Think fast! When facts don’t matter to your audiences, can connecting on an emotional level really work?
Editor’s Note: This post is part of our Big Ideas Series, a column highlighting the innovative thinking and thought leadership at IIeX events around the world. Lee Carter will be speaking at IIeX North America (June 12-14 in Atlanta). If you liked this article, you’ll LOVE IIeX NA. Click here to learn more.
By Lee Carter
Facts are important, but they’re not the best place to start when it comes to creating effective brand messaging. To win consumers over, you’ve got to appeal to their emotions.
Of course, it’s still important to be honest – you never want to lie to your consumers. Rather, it’s important to recognize that spewing facts and figures isn’t going to get you anywhere. Why?
Well for starters, facts can be hard to understand. They often rely on jargon or lack the proper context for anyone not familiar with the topic. Facts can also be difficult to remember — companies have a bad habit of throwing around a lot of different facts rather than supporting the singular most compelling one. Being bombarded with facts, especially when the facts contradict a person’s beliefs or what they’ve heard, makes people feel they’re being told they’re wrong. The result: They shut down and stop listening altogether. Not good.
But when you first appeal to people’s emotions, you open the door for an authentic conversation. Instead of arguing your case, you’re creating a dialogue. Instead of tuning out, your audience will sit up and listen.
Emotions First, Facts Second
Facts are easy. Either something is true or it isn’t. Emotions, on the other hand, are tricky. That’s why there are many appropriate and effective ways to engage audiences emotionally. The best approach varies depending on the situation.
If your audience feels wrong, hurt, or threatened, the knee-jerk reaction is often to refute those concerns. But if you take a step back and validate the concerns before explaining your position, your message is much more likely to resonate. Just because you’re validating your audience’s feelings doesn’t mean you’re admitting wrongdoing.
For example, acknowledging consumers’ right to more information or accepting responsibility in working toward a solution to an issue are two effective tactics that validate concerns and open a dialogue without admitting wrongdoing.
If people are concerned that a company is acting in its own greedy interests, cite shared goals or values. Start with the phrase, “We can all agree that X is an important priority.” This type of language tells people that you hear them and are on the same page. It forges a connection. It gets them nodding in agreement. Suddenly, they’re willing to listen to what you will say next.
In short, use language that connects emotionally first, then you can start talking facts or air a point of view that may differ from what people are likely to believe or what they’ve heard.
Rethinking the Playbook
Before you can begin to craft emotionally resonant messaging, ditch the old way of doing things.
Start with message testing – traditionally, you’d ask participants to rank statements, forcing them to choose a favorite. This is flawed, because it doesn’t mirror how consumers encounter information in the real world. Instead, show respondents a single message and measure their emotional reaction.
Find the intersection of what your audience is talking about and the messages you want to get across. That’s where effective communication takes place. Say consumers express concerns that the methods a company uses to grow food could be unsafe. In response, the company talks about how those methods make food more affordable. See the problem? Both groups are talking past each other, and the company comes across as evasive and dishonest. The lesson here: It’s vital to engage in the same conversation your consumers are having and address concerns head on.
Uber’s handling of sexual assault allegations, for instance, highlights the need to directly address concerns. CEO Travis Kalanick responded to the allegations by calling them “abhorrent and against everything we believe in.” He then hired former U.S. attorney general Eric Holder to investigate and apologizes for the company’s culture during an emotional staff meeting.
Once you’ve uncovered what it is your consumers are talking about, you need to give them a reason to listen to you. Grab their attention, then make a singular point clearly. Too many messages simply try to do too much. Pare it down to the essentials, and your audience will not only respond, but they’ll also remember.
Bad messaging feels like you’re getting something off your chest or setting the record straight. If that sounds familiar, it’s time to make room in your strategy for emotions. Start from the customers’ perspective. Acknowledge where they are and what role they think you should play. Leave your company’s ego at the door. Stop arguing, and start connecting.