Neil Patel

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Expert’s Guide to Emotional Marketing

Expert's guide to emotional marketing.

Emotions drive your daily decisions. You may think you use logic and reasoning, but your choices are tied to emotion more than anything else.

It’s why emotional marketing uses psychological triggers to get customers to click, convert, and engage.

Case in point, Antonio Damasio spent time studying individuals with damage to the area of the brain that generates and processes emotions.

These people acted just like anyone else, but with one big difference: they couldn’t feel emotion.

They also needed help making decisions. Even simple decisions about what to eat were difficult.

While they could describe what they should be doing using logic and reason, they couldn’t make decisions without emotion.

The idea that we make decisions using emotion rather than logic is supported by data from Gerard Zaltman, author of “How Customers Think: Essential Insights into the Mind of the Market.”

Zaltman found that 95% of cognition happens beyond our conscious brain, coming instead from our subconscious, emotional brain.

A yellow card with two men and copy that reads, "That was a very well laid out, rational point. But I will still hold to my emotional opinion based on no facts or evidence."

When emotions are the major factor in decision-making, you can’t afford to ignore them in your content. You need to use emotional marketing to build deeper connections with your audience and encourage them to act.

In this article, I’ll explain what emotional marketing is, how it works, the emotions that drive the best results, and the most effective way of using emotions in marketing.

Ready to get inside your customers’ heads? Then let’s begin.

What is Emotional Marketing and Why is It so Effective?

What is emotional marketing?

Emotional marketing is any campaign or piece of marketing collateral that primarily uses emotion to drive action. Typically, marketers will use a single emotion (fear, awe, humor, anger, etc.) to make an emotional connection with their audience. Emotional marketing can be used in TV ads, content marketing campaigns and can even be used in social media ads.

Why is emotional marketing so effective? Because when you emotionally connect with your audience, it’s easy to steer them to a desired outcome.

You’ve formed an emotional bond, however brief and fleeting, that makes your audience open to ideas and suggestions. It creates a certain level of trust that’s virtually impossible to create artificially.

Rob Walker and Joshua Glen found firsthand what an emotional connection can do. In one experiment, they bought hundreds of cheap items from thrift stores and other shops.

The pair wanted to see if they could sell the products using an emotional connection built through the power of stories.

With the help of 200 writers, they created fictional stories about the products and used those stories to sell the thrift store items at auction on eBay.

A corked bottle on Significant Objects webpage.

They raised just under $8,000, a profit of approximately 2,700%. And they did it all using emotional connection built through storytelling.

How Emotional Marketing Works

Emotional marketing works because it bypasses our evolved rational brain and cuts straight through to our mammalian, emotional brain.

If you aren’t familiar with the theory of dual processing, it holds that the brain processes thoughts and decisions on two levels.

A diagram of the "logical" brain and "emotional" brain.

The first level is emotional. It processes information and decisions automatically, and unconsciously, and provides rapid responses with virtually no effort.

The second level is more deliberate. It’s our conscious thought process, where we think decisions through with reason and logic. This process happens far slower than the emotional response.

Emotional marketing works because, in most cases, our brains fire back an emotional response, and then we try to rationalize it consciously.

You can test your emotional response yourself by thinking about two big brands. For example, how do you feel when you look at these two car brands?

Ford truck vs Chevrolet truck

Here’s another example that divides people:

Coca-Cola vs Pepsi

And then there’s this famous consumer gadget rivalry:

Bill Gates vs Steve Jobs

In each example, you probably have an instant reaction about which brand you prefer. But your reaction isn’t logical. It’s typically tied to emotion or experience, how you feel using their products, or how the brands left you feeling after an experience or reading a news article.

The brain then tries to rationalize that emotional response.

Emotional marketing works because marketers lean on your emotional reaction instead of your logical reaction. And the results can be powerful.

Emotional marketing is memorable. An advert or marketing campaign that forges an emotional connection is much more memorable than a stale, fact-based campaign. You probably can’t remember many of the ads you watched on TV last night, for instance, but I bet you can remember one or two Christmas adverts from your childhood. That’s because those adverts used wonder and joy to forge an unforgettable connection.

Emotional marketing creates loyalty. Just like in the brand example above, an emotional marketing campaign can connect you to a brand in a way that means you choose them over any other competitor. It’s not so much that Apple builds better laptops than Microsoft; it’s that they do a better job of connecting with our emotions and desires. Research by the Tempkin Group found when consumers have a positive emotion about a brand, they are 8.4 times more likely to trust them, 7.1 times more likely to purchase from them, and 6.6 times more likely to forgive them.

Emotional marketing inspires action. Ultimately, positive emotions can increase conversions. Consumers are much more likely to take action when they see an emotional marketing campaign. When two products have similar styles, features and prices, customers will often choose the one that builds the best emotional connection.

It’s no surprise, then, that nearly a third of marketers report significant profit gains when running emotional campaigns. But the number of successful campaigns dips if you introduce logic into the marketing.

An infographic depicting the data behind emotional marketing.

And those results get sliced in half when marketers switch to logic over emotion.

A further study of 100 ads across 25 brands by Nielsen found ads with the best emotional response resulted in a 23% increase in sales.

A graph depicting the sales volume results behind ads with emotional marketing.

Emotional Marketing Doesn’t Guarantee Successful Engagement

Targeting an emotional response with your marketing won’t make content more effective on its own.

Emotion is certainly important, but there are also other factors like timing, exposure, the format of the content, how it’s presented, and who produced or shared it.

Despite understanding the role emotion plays in content, we still haven’t quite perfected a formula for what makes content go viral. Though we’ve gotten pretty close.

There are plenty of emotional marketing examples of brands that have created emotional marketing campaigns.

Take Intel’s five-part “Meet the Makers” series, for example.

The series profiles people around the world who use Intel’s technology to build new technology.

An Intel Edison chip used for emotional marketing.

Like 13-year-old Shubham Banerrjee, who used Intel’s technology to build an affordable Braille printer.

Shubham Banerrjee looking at a machine.

But there are also plenty of emotional marketing examples where brands that have overtly tried (and failed) to leverage emotion to win over consumers.

Take Pepsi’s 2017 ad featuring Kendall Jenner, which tried to use emotions in marketing to piggyback on Black Lives Matter protests. That ad came across as incredibly tone-deaf and was pulled shortly after its release.

Which Emotions Attract the Most Marketing Engagement in Content?

Some emotions impact our purchase decision more than others.

A 2017 study by Buzzumo and marketer Noah Kagan analyzed the top 10,000 most-shared articles on the web. Those articles were then mapped to emotions to see which had the greatest influence on content.

The most popular were:

  • Awe (25%)
  • Laughter (17%)
  • Amusement (15%)
A pie chart of popular emotions.

Some of the least popular emotions were sadness (1%), surprise (2%), and anger (6%).

Two researchers at Wharton also dug deeper into viral content to find commonalities and better understand what makes people share content.

They found just how much emotions can impact the virality of content.

  • Content is far more likely to be shared when it makes people feel good, or it creates positive feelings like entertainment.
  • Facts or data that shock people or leave them in awe were more likely to be shared.
  • Instilling fear or anxiety pushes engagement higher, from comments being posted to content being shared.
  • People most commonly shared content that incited anger, leaving comments as well.

While some emotions are more likely to engage than others, every audience is different. What drives one to action may do very little for another.

This modern adaptation of Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotion, illustrated by CopyPress, shows the range under eight primary emotions: joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness, disgust, anger, and anticipation.

A wheel of emotions

For your content to impact audiences enough to share, it needs to leverage one or more of these emotions.

You can see the proof online. Not only in the statistics I shared above, but also in the popularity of user communities that regularly share content.

Just look at some of the most popular subreddits on Reddit. Many can be tied back to emotions, (some more obviously than others) like anticipation, awe, joy, and more.

A table of subreddit names, number of subscribers, and corresponding rank.

Excited to get started using emotions in marketing? Here’s how you can use some of the most impactful emotions in your marketing.

Anxiety and Fear

You don’t want to scare your audience into making bad decisions. Bad decisions can lead to buyer’s remorse, which can paint your brand and the overall experience negatively.

But that doesn’t mean anxiety and fear have no place in your marketing efforts.

A Berkeley study revealed that anxiety could be linked to decision-making difficulties. Our judgment is clouded when we experience uncertainty or anxiety.

A graph depicting anxiety, uncertainty, and complexity as it pertains to making decisions.

Still, anxiety can also spur people to act as a result of that uncertainty.

Take this two-year study by Wharton Ph.D. student Alison Wood Brooks and a Harvard Business School professor, for example.

They found that when they used video to increase the anxiety of subjects, 90% of the “anxious” participants opted to seek advice and were more likely to take it. Only 72% of the participants in a neutral state, who viewed a different video, sought advice.

Awe And Inspiration

Awe and inspiration are intended to captivate the audience and keep them riveted. You often see this kind of hook in clickbait headlines that seem so earth-shatteringly significant that no one in their right mind would want to miss it.

Here’s a great example of Dropbox using awe in its marketing efforts when it first launched.

Dropbox using emotional marketing in its early stages by saying, "Google drive killer coming MIT startup."

Co-founder Drew Houston submitted his product to the website Digg, hoping to get some visibility from the social bookmarking site. That headline helped significantly.

Another great example of using awe to capture attention is a video produced by Texas Armoring Corporation.

To emphasize the quality of the company’s bullet-resistant glass, the CEO crouched behind one of TAC’s glass panels while several rounds were fired at it from an AK-47.

Best of all, awe can impact decision-making as much as anxiety.

A study from Stanford University found that people experiencing awe are more focused on the present and less distracted by other things in life. They also tend to be more giving of their time. And when you have your audience’s attention and focus, they’re more likely to have time to rationalize a decision.

Joy and Humor

While joy and laughter can seem synonymous, they’re really two different emotions when it comes to your content.

Because while laughter often leads to joy, not everything that is joyful is laugh-out-loud funny.

Still, next to awe, joy, laughter, and amusement were the highest contributors to social sharing and engagement in the above studies.

Do you know why they’re so powerful? It goes back to childhood.

As babies, our first emotional experience, not long after being born, is to respond to the smile of our parents with our own smile.

A mother and her baby both smiling.

Per psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott, joy and amusement are hardwired into us from birth. His studies tell us that our innate desire for joy increases when it’s shared. That’s the nature of the “social smile.

That explains why these feelings or emotions are such huge drivers behind content virality. Happiness, overall, is a huge driver for content sharing.

In fact, Jonah Berger’s study of the most-shared articles in the New York Times (around 7,000 articles) revealed the same kind of results. The more positive the article, the more likely it was to go viral.

Brands have worked “joy marketing” into their strategies for decades, aiming to make their audience feel warm, comfortable, and happy.

That’s the intent of campaigns like P&G’s highly successful and viral “Thank You, Mom” campaigns. Emotional marketing examples like this are filled with a lot of emotion (especially joy) when celebrating the strength of mothers.

A little girl standing outside with a tornado in the background.

Joy can take a lot of forms, though, and it doesn’t have to be commercially intended to elicit a direct sale.

Look at what Beringer Vineyards did with influencer marketing.

Russian Instagram sensations Murad and Nataly Osmann built a following of more than 3.5 million people with photos featuring them holding hands at locations around the globe during their travels.

They attached the hashtag #FollowMeTo on those posts.

A screenshot of Murad Osmann's Instagram page.

The couple teamed up with Beringer Vineyards to create images meant to inspire joy, love, and, of course, the sense of adventure the couple already shared with their hashtag.

A picture of a couple holding hands on Instagram.


Anger may be perceived as a negative emotion by some, but it can have positive influences as well as positive outcomes when leveraged in the right way.

A leading researcher in the field of anger, Dr. Carol Tavris, draws a parallel between anger and how it impacted society over the years. Women’s suffrage, for example, developed from anger and frustration.

Anger can be empowering for the individual, bringing a sense of clarity and positive-forward momentum. It gives people a feeling of direction and control, according to a study from Carnegie Mellon.

In the previously mentioned study on content shares in the New York Times, negatively perceived emotions like anger are equally associated with the virality of content.

Data showing different emotions inspired by content from the New York Times.

In fact, Berger’s study of the New York Times content found that pieces which incite feelings of frustration or anger are 34% more likely to be featured on the Times’s most emailed list than the average article.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you deliberately create controversy by taking shots at readers or picking fights. The key to using anger in content is to frame an issue that incites anger or frustration in a way that’s constructive.

You have to be thought-provoking and engaging.

This interactive graph from the New York Times is an example of how content can lead to frustration and anger over economic or societal issues.

Interactive graph from New York Times depicting emotional marketing.

This piece of content is simple, yet it provokes engagement as well as thought when results are revealed in comparison to what an individual perceives to be the truth.

Using the Right Emotional Marketing Words

The difference between logic and emotion in content comes down to the words we use.

Power words can help to increase conversions, and there are plenty of terms commonly used in e-commerce to get customers to buy more products.

Infographic of ecommerce copywriting in emotional marketing.

When creating copy and content, you must be acutely aware of whether you’re taking a rational or emotional approach to the information you share.

You need to think about the response you want to elicit to guide your content development and make the right kind of psychological and emotional connection with your audience.

A pie graph of a rational mind and emotional mind.

The context of your copy can remain the same.

By changing the words you use, however, you can make content appeal more to the emotions of the audience and prospective customers.

The simplest approach to finding the right high-emotion words takes three steps:

  1. Think about the action you want your audience to take when they read your content.
  2. Decide what kind of emotional state will drive that action. What would make them do what you want them to do?
  3. Choose emotionally persuasive words appropriate to the action and the emotion.

What you’ll find when researching the right words is that emotionally persuasive and impactful words tend to be abrupt. It’s the short, concise, basic words that appeal most to our emotions over our intellect.

Just look at this list from the Persuasion Revolution.

List of words associated with emotional marketing.

The majority of this emotionally weighted list (and there are over 350 items) is made up of short words.

The rational mind, on the other hand, tends to associate with longer and more complex words.

Graphic showing how to switch rational words to emotional words.

Why You Can’t Assume When it Comes to Emotional Marketing

It’s not easy to make that emotional connection with your audience. You have to know them if you want to have success using emotions in marketing.

Like anything else in marketing, your decisions and the content you create need to be based on data. In this case, that data is your audience research.

The same research that tells you what topics to create, where your audience spends their time, and the content they prefer to view, can clue you into how to make that emotional connection.

You just need to expand your buyer personas.

Infographic of buyer personas and how it relates to emotional marketing.

In this case, you want to build up the psychological profile of your audience. You can achieve this by asking the right questions to help steer your content research and production.

  • What do they find humorous?
  • What are the pain points that frustrate them?
  • What topics make them angry?
  • What are common problems they speak about?
  • What kind of content is being shared that clearly pleases them or brings joy?

Your research could turn up a common topic or theme that appears frequently in the content they read and share.

For example, you might discover that a certain segment or demographic in your audience has a strong affinity to family values, or health and wellness.

Turn that into a content campaign that shares the feel-good side of your company.

Delve into the family life of your employees, how your company supports the work/life balance, or better health initiatives.

This is what Google does brilliantly. Google is well known for its company structure, promoting flexible schedules, support of family time, personal projects, and a focus on work/life balance. The company often shares behind-the-scenes images (visual content) showing off employees enjoying what they do.

Here’s an example from Google Sydney’s offices:

A man and a woman lounging in separate cubicles made out of bamboo trees in the Google office in Sydney.

That can influence a positive emotional response toward the brand when targeted segments see that content.

Emotional Marketing Works in the B2B Process

Don’t get caught up with the dated idea that emotion is only applicable to consumer-focused businesses.

Emotional marketing has its place in the B2B marketing world as well. You may be dealing with a longer buying process between one or more organizations, but the decisions are still made (and fueled by) people who are absolutely driven by emotion.

That includes emotions like:

  • Awe: over what a solution is capable of and feeling empowered to bring that solution to the workplace.
  • Anticipation: in finding a piece of the puzzle in a product or service that will help the company achieve its next goal or milestone.
  • Fear: in purchase decisions that could reflect on the individual, resulting in a personal risk associated with a B2B purchase.
  • Joy: in knowing that a B2B purchase is likely to lead to a positive outcome that will reflect positively on the individual.

Emotion absolutely influences B2B purchases, and in some cases, emotion matters even more than logic and reason.


What is emotional marketing?

Emotional marketing is any marketing campaign or ad or piece of content that primarily uses emotion to elicit a response from the target audience.

What are some good examples of emotional marketing?

There are dozens of good emotional marketing examples from brands. Almost any ad from Apple has an emotional element to it. Dove has created a series of emotional ads. And who can forget Coca-Cola’s emotional Christmas ad?

How do emotions affect your marketing campaign?

Emotions create a deep connection between brands and their target audiences. It makes the campaign more memorable, makes consumers more loyal, and encourages them to take action.


If you can tap into your audience’s emotional response, you have an awesome amount of influence.

Creating great emotional marketing campaigns starts with understanding your audience, and determining their emotional state.

From there, make the decision about whether you need to influence and exploit emotions that are already present, or if you want to create or give rise to emotions the audience wasn’t initially expecting or experiencing.

The best part? When you learn how to leverage that emotion in your content, you will see increases in engagement, social action, and conversions within your funnel.

How do you use emotion in your content and copy?

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