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Emotional tactics tested: Two e-commerce experiments that show the power of emotional marketing

Words by: Lindsay Kwan & Michael St Laurent Last updated: August 27th, 2020 31 min. read

Emotion is paramount in customer experience.

Customers can purchase from your e-commerce site and feel satisfied. And sure, that’s an emotion marketers care about.

But what do your customers care about?

Seeing your e-commerce site through your customer’s eyes is essential in today’s marketplace. You are competing with companies that offer customers a deeper product offering and a frictionless purchase process than most brands ever can.

But an emotionally resonant customer experience involves more than an e-commerce strategy that solves a problem or incorporates a marketing funnel that is easy to navigate.

Of course, these are essential in creating conversions, but are your customers landing on your e-commerce site and thinking this brand really gets me?

That’s the emotional connection that can make all the difference in your customer experience.

Often, this means looking past the one-time metrics like conversion rate and developing predictive models for meaningful customer relationships across the multiple touch points of your business: everything from customer service to merchandising can evoke emotion to encourage brand loyalty.

Unfortunately, that’s where many brands are missing the mark in their e-commerce strategy. For many brands, the starting point is asking: What does a customer’s lifetime value mean for your brand?

On a lifetime value basis, emotionally connected customers are more than twice as valuable as highly satisfied customers. These emotionally connected customers buy more of your products and services, visit you more often, exhibit less price sensitivity, pay more attention to your communications, follow your advice, and recommend you more – everything you hope their experience with you will cause them to do.

Alan Zorfas and Daniel Leemon
in their Harvard Business Review article "An Emotional Connection Matters More than Customer Satisfaction"

So, how can you make emotional marketing a part of your e-commerce strategy?

It’s not enough to know the theory behind emotional marketing. You need to generate data to prove what emotions resonate with your customers. What makes delights and incentivizes your customers to propel them through your funnel. What makes them loyal to your brand.

And that’s really about context—your customer’s emotional needs and states when they decide to buy from your e-commerce site.

In this post, we are going to show you:

  • How in-depth user research can provide insight into your customers and your business context;
  • And how to have a powerful value proposition that evokes the right emotion at the right time in your marketing funnel.

But to align your e-commerce strategy with customers’ emotional contexts, you need to test. You won’t know what works for your customers until you validate your customer insights.

And that’s why we’re also going to show you:

  • How to validate those insights through several real-world e-commerce testing examples.

Emotional marketing: The foundations

First impressions happen quickly. An emotional first impression happens within ⅓ of a second.

If you want your shoppers to connect with your brand, move uninhibited through your funnel, make a purchase, and continue to come back and buy from you, that emotional first impression is super important. As is maintaining emotional relevance throughout the customer experience.

That’s an incredible amount of pressure for a marketer.

Some background…

If this is a new concept for you, you may want some background on emotional marketing. We tackled the topic in these three blog posts:

  1. First, we discussed how customers make buying decisions in “I feel, therefore I buy: How users make buying decisions”;
  2. Then, we explained the theories and importance of creating emotionally relevant experiences for your shopper in “How to create emotionally relevant marketing experiences for your shoppers”;
  3. And in our most recent post, we take a tactical look at how to create those experiences in “A tactical guide to creating emotional connections with your customers”.

These posts show why your customers make buying decisions based on emotions in different buying contexts and what incentivizes your customer emotionally to act.


Analyzing customer experiences through the Limbic lens

The Limbic model analysis provides more than a contextual understanding of the customer; it also provides a psychological understanding of what incentivizes and delights your customers at every point in their journey.

Matt Wright
WiderFunnel emotional marketing strategy using the Limbic® model
The Limbic map showcases human motives, desires and values as they relate to one another.

At WiderFunnel, we use a framework called the Limbic® model to pinpoint customer emotion. The model reveals the different emotional systems that exist in a person’s mind, how these systems interact in the brain, and how they influence (shopping) behavior.

The three emotional systems

  • The Stimulance emotional system, which aims to discover new things and learn new skills. This part of the brain is triggered by novelty, curiosity, change, surprise, and excitement. This system avoids boredom but is drawn to new sensations.
  • The Dominance emotional system, which focuses on performance, self-assertion, the suppression of competition, and achieving status, power, and autonomy. This system’s desire is pride or a feeling of victory. And it’s aversion is anger, rage and powerlessness.
  • The Balance emotional system, which is motivated by risk avoidance, and stability. This area may be triggered by fear and anxiety, but it is also associated with harmony and conformity, as it seeks security.

Each emotional system is present in each of us—but to varying degrees. Most people align with one or more of these three systems.


Understanding a customer by the emotional system which prompts their decisions means that you can design marketing experiences that effectively resonate with your audience on an emotional level.

Emotional Systems - WiderFunnel
We’re always considering the different rewards and punishments, desires and aversions, for the three emotional systems when we ideate our experiments.

Gathering customer insights to leverage in your e-commerce testing strategy

What was once a strategic advantage is now a necessary part of every business decision. What was once a function of a specialized few employees, is now being democratized and spread out across all departments and roles throughout organizations.

The challenges companies are facing have transitioned from convincing teams and stakeholders of the importance of customer experience (CX) research to finding ways to effectively integrate continuous human insights into daily processes.” – In UserTesting’s CX Goes Mainstream: The Customer Experience Industry Report, 2018

It’s not easy to create an emotional customer experience on your e-commerce site:

  • How do you do it?
  • What emotion(s) should you evoke?
  • When should you evoke them?
  • How can you evoke them?

The emotion behind your customer experience depends on the business context, their reason for buying, and what how you address the customer’s pain points.

Two ways to gather customer insights

In the explore phase of the Infinity Optimization Process, you gather insights and information that can help you understand your customer’s emotional needs and desires through both qualitative and quantitative research:

  • Customer research: Deep exploration into what compels your customer to seek out your solution, with a focus on pinpointing the customer’s emotional needs and desires.
  • Experimentation: Within a customer touchpoint (your website, your app, your retail store) you can validate customer insights for your business context by testing how they behave in your experience.

Let’s first look at customer research.

Customer research tools are abundant today. You might conduct surveys, gathering qualitative information about your customers’ desires and emotions when seeking out a solution like your own.

Or, you could conduct a usability lab, observing and gaining understanding about how a customer behaves in a certain context.

At WiderFunnel, we also use tools that track eye movement and engagement. They demonstrate customer behaviors in a marketing experience.

Knowing the situations and circumstances in which users will be visiting your website is valuable. Consider possible emotions that might be involved, and find out which role you and your users play. Be aware that knowing the context of use will make it easier for you to understand your users the moment they visit your website.

Sabina Idler

Another way you can gather insights is through customer interviews. With our clients, we often conduct deep-dive analyses of their customer’s emotional needs and desires.

This gathering of “thick data” allows us to identify the possible emotions that compel a customer to act in a particular business context.

It’s not a simple task to know what to ask, and when to ask, and how to analyze responses in this type of interview. Customer experience experts can turn immense amounts of data into simple customer insights. Customer insights that can be tested.

The secret is to ask the right kinds of questions: Whom were they with when they last used your product? What was the occasion? What were the benefits they sought? What were the trade-offs they made? Did the product make them feel satisfied or good about themselves? Or did it make them feel upset, guilty, or angry?

Michael J. Silverstein, Dylan Bolden, Rune Jacobsen, Rohan Sajdeh
in The Boston Consulting Group’s book, "Rocket: Eight Lessons to Secure Infinite Growth"

In a recent example, we talked to several ideal and actual customers of a client and learned that the Dominant emotional system was prevalent among them. This is the system that drives customers to win, achieve, and seek out exclusive experiences.

In other words, they want access to unique offerings. They want to feel special.

A customer insight like this can influence how you frame your value proposition. It can provide insight into how to align your e-commerce marketing strategy with your customer’s emotions.

But, of course, customer insights are only theoretical until proven in your business context.

The next step is to develop a hypothesis around which emotional relevance aligns with your customers, and test it.

Let’s look at a few examples!

Further resources


How to leverage emotional marketing in your e-commerce experimentation:

Fear of missing out. Anxiety. Trust. Urgency.

These are emotions that we test with our clients’ shoppers on the regular.

As you read above, we gained insight for the customers of one client, that they would respond to an alignment with the Dominance emotional system, with its focus on winning and achievement.

But we also analyzed the business context and realized that it evoked the Stimulant emotional system; they had a unique and novel product offering, that focused on interesting experiences and social activity. The Stimulant emotional system, afterall, evokes curiosity, excitement, and surprise.

So, we developed emotion-based hypotheses to drive sales and customer acquisition on their website.

An e-commerce testing strategy that evokes the Dominant emotional system

On the client’s website, when a visitor clicked on a product image with an intent to buy, they wouldn’t see further product information or check-out funnel. Instead, they saw a pop-up window urging them to sign-up before they could obtain product pricing details.

The copy on the pop-up read:

Sign up for full access to our site: unlimited search and pricing for the best products in the world.


The experience was certainly inciting emotion, but was it positive emotion? The sign-up step pointed to several emotions:

  • Risk aversion (or security and safety): Buyers need to be assured that this is a brand they can trust and that the product they want will be delivered as promised.
  • Effort anxiety: Buyers naturally evaluate whether the effort of filling out forms or “joining the club” is worth the return that is positioned in the company’s value proposition. (See “Anxiety Attacks!”)
  • Frustration: Buyers, looking for product information (particularly pricing) in order to complete their purchase, may feel frustrated at the gated content. In this case, their check-out is interrupted by the pop-up window.

Digging in, it was clear that the e-commerce site evoked high-arousal emotions. For one, anxiety and frustration are conversion inhibitors. These emotions detract from the flow of your funnel, and can cause visitors to drop off or abandon your cart.

Because customers’ expectations are so reasonable, they tend to experience strong, negative emotions when these expectations are not met.

WiderFunnel Optimization Strategist, Dennis Pavlina, had a few questions about the e-commerce experience, like:

  • Are visitors unsure of what product information and prices they will receive for signing up for the club?
  • Are visitors lacking confidence they are making a solid decision because the value proposition isn’t clearly communicated?
  • Are visitors anxious over providing their personal information when there is not a clear exchange?
  • Does the messaging provide enough emotional alignment for a visitor to complete process?

Ultimately, Dennis wanted to know: Would confirming that the visitor will receive pricing information for the product they are interested in relieve anxiety and increase motivation to sign up?

Of course, as any good marketer knows, you can also use anxiety in your favor.

By framing the value proposition of the e-commerce brand differently through copy, and evoking the right emotions in a timely fashion through color, design choices, usability and other emotional tactics, Dennis was able to switch these high-arousal emotions to facilitate conversions.

You can test using anxiety as motivation by framing your benefits as loss avoidance. What would your prospect lose out on by not purchasing your product or service?” explains Chris Goward, in his book, “You Should Test That!

You create external urgency with the offers you show to prospects. Giving them a reason and emotional pull to buy now will lift your conversion rates.

So, anxiety can be reframed urgency and achievement. When the value proposition clearly states the benefits of buying from the brand, and visitors see a time-limited offering, they feel an urgency in completing the process. (In this case, signing up!)

And frustration can be re-conceived as an incentive to complete the call to action, by evoking the right emotion at the right time in the check-out funnel to encourage buyers to complete the forms.

To reframe the e-commerce brand’s value proposition, Dennis tested two variations of the pop-up copy.

WiderFunnel Emotion Marketing Tactics Tested
The value proposition needs to align with the vistor’s emotional needs and states. Variation A was designed to address these.

Variation A featured the message:

Find the lowest price.

  • Join for exclusive access to the lowest prices on the best products on the market.
  • Pricing on over 91,000 sought-after products.
  • Direct links to retailers or purchase now online.


The key messages were written to reduce visitor anxiety over what they will get when they sign up, and improve the clarity of the value proposition.

WiderFunnel Emotional Marketing Tactics Tested
Variation B addressed the Dominance emotional system by focusing on the exclusivity of membership.

Variation B featured the messages:

Unlock the lowest price.

  • Join the club to unlock the lowest prices for this product.
  • Pricing on over 91,000 sought-after products.
  • Direct links to retailers or purchase now online.


The message triggers the emotions of accomplishing something unique, of gaining special access. And the verb “unlock” in the messaging was meant to elicit a feeling of achievement.

The message clearly communicated the client’s value proposition of unique offerings and a valuable price. And the “lowest price” messaging reduced the perceived risk of joining “the club”.

Both Variation A and B were crafted to appeal to the Dominance emotional system, which strives to win and desires exclusivity and achievement, but in slightly different ways. (That’s why you need to test! There’s more than one way to evoke an emotion.)

Let’s find out which version was more successful.

The results

Both variations increased conversions, demonstrating that highlighting the value proposition helped to reduce anxiety over signing up. More people now knew what to expect.

But the headline of “Find the lowest price” strongly resonated with this client’s visitors.

With Variation A, the clicks to close the pop-up window were reduced by -51.3%.

And the number of subscribers increased by +29.2%.

Just as important as the conversion rate, is the insight into customers’ motivations and emotional values. This client learned that triggering the Dominance emotional system in ways that reduce visitor anxiety and perceived risk was highly effective.

And this is an insight that can be applied to future experiments.

2. Another e-commerce experimentation strategy to evoke the Dominant emotional system.

In a recent test with a different client, Mike St. Laurent, WiderFunnel Optimization Strategist, tested an “exclusivity” angle for an investment media company.

The company specializes in investment tips and stories, so their main key performance indicator (KPI) for experimentation is driving paid customer subscriptions.

The original page featured all subscription options next to a confusing graph on the right. (Mike asked: Does this bring clarity or relevance to the visitor?) The page also didn’t have a headline to draw attention to the company’s value proposition.

When we analyzed Wealthsimple’s website, we identified that “investing,” in their unique context, triggers the Balance emotional system.

And that is true for many investors—the Balance emotional system desires safety and security. It is risk-averse; stress and uncertainty inhibit action when the Balance emotional system is triggered.

But we needed to test to identify what value proposition would work and to see how the customer’s emotional needs and desires could align with this business context. And because of the customer insights gained through earlier user research, Mike had a suspicion that designing an experience triggering the Balance emotional system wouldn’t work.

When the fear-producing message describes danger but the audience is not told of clear, specific, effective means of reducing the danger, they may deal with the fear by “blocking out” the message of denying that it applies to them,” explains Noah J. Goldstein, Steve J. Martin and Robert B. Cialdini in the book, “Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Persuasive”.

As a consequence, they may be indeed paralyzed into taking no action at all.

So, Mike wanted to trigger the Dominant emotional system, a suitable tactic based on our earlier customer research into equity investments.

We discovered that the visitors were actually more like Type A bulls rather than balanced, family folk. They want unique and bullish investment tips so that they can “outperform” the market and have a sense of “winning”.

That’s because the Dominant emotional system desires victory and achievement, and so these emotions could be framed as motivators. So, Mike asked the questions:

  • How can we clarify the value proposition to align with the emotional needs of the customer when they are looking for investment tips?
  • How can we ensure that visitors emotionally connect with the offering?

To do this, his team designed several variations with isolated changes against the Control, all aimed at gathering the customer insights.

In Variation A, the headline read:

Get Access to the Latest Investment Tips


This headline message was meant to drive a fear of missing out. In this example, fear is framed as loss aversion and scarcity (of investment tips), directing the visitor towards the call to action as a way of relieving that anxiety.

Rather than detracting from the experience, anxiety and urgency propel the visitor forward in the funnel. In contrast to the original page which lacked a headline message, each variation had a different juxtapositioned graphic or chart.

WiderFunnel Emotional Marketing Tactics Tested
Can an image of the founders evoke trust and reduce distraction? In Variation A, we put these to the test!

Variation A featured the two founders of the company on a blank background and aimed to reduce distraction. The subscription box, with all five levels of acccess, was highlighted in grey against a white background, designed to clarify the call to action.

WiderFunnel Emotional Marketing Tactics Tested
In Variation B, Mike focused on the company founders’ image along with a highlighted level of access available with subscription.

Variation B featured the same founders’ image on the right with a focus on one subscription level of access. It also featured a variation of the headline:

Get the Latest Investment Tips


In Variation C, Mike featured a climbing chart (instead of the image of the founders) and the highlighted subscription level of access that we saw in Variation B.

WiderFunnel Emotional Marketing Tactics Tested
Variation C aimed to align with the Dominant emotional system by featuring a climbing graph, eliciting feelings of “winning”.

The climbing chart triggers the Dominant emotional system, with its clear focus on winning investment tips in the chart’s visualization of dollar-value growth.

And Variation D featured a variation of the headline. It read:

Get Access to the Latest Investment Tips


The highlighted subscription level of access was juxtaposed with the image of the two founders (again building trust), against a bright blue background.

WiderFunnel Emotional Marketing Tactics Tested
Variation D highlighted the founders’ faces against a blue background, evoking a brand for every investor.

In actual fact, Mike wanted to create even more of an exclusive angle by featuring the founders on a black and gold background⸺both colors are conventionally associated in marketing psychology with prestige.

These conventional associations align with the Dominant emotional system, and signal that a subscription is something elite, unique, and highly desired.

But because the brand is focused on appealing to every investor, they chose a blue background instead⸺evoking trust, inclusivity, and security. All emotions associated with the Balance system.

It may be cliche to assume that the color blue, often associated with calm and relaxation, reassures the visitor. But this might have only worked when combined with the trust gained by the founder’s faces.

In addition, blue attracts the eye, making the sign-up more of a focal point.

The results

When we looked at the results, Variation A, the version with the founders against a white background, actually decreased transactions by -12.2% against the Control.

Variation B with the founder’s faces against the white background and the sole option for a subscription, when tested against Variation A decreased transactions by -7.2%.

But we also gained the insight that the customer do want choice; they want to be able to see the differences between the subscription packages and ensure that they are making the right decision.

When compared with the variations featuring the founder’s image, Variation C, the version with the climbing chart, increased transactions by +19.1%. This version focused on the upward momentum of the subscriber’s investment. The subscriber, in this variation, sees that they were in a position to win big, with help from the client’s investment tips.

And Variation D, with the founders against the blue background, increased conversions by +23% against Variation B.

Mike was clearly on to something…

One of the two differences between Variation B and Variation D was the blue background, highlighting how different elements can contribute to the emotional relevance of the experience.

This test may have appealed more broadly to the Balance emotional system, with the focus on safety and security.

Variation D also featured a variation of the headline—instead of “get” the latest investment tips, visitors could opt to “get access” to the latest investment tips, evoking the Dominant emotional system.

However, all four of the variations weren’t clear winners.

Variation A and C both evoked some elements of the Dominant emotional system in its copy (“Get the latest investment tips!”), it also evoked the Balance emotional system through its blue color choice (calm, assurance and other low-arousal emotions) and in incorporating the founder’s faces (building trust, reliability).

Variation C incorporated several elements that evoked the Dominant emotional system: the “get access” call-to-action copy and the climbing chart appealing to the desire to win and achieve. The customer was motivated by their FOMO on the financial gains that the client clearly demonstrated with the climbing chart.

Instead of a paralyzing emotion, fear was framed as an incentive to act. Rather, visitors felt a fear of missing out.

Because these variations provided insight into what would motivate the customer in this business context, our strategist compiled some of the key learnings from this test and created a new test.

The new variation featured the climbing chart, the blue background and the subscription package options. which resulted in a +14.45% lift.

Because different elements will trigger different emotions and lead to different results.

You can’t predict what your customers will do with certainty. There’s no guesswork. The data speaks for your customer—their emotional needs and states, their preference for an emotionally relevant experience.

Further resources


If anything, remember “You Should Test That!”

Emotions can drive and inhibit conversions. But you won’t know until you test.

The emotional relevance of your marketing experience depends on your business context, your customer’s pain points, the framing of the emotion, and many other factors.

But with intentional testing and crafting of the customer experience, you can build an emotionally relevant e-commerce strategy, so that your brand drives customer loyalty, where repeat customers propel your success.

It will create that crucial first impression, but as you get more and more insights from your experimentation program, you’ll be able to apply these learnings deeper and deeper into your funnel.

What is your biggest challenge in leveraging emotional marketing tactics? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

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