The five most powerful emotions in marketing

Some people feel all of these before lunch.

Some people feel all of these before lunch.

I’ve talked a lot about using emotion in marketing here on the blog, because some of the best advertising in history used it extremely well.

Granted, there’s a fine line in using emotion too. If you’re too obvious with it, your brand can come across as corny or contrived, and to quote copywriting great Gene Schwartz, “You’ll lose them.”

But when emotion strikes the right chord, it’s sweet marketing music.

That’s because emotion can spark desire, which inspires action:

Emotion > desire > action

There are common emotions used in marketing all the time—envy, happiness, and fear are popular ones. But there are a lot more.

I took a course, ages ago, with the American Writers and Artists Institute (AWAI)—a teaching organization comprised of many marketing veterans. In one of their major courses, they had a whole chapter on just marketing with emotion.

According to AWAI, there are 37 marketing emotions to tap…

Altruism, anger, annoyance, benevolence, boredom, complacence, confidence, confusion, curiosity, desperation, disgust, embarrassment, envy, exhaustion, fear, guilt, happiness, indifference, insecurity, laziness, loneliness, love, lust, optimism, passion, patriotism, pessimism, pride, revenge, sadness, shyness, stupidity, surprise, sympathy, vanity, whimsy and wit.

Whew! Now there’s a potent cocktail for you—a nice base of middle school hormones, mixed generously with some much-needed psychotherapy and sprinkled with a few of the seven deadly sins.

But which are the best emotions to use? According to AWAI, the top five are…

1. Curiosity

The most successful marketers agree, curiosity is a biggie. Many of the greatest campaigns in direct response history played to people’s curiosity, because it pulls you into the copy… the website… the blog… you name it! One of the most successful ads in history, which ran for 20 years and sold millions, started this way:

Do you make these mistakes in English?

It’s tough not to read on after that headline!

Curiosity is incredibly flexible—it can be used to get attention for a wide scope of products or services. Give it a shot.

2. Vanity

We hate to admit it, but we humans are selfish, sometimes even narcissistic creatures. Vanity is a lot of the reason why the fitness and fashion industries rake in billions every year… with no end in site. Many marketers today think that vanity is a key in selling to Millennials—a generation obsessed with posting endless info and pictures of themselves, everywhere.

3. Fear

This one is very powerful, a real motivator. There’s fear of loss, death, physical harm, loss of opportunity and so many other keep-you-up-at-night scenarios. Many marketing experts say that the fear of loss or pain emotionally outpunches more positive things like winning or gaining something. Fear is a common tool in the shed of insurance companies, identity theft prevention, political campaigns, alarm companies and others. Tread carefully, though—if the threat doesn’t feel real or legitimate, it can totally backfire and look manipulative.

4. Benevolence

OK, I was a little rough on humanity with my vanity comments a minute ago. I’ll swing the pendulum back now and say that most of us have a basic love and inclination to do good, too. We like feeling connected and helping others. Charities, causes, non-profits and others paint with benevolence like masters. Benevolence also lends itself extraordinarily well to social media.

5. Insecurity

A sort of wormy second cousin to vanity and fear, insecurity is when a prospect needs to feel good about him or herself because of some underlying feeling of inferiority. The self-help industry—which takes up considerable real estate in book stores and cyberspace—often presents itself as the antidote to insecurity when marketing its wares.

Keep in mind, you don’t have to use only one emotion.

People are complex, multi-dimensional beings. Think of all the emotional angles of your offering, determine your primary and secondary emotions, and use them to drive your message home.

– Andy Badalamenti is the creative director for CI-Group

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