Tear-jerker: How to Utilize Emotion in Content Marketing

Content marketing tips
Tear-jerker: How to Utilize Emotion in Content Marketing

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”. That is one of the most quoted lines from the late African-American poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou and she knows what she’s talking about, unsurprising given the kind of life she’s led in more than eight decades. Think back to all of the people you’ve been romantically involved, you might not be able to remember more than a handful of specific details about them, but you’ll never forget how they made you feel.

Feelings are what make us human. It’s what enables us to be sympathetic to the plight of Amal Hussein, the 7-year-old girl whose photo became the face of Saudi Arabia’s brutal conflict with Yemen who sadly has since died of malnutrition. It’s also what fuels the rise of Donald Trump, who rode on a wave of anger from the rural population of the United States to get himself elected as president, upending the political discourse of the country in the process. This same feeling is also something you can tap into when dealing with the issue of content marketing.


The practice of emotional marketing

Marketing and emotion has had a long history and while I lack sufficient evidence, I’m quite sure that for as long as the idea of marketing itself existed, emotional manipulation has always played a part in it. In 1973 for example, the magazine National Lampoon used the photo of a dog with a gun held to its head with the caption “If You Don’t Buy This Magazine, We’ll Kill This Dog” printed on the cover. There’s nothing quite more manipulative than putting man’s best friend on the line of fire after all.

The beleaguered film-ticketing service MoviePass continued that tradition by sending out an e-mail asking customers to stick with the service by including the picture of Chloe, the director of ‘barketing’ at MoviePass, apologizing for the ‘ruff’ experience of using MoviePass in the past few months. If isn’t obvious already from the ‘woof-ully’ awful pun, Chloe is a dog. In the first example with the magazine cover, the dog was used to elicit fear or anger while in the MoviePass example, it was used to elicit empathy.

In the film Inside Out, Riley has 5 personification of emotions living within her; Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger, but an oft-cited research by Paul Ekman has an additional emotion, that of Surprise. When we’re dealing with content marketing, we utilize these six primary emotions to connect with the emotional core of our audience and in so doing, increasing our appeal to that same audience. As can be seen with the number of examples I’ve shown so far, there are multitudes of ways you can utilize emotion in marketing.


To keep your brand from being forgotten

Circle back to the quote from Maya Angelou I used at the beginning, people will never forget how you made them feel. Emotion is what lingers once everything is said and done and by utilizing emotion in your marketing and/or contents, your customer is more likely to remember your company. The question of how they remember your company is secondary, they have to actually remember your company first and it’s in this matter than emotional marketing can help.

I would like to shine a light on the issue with Saudi Arabia and Prince Salman for example. Saudi Arabia has been in conflict with Yemen since 2015, which means that before the photo of Amal Hussein was displayed prominently on a New York Times story, there had been dozens of girls like her. To top it all off, that story wouldn’t have gotten much traction had Saudi Arabia and Prince Salman hadn’t been in hot water due to the heinous murder of Jamal Khashoggi, which has been constantly in the headlines for the last 30 days or so.

A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic. As messed up as it is, it’s easier for human beings to get all worked up over the death of one man than over the hundreds of civilians that have been killed, directly and indirectly, from the conflict in Yemen. It’s macabre, but this just goes to show how emotions can play a part in keeping things from being forgotten.


Emotions are a reliable call to action

Faith in humanity has been such an important part of pop culture that the phrase now has its own page in Know Your Meme, which together with TV Tropes houses every inane knowledge you’d ever need to understand how life has been in the first two decades of the 21st century. Anyway, the reason why I brought this up is because these kind of uplifting stories are usually the ones that get forwarded to me by my friends over social media.

Even better than the typical call-to-action buttons, stories like these are catnip to people and using contents that brings certain joy could amplify your brand’s voice through by the power of sharing. Joy isn’t the only emotion that could spur people into action; Anger and Sadness are also as capable. The 2018 Midterms election on the United States broke the record for being the first midterm election to saw more than 100 million turnouts, 113 million to be exact.

The reason for this staggering number? Outrage at what Donald Trump has done in his two years as president, which led to the so-called blue wave, where the Democrat flipped a grand total of 32 seats in the House of Representatives and 7 Governorship across the United States. For better or for worse, appealing to people’s emotional core could get you better results than relying solely on logic and/or facts.


Emotions are something most people can’t deny

Continuing on from the previous point, contrary to what most people would like to believe about themselves, we are all emotional. Case in point; the unlikely success of Nicholas Sparks, a third-rate writer who somehow managed to parlay his mediocre writing into a multi-million dollar career writing books and films. He did this solely because of his ability to make people cry, not because his writing is especially affecting or even memorable but because he’s a brilliant emotional manipulator.

I’m not the first man to admit that I cried when I watched The Notebook and I’m sure I won’t be the last. Partly because the cast, which includes Ryan Gosling, James Garner, Rachel McAdams and Gena Rowland are all quite brilliant and partly because Sparks know just the right thing to do to bring out the waterworks. Even if I know I’m being manipulated, there’s little I can do to not be affected, which I suppose is a talent on its own regard.

Subconsciously, people rely on their heart over their head most of the time and if you played your cards right, you can get ahead of their competitor even if your products and/or services are somewhat inferior. I’m generally not a fan of blatant emotional manipulation that’s been practiced by Sparks but I have to admit that it works. 14 of Nicholas Sparks’ book has spent some time on the number 1 of The New York Times’ best-selling list, which is all the more impressive if you’ve ever read any of his books.