Harnessing the power of emotional engagement

In aiming to ensure your content really inspires your audience and mobilizes them to take action, research shows that emotional engagement is key.

As Ashley Taylor Anderson writes for the Content Marketing Institute, brands can harness the power of emotional engagement by understanding the science behind it and using this understanding to create artful content that really appeals to their audience in a meaningful and real way.

The science

Neuro-imagery has shown that when evaluating brands, consumers primarily use emotions rather than factual information. Moreover, research has shown that emotional engagement is affected by several principles related to content creation:

Design: Designs that evoke the greatest emotional response tend to involve something out of the norm. Elements of surprise can prevent content from being filtered out by the brain.

Colour: Studies have shown that colour can increase people’s willingness to read a piece of content by 80 percent. Moreover, using specific colours can have a significant impact on mood. For example, red often evokes strong emotions, yellow evokes happy feelings, and blue is associated with calm and trust.

Images: Many research studies confirm the emotional power of visuals, and there is data out there stating that 90 percent of all information transmitted to the brain is visual. Images can increase trust and belief in the information being conveyed and evoke specific emotional responses.

Branding: As Anderson’s article notes, most consumers have an unconscious aversion to being persuaded, and they can become immediately resistant to a message that is overly branded. The key too success is subtlety. Experiments have shown that a more subtle inclusion of branding can increase views by as much as 20 percent.

Here are two excellent examples from Apple that incorporate some, if not all, of the above aspects:

The content

So, how does one turn this science into impactful and engaging content? Before getting into that, it’s important to note that delving into the science behind emotional engagement can tempt brands to “misuse psychological levers”, as Anderson puts it, in order to persuade or have an impact on their audience. Resist the urge to go this route and ensure that you do not cross the line into negative and unethical audience manipulation. Instead, focus on strong emotional engagement by considering Anderson’s tips below:

1. Start with your audience’s motivation
What does your audience really want from your content? Find out and cultivate your emotional content based on these motivations.

2. Inspire trust with a believable story
As Anderson notes: “Content from brands is particularly at risk for a knee-jerk emotional shutdown because consumers are used to manipulative advertising tactics that play on their emotions. To engage viewers, your story has to be relevant, and it has to be genuine.”

3. Invite people to actively participate
When audiences actively participate in your content strategy, this can potentially create a deeper emotional connection. As Anderson says, “With interactive content, you can put people in the driver’s seat, allowing them to follow their own path, answer questions, drill down for more information, and explore topics through multiple lenses or perspectives. This, in turn, provides you with insights on what your audience cares about.”

4. Create a full emotional arc
To maintain your audience’s interest tell a story that builds up the relevant emotions and takes audiences on an emotional journey. Below is an example of an effective ad with a full  and simple emotional arc.


5. Use data to optimize your approach
When you publish emotion-driven content, analyze your performance metrics to see what’s working and what isn’t. You need to constantly test and refine your approach to emotional engagement, so that you can create content that truly resonates with your audience.

Want more examples of effective emotional engagement? Check out my previous posts on the #LikeAGirl campaign and powerful social development videos.

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