People are emotional beings.
It’s biological. We’ve evolved this way.
We are driven by our search for pleasure, seeking out experiences that release dopamine — a neurotransmitter — making us feel rewarded.
And we are driven by risk avoidance. We want to feel safe and secure. We want to avoid any threat, however small.
In a marketing context, emotions underlie all decision-making. People make buying decisions unconsciously — based on gut-level reactions. Not the rational processes that society has long believed. It’s been scientifically proven.
Of course, it’s one thing to acknowledge the power of emotions in your customers’ decision-making processes. But how do you act on that knowledge?
In the test-and-learn realm of data-driven marketers, emotion can be a powerful source of marketing hypotheses. Marketing hypotheses — when they are validated through experimentation — can lead to deeper insights about your customer’s unconscious motivators.
And with that knowledge, you can create marketing experiences that truly resonate.
In this post, we are going to show you what emotional marketing looks like and feels like, based on the research that exists. We are going to demonstrate how you can create emotional connections with your customers throughout your funnel using a real-world example.
You’ll walk away with a tactical overview of what elements and principles to test as you strive to consistently create an emotionally relevant customer experience.
A quick theoretical recap
A few months ago, we published the post, “How to create emotionally relevant marketing experiences for your shoppers,” where we first introduced the Limbic® model, the framework we use at WiderFunnel to develop experiments that are focused on customer emotion.
Before we dive into the tactics, here’s a quick recap of that framework.
The Limbic® model is one of the world’s best-founded approaches for understanding the emotional systems of your customers.
Developed by the German research group, Gruppe Nymphenburg, it is based on the latest findings across a variety of disciplines that include neuroanatomy, evolutionary biology, neurochemistry, and psychology.
The Limbic model reveals the different emotional systems that exist in your customer’s head, how these systems interact in the brain, and how they influence (shopping) behavior. These systems include:
- The Stimulance 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 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 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.
At the center of the Limbic model is the Limbic® map. All human motives, desires, and values can be represented and related to one another within this map.
Each emotional system is present in each of us, but to varying degrees. Most people are dominated by one of the three systems.
The Limbic model allows you to categorize a target customer segment by psychographic profile, rather than just demographics or geographics.
Digging deeper into the main emotional systems, you’ll notice that there are seven defined Limbic® types based on the emotional values illustrated on the Limbic map: Adventurer, Performer, Disciplinarian, Traditionalist, Harmonizer, Open-Minded, and Hedonist.
Understanding a customer audience by Limbic type means that you can design marketing experiences that effectively resonate with this audience on an emotional level.
To dig into the theory behind emotionally relevant marketing at WiderFunnel, you can access this webinar recording with examples of how to connect with your customer’s emotional motivations.
We aren’t going to get into how to identify your target audience’s dominant emotional system in this post. If you want more details on that process, visit this page.
Here, we’re going to look at what to do once you’ve identified your customers’ emotional motivators: The different tactics that evoke these these emotional systems.
How to create an emotional first impression
Have you ever found yourself on a website or in a store and thought, “I like this. This feels like me”?
There’s something about the first impression. Something about the design – the colors, the copy, the images – that just speaks to you.
It’s your style. It has your kind of products.
You want to make sure you can find it again so you bookmark it. And you just have to buy something – anything – because it is so much like you.
This reaction is quick. It happens in as little as 1/3 of a second. And it makes it highly likely that you will return again.
In his book, Emotional Design: Why we love (or hate) everyday things, Donald Norman describes this immediate reaction as emotional design at the visceral level.
Norman describes emotional design as actually having three levels:
- The visceral level, which focuses on the look-and-feel of the design (the first impression);
- The behavioral level, which focuses on the pleasure derived from the design’s usability;
- And the reflective level, which contemplates the entire experience with the design in order to make a judgment.
“A person interprets an experience at many levels, but what appeals at one may not appeal at another,” explains Norman. “A successful design has to appeal at all levels.”
And this is true for web design as well.
You want to guide your customers through your funnel in a way that creates a lasting connection and motivates them to return. Customer loyalty is built on emotionally relevant experiences.
Let’s look at some of the elements that can create this emotional first impression.
1. Color: Did you know we actually feel it?
Colors are the first thing we’ll remember about an item, followed by its graphics, numbers, and eventually, words. That means, if you want your brand to be memorable online, making the right color choice is absolutely crucial.
Colors are one of the most talked about aspects of marketing psychology.
At the most basic level of color psychology, we know certain hues evoke certain feelings. For instance, blue is often associated with peace, relaxation, and trust. In contrast, yellow, the other primary color, is associated with creativity, optimism and happiness. And red is associated with power, passion, and love – but it also incites anxiety.
But color psychology goes even deeper because colors can vary within the hue. They can be light or dark. They can be bright or muted. They can be warm or cool.
Color causes two reactions in a person. It can arouse, creating energy through increased adrenaline and higher blood pressure. And it can also please – an evaluative reaction – as you reflect on whether you like or dislike a certain hue. This second reaction is based on preference, but it is also influenced by experience, culture, and context.
Cool colors decrease arousal whereas warm colors increase arousal. That’s why red is associated with energetic emotions, while blue is associated with calmer emotions. Because of these nuances, the colors you use need to be suitable to the experience.
“Cool colors encourage relaxation, so people will want to spend more time shopping. They’ll also perceive a shorter wait at checkout,” says Nick Kolenda, marketing psychology expert. “But high arousal can spur action — like impulse buying.”
When color arouses, it decreases the brain’s ability to rationalize. So, it is more suited for inciting action. But this arousal also makes time seem to lag. So, if you have a longer check-out process, it may feel even longer if your design features warmer hues.
When you are looking to experiment with the basics of color psychology, consider the effect of colors on different pages and elements within your funnel. What color scheme will encourage patience in your visitor? What color scheme will incite action when needed?
These questions can be the basis of insightful hypotheses.
Let’s look at a real-life example.
An example: Color-usage on Wealthsimple.com
Wealthsimple, a Toronto-based company, seems to really know their customers. Looking at their website, you can tell that they’re targeting a certain type of investor. Someone who understands that investing is a smart thing to do, and who wants to grow their wealth without investing too much of their own time.
“We’re on a mission to bring smarter financial services to everybody, regardless of age or net worth,” states their CEO, Michael Katchen.
So, they created a product to simplify the process of investing. And they employed a variety of emotional marketing tactics to appeal to different types of investors.
Based on an informal analysis of their website, our experts believe that Wealthsimple is probably targeting a younger clientele (millennials). It is highly likely that this target audience will resonate with experiences that evoke the Stimulant emotional system.
But the financial focus of Wealthsimple is actually triggering the Balance emotional system because investing your own money is an inherently risky activity.
Note: We have not conducted an official analysis of Wealthsimple’s target customer. This profile is assumptive.
Looking at the Wealthsimple homepage
Imagining you’re a first-time visitor to the Wealthsimple website, you will either resonate with the colors, imagery and copy at a visceral level – if the experience matches your emotional profile. Or, you’ll be repelled and move on to one of the company’s many competitors.
Wealthsimple’s homepage is almost entirely white with charcoal text and an orange call-to-action button. These colors ensure clarity and calm, with an emphasis on where the customer can choose to act.
The colors evoke the Balance emotional system, whose Limbic types are generally risk-averse, with an emphasis on stability and harmony. And the message “Take care of yourself” reinforces these emotions.
But a subtle energy might incite this risk-averse type of person to click on that call-to-action button. That’s the power of color.
Wealthsimple also uses color to create distinct experiences for two customer segments. Wealthsimple Black, a separate website section, is geared toward wealthier investors who contribute over $100,000 towards their account.
This is not a new tactic. But it is an effective one. It just feels like VIP service. And that’s what they intended.
Using color and imagery on this separate page, Wealthsimple is triggering the Dominance emotional system, with its focus on performance, self-assertion, and achieving status.
“One really interesting activity is stepping back and saying, “Not all my customers are the same. Who are my most valuable customers? And why are they my more valuable customers?” explains Matt Wright, WiderFunnel’s UX Research Manager.
For Wealthsimple, they seem to want to accommodate two different types of investors, with color playing an important role in that differentiation.
- Nick Kolenda’s Enormous Guide to Color Psychology
2. Creating emotionally relevant copy
As any good brand marketer will tell you, it is important to keep your messaging aligned and consistent so that it continues to resonate with your ideal customer throughout your marketing.
Coupled with the visual elements of design, emotionally relevant copy sends the message home. (Pun intended). So, what does emotionally relevant copy look like?
Your offering includes tangible things – your features and benefits. But there are also intangibles, like your story, your ability to make a connection. Things like trust and truth.
It’s these intangible offerings that can play a big role in emotional marketing messaging.
Your prospects feel intangible benefits at an emotional level. These intangibles include many aspects of your company, products, and services beyond your tangible features. They include the feelings your service evokes and personal characteristics attributed to your brand.
Let’s look at some copy-oriented tactics that you can use to form your next experiment hypotheses.
Building trust with key messages
When it comes to emotional marketing, you want to trigger positive emotions. That’s a no-brainer, right? But you also need to neutralize negative emotion.
As I mentioned, people are naturally risk averse, even if they’re dominated by the Dominance or Stimulant emotional systems. And if your audience leans more towards the Balance emotional system, trust becomes a major factor.
One of the greatest barriers to e-commerce adoption is lack of trust, so if you wish to be influential online, it is vital that you earn the trust of your users by taking concrete steps to assuage their fears.
Even if the “risk” is something intangible like a negative emotional experience, people will try to avoid the threat at all costs.
Let’s look at Wealthsimple, again. Loss of money. Fraudulent agencies. Anxiety over a new way of investing. These are high arousal emotions. But Wealthsimple tries to anticipate their customer’s need to avoid risk. And they justify it with calculated copy.
They use social proof: “Over 40,000 people trust $1 billion with Wealthsimple companies.”
They use big numbers: “Up to $1,000,000 CIPF protected and your money is protected by bank-level security.”
They name names and use “secure” sounding words: “CIPF protected and bank-level encryption”
It almost doesn’t matter if they provide the explanatory link in the above statement. You’ll still likely feel more secure, because the explanation itself feels more reliable.
A simple message, like “#1 in customer satisfaction” or “more safety features than any car in its class” will go farther in steering the consumer down the intuitive decision path. After all, if the car I’m buying is #1 in customer satisfaction, do I really need to sweat the details? Maybe not. An even simpler approach is a nonverbal emotional appeal, such as showing the car in a setting that exudes wealth, glamour and luxury.
“When an argument contains any justification, we mindlessly assume that the justification is valid (so we’re more persuaded by it),” explains Nick Kolenda.
Our Marketing Manager, Natasha Wahid, actually explored the power of the word ‘because’ in our post on words that convert for this very reason. Because the word “because” naturally precedes a justification.
Of course, the copy you use to emphasize your business’ trustworthiness needs to be considered carefully. It should be tested and validated.
Because even the best tactics can feel forced and fall flat with your customers. The best way to build a meaningful relationship with your customers is to let them judge what works best.
And they’ll trust you more for it.
- Numerical Messaging: How to use pricing psychology to motivate your shoppers
- Copywriting: 59 words and phrases that convert (and how to use ‘em)
- Messaging: How to get your users to take action with compliance gaining
A call to action you can be proud of
You can safely assume that the primary goal with the Wealthsimple web experience is customer acquisition, getting people to sign up for their service. They direct all of their on-screen marketing — color, messaging, graphics — to get the visitor to click that button that reads…
It’s a simple call to action. And it’s consistent throughout the experience. At the bottom of every key message. At the top of every page. Until you click the button.
You can do all of the copy testing you want to on your website, but if your primary call-to-action isn’t directly aligned with the goals that are most valuable to your business, you could be missing opportunities.
As previously discussed, Wealthsimple most likely chose the call to action button color because it is warm and arousing. But they also use specific techniques to associate the call to action of “Start investing” with actually being smart.
The key message that it’s smart to invest is emphasized through subtle repetition. On the homepage alone (even though it is light on copy), Wealthsimple uses three variations of the word “smart”:
- The smartest thing to do.
- The world’s smartest investors.
- Make one smart decision.
Nathalie Nahai writes, “If self-esteem can be gained through a sense of achievement, give your clients some calls to action that they’ll feel good about.”
Achievement is a positive emotion. It activates the dopamine system so you feel rewarded for acting. Clicking that button starts to feel like the smartest thing to do. It’s something you can feel good about.
- Nathalie Nahai’s “The Psychology of Successful Products” (video)
3. Leveraging multimedia storytelling to create emotional connections
Because Wealthsimple wants to connect with their audience — presumably a younger audience — they use the (social) media that their ideal customers are using. And they connect with people through imagery and video storytelling.
Top of the Wealthsimple homepage. (Top of mind.) We see a recognizable face in a film – the celebrity Aubrey Plaza, who is both relatable and representative of their ideal customer.
It’s surprising to see her in this context. It’s a novelty to see celebrities talk about managing their own money. Let alone a comedian.
The videos likely trigger the Stimulant emotional system because they are creative, fun and even funny. You’re curious to see what Aubrey will say next.
“There’s so many feelings wrapped around money. Shame, jealousy, greed,” Aubrey says. “But you know, I think it’s good to talk about, because the more you talk about things the less power things have, you know.”
Not only do the videos feature people that Wealthsimple’s ideal customer probably knows and recognizes, they are also people that their customers want to relate to. (They call the video series #InvestingForHumans.)
And these celebrities are sharing real-world experiences, challenges and feelings, identifying potential customers’ pain points as if right on cue.
Far from being a passive process, storytelling is a joint action, in which the speaker literally tries to get us on the same wavelength. This explains how great orators can rouse entire nations into committing acts of incredible violence or great love.
Cool influencer faces and voices appeal to the Stimulant emotional system, while their stories motivate because they trigger the Balance emotional system: Stories of jealousy. Single motherhood. Poverty. Shame. Making ends meet. Grief and loss. Even simpler emotions like uncertainty over not knowing how to manage their money.
These emotions and emotional experiences that are recounted in the videos are strong motivators to earn, save, invest.
(Remember, all three emotional systems are present in us at all times. So, even if the target customer is dominated by the Stimulant emotional system, the basic need for financial well-being triggers the Balance emotional system.)
The stories show you the risks inherent with a lack of money and drive you towards financial freedom. You want to feel what it would be like to not worry about money. You want to afford to spend your money on the people you love.
To create a lasting emotional connection with your customers, you should consider all of the tactics outlined above, from your usage of color, to messaging, to featured influencers.
But usability also creates a lasing emotional impression.
“Usage is the critical test of a product,” explains Donald Norman. “All that matters is how well the product performs, how comfortable the person using it feels with the operation. A frustrated user is not a happy one so it is at the behavioral stage of design that applying the principles of human-centered design pay off.”
One way to make sure that the usability of your website is focused on the visitors themselves is to test it. Experiment. Continuously optimize your experience to reduce any frustration visitors may encounter.
Understanding how usability influences emotion
Once a visitor connects with the overall look and feel of your website, they move forward in your funnel, clicking on your buttons and searching for information. Is the information they’re looking for readily available? Is the navigation causing anxiety? Your website’s usability is a component of behavioral design.
“If your website is really hard to use, people will have poor associations with it. They will even associate it with other frustrating websites that they may have used in the past,” explains Matt Wright.
Here are a few things to consider to improve the usability of your experience and increase the emotional relevance of your funnel.
Increase processing fluency
Returning to our Wealthsimple example, they take pains to direct visitors towards the call to action. So, the mental effort required to complete the task is lowered. There is a levvel of processing fluency.
There are few extra distractions on the Wealthsimple page. Completing the task feels easy. Low effort. Even automated.
It makes wealth management seem simple.
With a minimalist website design, carefully chosen graphics and fonts, and a clear pathway through links, the time it takes to process information is lowered. And, in turn, the experience is less anxiety-provoking, less frustrating, because it clearly shows what the website is about and what the visitor can (and should) do.
One way to achieve a high processing fluency is with semantic priming. For instance, if you want your visitor to think of health, you may prime them with an image of a doctor in their lab coat.
Wealthsimple introduces simple animations. A coin rolls down into a slot and up pops three more. The visitor sees that if they invest money, they make money.
It’s really simple:
Reduced time and effort to process the information = High processing fluency = More pleasing experience
When an experience is highly fluent, a customer finds what they need quickly and easily. And they understand why your company solves their problem.
When in doubt, keep your design standard
Visitors are accustomed to a standard website design – how to navigate the site, where buttons should be, where to find more information such as the contact us page. These mental models allow visitors to interact with a website’s pages intuitively. Scrolling and clicking without interruption.
When designers go against the grain, they may be doing the visitor a disservice. After all, it’s not about the design – it’s about the visitor and their experience.
Product filters. Search bars. Easy-to-redeem promotions. If you don’t make it easy for your visitor, you won’t be able to retain their attention. They’ll drop off mid-funnel.
In fact, when Matt, our UX Research Manager, checked out the Wealthsimple website, this was one of his frustrations.
Once he clicked the “Start investing” button, he was propelled forward in the funnel to an initial sign-up form.
And then he felt stuck.
He had to look around for a way to get out. If he wanted to review key information about the service, he would have too proceed back to the previous page. And when he finally found out how to return (click the top left-hand logo), it felt un-intuitive. It felt frustrating.
You might be thinking: well, you’d want visitors to sign-up, you don’t want them to go backwards in the funnel. And that’s true. But “trapping” visitors in the funnel may cause anxiety. You are taking away the element of choice.
Instead, you should focus on optimizing your experience so that it is super easy for your visitors to actually use.
Lower cognitive load
People get anxious about their privacy when too much information is required. The more fields in your form, the higher the likelihood for error. And it takes time and energy to fill them out.
The mental effort is actually termed cognitive load. It can be a challenge when you are trying to guide a visitor through the check-out process. Every marketer knows that customers are quick to abandon carts and sign-up forms.
In our experience, people don’t have a lot of patience for lengthy sign-up processes. If they make an error, they need to be able to recover quickly or they will likely click to a new page. As you experiment with a form, keep this principle of design in mind.
Don’t underestimate the confusion that forms can cause for your prospects. As a sophisticated web user, you’re accustomed to forms and their purpose. You probably spend most of your day online. But think about all the other types of people who will be using your forms: plumbers, teachers, doctors, taxi drivers, waiters, and symphony bassoonists. Many of them won’t be nearly as comfortable online as you are. Help your prospects avoid errors to reduce form anxiety for them and start the relationship more amicably.
When it comes to cognitive load, you may want to test breaking down a task (like filling out a long form) into simple steps.
And it helps if you let your visitor know truthfully where they are in the process. (There’s nothing more frustrating than hearing, “You are almost there!” when you are not.)
Make the process delightful to inspire your visitors to move through the steps. Test out ways to trigger the different emotional systems. Incorporate something novel, something unique to drive their curiosity throughout the funnel.
And when they are done, congratulate them! This activates the dopamine system. They’ll feel accomplished. They’ll feel a small victory.
They will find the experience pleasing.
Remember that context is key
How are your most valuable visitors using your site? Context is key when you are trying to meet your customer where they are at, when they need to know about your company, and provide a seamless, delightful emotional experience.
Technology is enabling a different type of relationship with customers. There’s an “always on” mantra that we have with technology that creates many touchpoints. And because of that, the customer experience is changing. The focus on “customer-first” is changing. And when you really start putting the customer at the centre, that’s when emotion becomes important.
People are accessing websites on many devices including their computers, tablets, and mobile phones. In fact, people are increasingly on the move, searching for information in the moment. Or they’re swiping through social media while on their commute.
Mobile is a state of being, a context, a verb, not a device. When your users are on mobile, they are in a different context, a different environment, with different needs.
The Wealthsimple website is clearly optimized for the mobile user. It’s evidence that they are targeting an ideal customer, one that is attached to their device. One that would seek out information about investing on their phone.
Wealthsimple is active on social media. A potential customer might be swiping through their Instagram feed when they happily come across the latest video of Alex Karpovsky from the popular TV show, Girls, and click through to the site.
“You can create congruence [between emotions and your product or service] by either crafting emotional messages within your marketing, or looking for existing emotional contexts (like a Spotify playlist or Instagram feed) in which to place your marketing,” explains Nick Kolenda.
Create a delightful experience for your visitors
The thing with usability is that when you are doing it right, your visitor won’t even notice. Their experience won’t be interrupted. They won’t be frustrated, stalled, or stuck. So, how do you make the experience memorable?
“We want to be engaged, have fun and be entertained. This engagement could take the form of playing, interaction or personalization of content. We love customizing things; we can spend hours playing social games online; and we welcome any entertaining video that crosses our path, right?” explains Sabrina Idler in her article “Not Just Pretty: Building Emotion into your Websites.”
One way to do this is to enable your visitor to customize their experience. Test personalized recommendations. Experiment with gamification. Even personality-based quizzes could possibly lead to interesting customer insights.
Find out what makes it delightful for your visitors to use your site. These types of interactions allow the visitor the ability to follow their curiosity and go deeper into the experience.
And the more creative and engaging your experience is, the more it will stand out in your visitor’s memory.
In our example, Wealthsimple utilizes this idea of a customizable experience by including a slider graph on the homepage where visitors can “play” with numbers to see how they could earn money.
By personalizing the starting investment and the monthly contribution amounts, they can start to see the possibilities of investing in a tangible and interactive way.
And creating a memorable experience is a major step towards getting your visitor to return.
At the reflective level of emotional design, the visitor has the distance to use more emotional and rational thought processes to judge the experience. And the best result of having considered the three levels of emotional design is that, when your visitor leaves your site, they view your experience favorably.
And that’s what we want to optimize our experiences for: customer loyalty and lifetime value.
Not just single-time conversions.
Anxiety. Relief. Pain. Desire. Frustration. We’ve been talking a lot about emotion lately.
And for data-driven marketers, it’s easy to scoff at emotional marketing, and imagine it’s in the realm of brand marketers. But every emotional tactic can be validated.
“The first step is to start thinking about what the emotional response is to any experience you are creating,” suggests Matt. “That can be hard because different people have different types of emotional responses.”
“So, the next step is to actually try to find customers like we do here [at WiderFunnel]. We put people in the experience and evaluate their emotional response. So, we can connect those deep insights from smaller samples to wider tests that we are conducting.”
Successful marketing relies on both the intuitive, inspired, and gut-oriented aspects of marketing and the validation that comes with experimentation.
But experimentation can prove (with statistical confidence) what motivates your visitors on an emotional level. It’s all about gaining insights. And these insights lead to deeper insights. (It’s the iterative process of Infinity Optimization!)
And once you have a complete picture of your customer’s unconscious emotional drivers, you’re able to create an experience that triggers positive emotions all along the way. So, when they come out of the experience, they’ll want to return again. And again. And again.
How do you consistently create emotional connections with your customers to increase loyalty? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below!
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