Marketing with Emotion



Emotions are a very primal human trait. While our “instincts,” or urges, keep us alive, emotions are not necessarily related to survival, and they are not easy to define. Susan Krauss Whitbourne, a psychology professor at University of Massachusetts Amherst, defines emotion as “some combination of arousal plus cognitive interpretation.” 1

Most emotions are related to how individuals relate to one another and the world, such as the love a mother feels for her baby, the sorrow a son feels at the passing of his mother, or the anger at a perceived wrong. Thoughts and emotions are closely related to one another and help define an individual’s outlook on the world, and they eventually determine if a person takes action or not.

In 1972 psychologist Paul Eckman proposed that there are six primary human emotions: happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise and disgust. His initial findings were based on his ability to identify emotions on the facial expressions of his test subjects. Later on, he added embarrassment, excitement, contempt, shame, pride, satisfaction, and amusement to the list of primary emotions.

Although his empirical study was somewhat ground breaking, there is still much to be explained about people’s feelings. Human emotion is more complex than simply measuring facial expressions. People rarely experience emotions in isolation, such as pure fear or anger. Most of the time, individuals feel a mix of emotions in varying gradients. For instance, a parent might feel joy, admiration and relief at the news that their son or daughter is graduating from college with honors. Or an individual might feel a wide range of emotions at the news of the death of a loved one, such as surprise, sadness, and guilt.

A study from Berkley identified 27 gradients of emotions2:


























Sexual desire




Connecting to Customers Emotionally

The most powerful stories leverage emotion. They tap into the essence of what it means to be human and invoke emotions in a way that connects with the audience. Emotion exerts such a powerful hold over humans, that they are understood to sometimes be beyond an individual’s ability to control. Even our laws make allowances for behavior that is influenced by extreme emotion combined with a primal urge. Read more about how human urges dynamically effect customer decision-making.

For example, an otherwise gentle father who kills someone in protection of his family; a betrayed lover who kills his rival; a mother stabbing to death a potential rapist; each are treated far differently by the law than if the killings sprung from some other motive, such as theft or betrayal. People hear these horrible stories and empathize. There is near universal recognition that, if faced with similar circumstances, we might have the same reaction. Emotions are shared among all of humanity.

The Most Influential Campaigning       

A quick review of the academic research on emotions, and you will quickly learn psychologists love to split hairs over the exact definition, how many emotions there are and the degree they are experienced by individuals. Some feelings such as relief, guilt, shame, horror, nostalgia, and awe are not fully recognized by the scientific community as “emotions,” but they are still useful for developing stories.

The purpose of learning about emotions is not to definitively detail every possible emotion or deeply understand every nuance. What we are trying to do is have an understanding of generally what emotions are a driving force into human behavior and use them while crafting stories as a way of not only holding the readers interest, but to connect with them on a human level.

Stories that stand the test of time tap into our primal emotions. They don’t just convey information, they connect with readers on a deeper level. Influential stories use our shared humanity to say something memorable. Whether we are aware of them or not, emotions are ever-present, prompting us to act.

One example of a master storyteller is the radio personality Paul Harvey. During his extensive broadcasting career on the segment, The Rest of the Story, he told thousands of mini-stories that touched an entire generation of listeners. Through emotional appeal and an entertaining delivery, he mixed clever storytelling with a unique and interesting speaking style to draw listeners in, and not only educate and inform them, but entertain them in a way that kept them listening to his show for decades. 

As content creators, marketers, and communicators plan a message or campaign, it is helpful to ask questions like, “How does this emotionally connect with the audience?” and “What emotions can we add to help better connect with readers?” Learn more about engaging your target audience, or as I call it, your tribe. 

When I was in grade school my creative writing teacher had a favorite saying for new writers, “Show it. Don’t tell it.” She was trying to help us learn that just telling someone a fact is boring and forgettable, but if you can show it to them, the information is more interesting and memorable. If I could add one small change to the saying, I would say, “Show it with emotion. Don’t just tell it.” Emotion makes all of the difference.

Uncover the secret to creating truly influential brand content. Discover Primal Storytelling™.

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Anthony Butler

Anthony Butler

Anthony Butler is the author of Primal Storytelling and the Founder of Can-Do Ideas

TOPICS: Content Marketing, Writing, Strategy, Primal Storytelling, Story

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