January 24, 2019 Last updated January 21st, 2019 1,263 Reads share

3 Tactics Small Businesses Can Use to Tap Into the Power of Customer Emotions

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Storytelling and emotional appeals are direct pathways between companies and their communities.


When you get good at these disciplines, it feels like a superpower — and a superpower that comes with super responsibility.


Marketing psychology can seem manipulative, and many business owners worry that their messages will just read like ploys to trick people into buying their stuff. In reality, knowledge of psychology simply gives marketers scientific tools and empirical insights that they can apply to their marketing strategies.


And this makes for smarter campaigns.


After all, you don’t need psychology to explain the benefits of creating funny content — your gut can tell you that. But with a little understanding of human psychology, you’ll have a fuller picture of why specific emotions compel some people to become customers.


Here are three tactics that will let you tap into that power.


1. Use Social Proofing to Let Others Demonstrate Your Company’s Value

Customers seek comfort in others when they experience fear or uncertainty, which is also known as social proofing.


“The core element of social proof is that people are more drawn to like what other people have already liked and expressed an interest in,” Rick Riddle writes at Social Media Today. “If you can get a lot of people to claim to like something on social media then other people will automatically like it as well.”


Facebook uses social proofing to convince users to like a brand’s page or attend an event. It plays on the FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out, that the Internet generates in many users.


Research shows that most of us (61 percent) do our research before buying, which includes reading reviews by other consumers, Olga Andrienko writes at Search Engine Journal. “And last year, TripAdvisor’s study revealed that 77 percent of travelers don’t book a hotel without reading what others have to say about it first.


“… Featuring social proof like reviews, star ratings, or testimonials about your business is bound to elicit a positive reaction from visitors and inspire them to take action.”


By tapping into social proofing, you’re reducing the uncertainty that comes from possibly making a bad decision by letting your customers follow those who have successfully gone before them.


2. Reign In Any Impulses to Try to Be Funny

If dying is easy but comedy is hard, why do so many brands try to tap into this form of emotional appeal?


Because when it works, it really works.


“Laughter is one of the most effective tools for forming a strong emotional bond with people,” Shane Barker, writing at the Social Media Examiner, says. “Study your audience to see what kind of humor they like. Remember that not everyone appreciates sarcasm or satire. You want to joke with your fans on social media without insulting them. Replay your post multiple times to ensure that it can’t be perceived as offensive.”


“Multiple different areas of the brain work together to help you process and appreciate jokes, from regions involved in language processing to the prefrontal cortex, which is related to the brain’s reward system,” Lianna Patch explains at Autopilot.


“When the brain ‘gets’ a joke, one or more of those areas light up like a Christmas tree. This reaction is akin to what happens when the brain solves a problem. In other words, getting a joke feels like getting a treat. And it makes us want more.”


Humor, when done well, can make audiences feel as if they’ve earned something by watching your ad. Humor that misses the mark has failed to trigger the feel-good chemicals; in marketing, this can leave audiences bored or annoyed. However, as long as humor is effective, brands are going to keep trying to harness this emotion as a way to form bonds.


3. Don’t Stoke People’s Fears, But Do Address Those Fears

Fear is on the other side of the spectrum and is equally as powerful as humor in channeling audience response.


Courtney Seiter at Buffer has some interesting insight here. She points to a study in the Journal of Consumer Research that found consumers feel a heightened sense of connection with a brand right after they experience fear (in the study, the test group had just watched a horror film).


“The theory is that when we’re scared, we need to share the experience with others — and if no one else is around, even a non-human brand will do,” she writes. “Fear can stimulate people to report greater brand attachment.”


At the end of the day, emotions all point back to relationship-building. We seek comfort in family, friends, and even brands to soothe our fear and utilize power in numbers. Think about all the horror movies that feature one protagonist or a handful of people cut off from the world. The real fear is the absence of help. This is where marketing comes in.


“Fear and greed are two of the three great forces in the world, according to Einstein (the third is stupidity).” Alex Birkett at ConversionXL says. “What works, then, is inspiring fear at the prospect of not having your product. This is more common than would make you comfortable, but when you think about it, many industries use this tactic. From home security systems to baby monitors to insurance — especially insurance — marketers have been using fear as a tactic for a long time.”


When brands aren’t channeling fear, they’re often trying to subdue it. This was the case of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese when it announced it changed to its recipe to all natural products. Kraft knew their audience’s natural fear of change would cause a backlash, which is why they released the news months after the switch.


“In a new marketing campaign, Kraft has revealed that the company sold over 50 million boxes of the new mac and cheese without anyone batting an eye,” Justin Bariso, Principal at INSIGHT, says. “New spots feature television personality Craig Kilborne along with lines like ‘we would invite you to try it, but you already have’ and ‘it’s changed. but it hasn’t.’ There’s even a social media hashtag, of course: #didntnotice”


This confronted the audience’s fears of the unknown by proving that there is nothing to fear because the worst is already behind them.




Founder of digital marketing agency Epic Presence, Casey Meehan also blogs about personal finance and investment at Stock Hax. He says he wasn’t fooled by the Kraft hoax.

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Casey Meehan

Casey Meehan

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