So, uh, this is going to piss you off…
You’re being manipulated. What you purchase, where you shop, how you vote, your decisions, preferences, behavior… all of it… manipulated by professional persuaders.
Pick a product you no longer reach for … perhaps a type of shampoo, runners, beer, soap, toothpaste… it’s hard to recall, but at some unmemorable point for some long-forgotten reason you switched brands. Do you really believe your decision was based on personal preference? I can assure you it wasn’t.
Backed by billion-dollar budgets and armed with behaviour altering techniques, persuaders influence our decisions every day… and most of it… without our knowledge.
I write about these master manipulators in my latest book, “Lions in the Grass, a Marketing Insider’s Guide to Mass Persuasion”. The big take home from the book is, if you want to identify and avoid their manipulative tactics or influence your own audience’s actions, even get your kids to eat more veggies, it is important to know the basics of emotional persuasion.
Persuaders understand human neurological processing, but their superpower isn’t knowing what we think, it’s influencing how we feel. And for this, they need to access our emotional storage vaults.
While our vault’s emotional content is distinctively personal, what’s not unique is the common belief that we control the access. Yes, they are locked tight — but unknowingly, all our locks share the same key — an evolutionary need to relate.
We’ve evolved with the perpetual need to relate to others, situations and environments. To help us navigate everyday situations we rely on our past experiences, each stored as a memory with an attached emotion for rapid retrieval.
You don’t need to have lost a pet to relate with someone who has. Our stored experiences enable us to instantly find the most relevant and appropriate emotional reaction.
This instinctual need to relate works on a subconscious level triggering an emotional connection beyond our conscious thinking to help us contextualize what we are experiencing.
And this is why it works in marketing (and persuasion).
It’s how imagery of playful puppies can present the textual consistency of tissue paper or an SUV, pictured on a distant country road, emotionally connects us to a potential for independence.
Presenting your product’s details and distinctive features, superior or not, has little motivational impact on your audience. Whereas emotional imagery and language communicates to our subconscious which triggers an instinctive need to relate and connect on a much deeper level.
When Dove stopped promoting its soap’s “moisturizing” ingredients and started an emotion-based campaign about “inner beauty”, their brand became a cultural conversation and national success. This technique enabled Iams dog food to connect emotionally with their audience by presenting the bond between a puppy and a boy as they grew up together. Coke understands this better than most and sells refreshment, experience and happiness, not their sugary syrup water.
Red Bull takes a slightly different approach by attaching their brand to high intensity events to relay the emotional benefit of their product and connect with their audience.
Persuaders use emotion. They don’t sell products. They sell feelings.
Consider what your product does for your consumers. Focus your marketing on the emotional benefits for the end user.
— You’re not selling clothing; you provide status and self confidence
— You’re not selling financial planning services; you provide freedom and security
— You’re not selling flour or baking soda; you provide a way for someone to show how much they love their family
— You’re not selling houses; you deliver the opportunity for people to provide safety, security and love for their families
But Why is Emotional Marketing so Powerful?
It’s not that we humans are overtly emotional. It is that we have an insatiable need to relate and it’s all connected to our evolution.
The better we are at relating to the emotions of others and generating the appropriate reaction, the more likely we are to create stronger personal connections. In evolutionary terms, emotional intelligence was directly related to survival of the species. Knowing who to trust in the tribe and how to react to others long before language was developed, meant a better chance of acceptance and living within the security of the tribe. It also had far more practical uses.
To put it another way, as the last hunter of the group to enter the jungle, standing spear held high, poised to throw it at anything that looks like food … when the other hunters suddenly ran out of the forest screaming in terror … the faster you could relate to the emotions of others the better your chance of survival. And, if you are reading this today, congratulations, you come from a long lineage of emotionally intelligent humans.
Being able to emotionally relate and react may be an ancient survival skill but it’s still something we rely on today to better understand the things in our environment and build stronger relationships with the people we encounter.
Avoid the Noise
As the noise increases across every marketing platform, audiences withdraw further and grow harder to connect with. As a result, some marketers get louder, while others get emotional.
Persuaders understand that if you want to generate interest and motivate action you must communicate to the heart, not the head if you want to reach the wallet.
To connect with your audience on a deep level you must move beyond presenting your product, its ingredients, details and specifics. Avoid communicating the features and functions of your service, message or merchandise, and move beyond the logical, and into to the magical… you must get emotional.
“Lions in the Grass, a Marketing Insider’s Guide to Mass Persuasion (and why you want the sh!t you want)” is all about emotional manipulation, identifying it, using it and avoiding it.
Whether you want to control your market’s buying behaviour, change another person’s opinion, or avoid being on the other end of a persuading puppeteer’s strings, it’s critical to know how emotions dictate the human decision process, so you can be a little more lion… and a little less dinner.