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Emotional marketing: how to use emotions in your marketing

Emotional marketing: how to use emotions in your marketing

A lump in your throat. Laughing so hard your belly hurts. The feeling you’re the only person on the planet. These are all examples of feelings you will have felt at least once in your life. They are examples of emotions: a reaction towards an object, individual or surrounding that drives our subsequent behavior. This is de foundation on which emotional marketing is built.

Feel your heart pumping out of your chest when doing something scary? This is a natural reaction. Ever felt the urge to dance after hearing the good news? You’re not the only one! As with almost everything, our brain handles these reactions. In this article, we will tell you how to improve your emotional marketing strategy.

What is emotional marketing?

Emotional marketing is a form of marketing communication in which (a singular) emotion is leveraged to help an audience identify with- and buy a product. Emotions in marketing like anger, happiness or compassion give more meaning and depth to the experience of a brand or product. It creates an emotional bond between the customer and the company, which leads to long-term commitment.

Fight or flight

Fight or flight
Fight or flight

Imagine standing on top of a bridge. The view is amazing, the sun is setting, but you also signed up for a bungee-jump. In a few minutes, you will take the plunge. You can feel your palms starting to sweat. Your heartbeat is going up. Your muscles tense.

Everyone is nervous in this situation. Our body prepares itself for a scary and dangerous situation. Jumping off a cliff means putting yourself in danger. It is not natural, and that is why it activates the fight or flight system. This is a physiological reaction to any situation that might be harmful and a threat to our survival.

After the fight or flight system activates, our sympathetic nervous system takes over. This system regulates the subconscious actions of our body. These are functions like breathing or blinking your eye. You don’t think about them, they happen. In a dangerous situation, it prepares your body for either fighting or fleeing. It can make you sweat, give you goosebumps or dilate your pupils. To make this happen, the brain works together with the body to prepare you for what’s coming. These actions of the body are the most basic emotions related to survival and instinct.

The universal language of emotions

Without a doubt, you know Charles Darwin, the most leading scientist on the topic of evolution and biology. Another area that fascinated him was emotions. He was the first person who conducted research on how we recognize facial emotions. Darwin studied emotion by photographing human faces with different expressions. He wanted to prove that we perceive and express emotions in identical ways. Yet, the view that emotions are hardwired in our brain and identical among all cultures is undermined by Lisa Feldman Barrett (PhD).

If you are interested in the fundamentals of how emotions are made in our brain; we have written a post comparing the latest view on emotions of Lisa Feldman Barret (PhD) and the point of view Pixar’s movie Inside Out shows (What you need to know about emotions now).

Emotional marketing

Now you know more about the basics of emotion, let’s look into emotional marketing. Most people think the choices they make are rational and well deliberated. Yet, in reality, our emotions are the main drivers behind our decisions and consumer choices. There are two types of emotions that influence our decisions.

Immediate emotions

Emotions we experience while making a decision are immediate emotions. Our body and face add an automatic reaction (like blushing). Immediate emotions are often more intense and can have a bigger impact on a decision.

Anticipated emotions

Anticipated emotions are not experienced directly. They are the expectations about how someone will feel after making a decision. Thinking about gains or losses influence these decisions.

In marketing, anticipated emotions are the most interesting. Anticipation can lead to customer engagement and more response. There is more time to respond to someone’s thoughts or feelings about a purchase decision in the future.

Emotional branding

How do you anticipate your consumer’s emotion? Emotional branding focuses on building a brand that appeals to your customer’s emotions and desires. This type of marketing can be successful when it triggers the right emotional response. Your customers will create a strong attachment with your brand if you manage to do this.

Trees and lungs

WWF Green Lungs
WWF Green Lungs: evoking emotional responses

Have you seen the beautiful images of our planet in WWF commercials? They try to increase donations by evoking positive emotions. A good example is a campaign against deforestation, which leads to reduced oxygen levels. The ad shows a forest in the shape of two lungs to make the message personal. As you can see, the left lung looks healthy. The lung on the right looks unhealthy and is damaged by deforestation. With this image, they try to evoke emotional responses by linking the lung to our own health. They’ve created emotional content by making the advertisement personal. Besides, applying neuromarketing insights (positive emotions and associations) to stop deforestation is a perfect example of neuromarketing ethically applied.

The importance of brand association

Emotional marketing is extremely important if you want to have a successful product. Why? Emotional ads make people buy. Research shows that we rely on emotions to make brand decisions, not on information. One example is we are willing to pay more for brand-name products. If you think about it, this is pretty strange. The product is often of the same quality. Yet, because of the brand people prefer it over others. This preference is a result of emotion and positive brand association in our memory. For example, we prefer the taste of Coca-Cola if we know the brand. If we are unaware of this, we tend to like the taste of Pepsi. Neuroscience shows that different brain areas are involved in both situations.

Big brands like McDonald’s, Airbnb, and Google are a big hit because of their emotional connection with the consumer. A brand is basically nothing more than a mental representation in the consumers head? The key here is to create emotional content that makes an impact and lasts in the consumer’s memory. The better the emotional content, the more likely sales will increase. To do this, it is important that the representation feels authentic and honest. You will need to fully understand your customers and the brand’s identity to choose the right strategy.

Emotional marketing

Direct emotional association

The most obvious way to do this is by direct emotional association. Humans have six basic emotions: happy, surprised, afraid, disgusted, angry and sad. If you choose one emotion, happy is the most logical one. Be careful, this is not applicable to all products! Think clearly about what emotion suits yours. In our article about priming, we explained that positive priming can lead to more sales. The use of happy, smiling people creates a positive association with your product. Consumers will feel more attached and connected.

Make your customer feel involved

Make your advertisement personal and make your customer feel involved. Coca-Cola mastered this tactic with their Share a Coke campaign. They replaced their logo with the most common names. This way people could share a coke with a person that matters most to them. They had over a thousand names on their bottles, leading to enormous shares on socials and more than 150 million sales.

Make them feel proud

Be inspirational, so your customer feels a sense of pride. When we feel inspired, we are motivated. One way to do this is by associating your brand with a role model or a certain goal your customer can reach. An example comes from Adidas, who created a campaign around the Olympic athletes. Seeing them as fit and determined winners create feelings of inspiration and motivation.

If you want to learn more about behavioral insights, read our blog or watch 100+ videos on our YouTube channel!

About Neurofied

Neurofied is a behavioral science company specialized in training, consulting, and change management. We help organizations drive evidence-based and human-centric change with insights and interventions from behavioral psychology and neuroscience. Consider us your behavioral business partner who helps you build behavioral change capabilities internally.

Since 2018, we have trained thousands of professionals and worked with over 100 management, HR, growth, and innovation teams of organizations such as Johnson & Johnson, KPMG, Deloitte, Novo Nordisk, ABN AMRO, and the Dutch government. We are also frequent speakers at universities and conferences.

Our mission is to democratize the value of behavioral science for teams and organizations. If you see any opportunities to collaborate, please contact us here.


Milou Odekerken

A passion for writing combined with fascination for the brain to give you the best neuromarketing content!

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