’t necessarily the most important elements.
Essentially, if you come across as a good person in your pieces you are most likely to spark positive feelings with consumers. Ultimately, the content which connects most positively emotionally with audiences isn’t the flashiest or coolest; it’s the most trustworthy, honest, and kind.