Feelings do not require reflection or thought. We feel, we act. We think later and justify our actions based on input from our more highly advanced reasoning brain.
Strong feelings are hot-wired into the brain's action centers, provoking any one of the "F" actions:
Emotions are simple and clear so that action is easy and fast. This is built into our brains for very clear reasons of survival as a race. We wouldn't be here talking about content marketing if our ancestors hadn't become good at all four "F" actions.
Maybe our current culture of consumerism means our brains are now hot-wired to react differently to our emotions? Maybe instead of feeding, we grab a snack, we argue or write snarky responses, and we make purchases over the internet. These things won't necessarily contribute to our survival, but they do satisfy the need for action and instant gratification.
Emotions are either positive or negative. There are relatively few pure emotions:
These elemental feelings are universal. Specific facial expressions for fear, anger, sadness and enjoyments are recognized by people across diverse cultures. Paul Eckman is the psychologist who has extensively studied universal facial expressions and emotions.
Emotions get complicated because they get combined, like primary colors. Jealousy may be a mix of anger and sadness. Guilt may be a combination of enjoyment and fear.
I don't talk much about my background in psychology but it's been essential in my learning how to write effective content for a business blog. Without my 5-6 years of graduate study and working in field placements of psychiatric clinics, I wouldn't have the awareness of emotional content that's behind client interactions. I'm acutely aware of possible reactions from readers.
The most difficult thing in learning to write effective content for any business is making the leap from purely intellectual writing to emotional writing.
Rationality is only one small part of what compels people to read your content. The more compelling reason people read what you write is because you hook them with feelings.
2 Lessons to Learn
- The key that you should know: Emotions are extremely powerful influences over the actions of your readers and clients. They are in fact what makes people comment, sign up, register, download, or buy.
- The 2nd key is that emotions are doubly powerful when they are unconscious. Unconscious feelings have been shown to have a higher biasing effect on decisions than conscious feelings. A reader, or decision maker, is less able to be reflective about the reasons for their choices.
Even if people are aware of their feelings, they are unlikely to be fully aware of the unconscious influence their feelings are having on their decision making.
The Power of Stories
This explains why telling personal stories are so effective when you're writing content. People's emotions are triggered by the feelings in the story. We empathize with someone else. We feel their pain on an unconscious level.
We are actually feeling our own similar emotions. We relate because of our own personal experiences. But it's subtle and pretty much under the level of our awareness.
This is why most people will defend their buying decisions with rational logic and pretty good reasons.
- I need this for business
- It's on sale
- I can't get this anywhere else
- If I don't have this, my competitors will have an advantage
It doesn't matter what the logical reasons are, every purchase is triggered by an emotional hot button. This is why copywriters and sales people make good money! They know that words work and how to make them work. They know that emotions are the triggers that lead to action.
Good copy recognizes universal drives: (from the book Driven: How Human Nature Shapes Our Choices (Jossey Bass, 2001), by Harvard professors Paul R. Lawrence and Nitin Nohria)
- The drive to acquire
- The drive to learn
- The drive to bond
- The drive to defend
What This Means for Your Own Content Marketing
Yesterday I listed a whole bunch of hot buttons.
I wasn't clear about why this is so important to learn. You can't learn this by memorizing the concepts and the list of buttons. So how do you learn to incorporate emotions into your writing?
How do you use this knowledge of your readers' brains and the fact they are hard-wired for action through emotional triggers?
I suggest writing to a group of clients who you think might be motivated by one particular drive, say for example, the drive to learn. Practice writing a piece designed to get these clients signed up for a free download by appealing to their drive to know more, to learn insider secrets, or top 3 things most people don't realize, etc.
Practice Makes Progress
The only way to learn emotional writing is to practice. Use feeling words. Use stories, real or invented. Use your own personal experiences to make it real, authentic and personal. Exaggerate every feeling. But don't go overboard. You should also remember that facts do matter. Include features and benefits. And design a call to action that is simple, clear and easy.
Of course a good way to test this is to run two pieces – one that is strictly fact-based, the other more emotional and test to see which one is more effective.
Not Walking My Talk
If I were a better writer, and I'm getting there, I'd re-write this piece by telling you a story and giving you a case study as an example. Maybe I'll still do this. I'm still oriented like an academician: the facts, ma'am, the facts.
I'll leave this for now, however. I invite you to respond anyway, even though I probably didn't trigger many 'hot-buttons' in this blog post.