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Michelle Bourke Founder and CEO Foresight Digital

The impact of emotion on digital marketing ROI

One of the most exciting aspects of digital marketing is that we can measure every moment, every step, every response, every outcome, and track it neatly back to a source. This structure is a perfect environment for the type A personality who loves order, process, logic. But it’s often a poor framework for inspiring the creation of messages that connect emotionally.

In an analysis of 1,400 case studies from the IPA dataBANK, authors of “Brand Immortality” Pringle and Fields, found that campaigns with purely emotional content performed twice as well (31% vs 16%) as those with purely rational content, and 5% better than those with both mixed emotional and rationality. Why? It’s all biology really. We are able to process emotional input without cognitive processing, so it’s actually easier, and faster, for us to comprehend emotions vs logic.  

Here are some other stats for context:

  • 40.2% of marketing budget in Australia (55% in China, Sweden and the UK) is allocated to digital. In a world where digital has the grave responsibility of delivering close to half of all marketing outcomes, now more than ever there’s an imperative to create genuine cut through in digital advertising.
  • A 2015 study by microsoft found that over the course of the mobile revolution, the attention span of the average adult decreased to less than that of a goldfish. We can see this reflected in the 6 or 15 second digital ad formats that are available for marketers to purchase by view. We can still capture attention - but advertising saturated consumers won’t accept poor quality, untargeted, undifferentiated messages.

This means even more reason to use emotional marketing. Because if you’ve only got 8 seconds to make a connection and draw attention, then bypassing cognitive processing is the most efficient way to do so.  

So how can digital marketers start to integrate an emotional marketing framework into their planning process?

Choose emotional levers that map to your ideal campaign outcomes

When people experience emotions that make them feel in control (e.g. happy, inspired, amused), they are more likely to broadcast - for instance, sharing on Facebook or Twitter. When they experience emotions that make them feel out of control (e.g. anger, sadness), they are more likely to narrowcast - engaging in comments or sharing directly to close friends.

As a quick guide:

  • Happiness makes us want to share
  • Sadness helps us connect and empathise
  • Fear or surprise makes us desperate for something to cling to
  • Anger or disgust makes us more stubborn

Just knowing this gives you a guide for what you can expect from a campaign and what metrics to measure based on the emotional content of your digital message.

Rappler, a news site that tracks the emotional response to content

Consider what resonates dependent on the product or service category

The University of Wollongong found that brand emotional attachment predicts purchase volume better than brand attitude measures for utilitarian products like petrol and laundry detergent and works equally well for hedonic products like beer and coffee. So your product or service category will impact how well you can expect emotional marketing to work.  Certainly the less your competitors are doing it, the more you can use it as a differentiator.  

Further personalise emotional messaging to fit the target audience and customer journey stage

Emotional motivators also vary across customer segments and across their position in the buying cycle, so ad personalisation for different target audiences and steps in that journey must also come into play. For instance a desire to “protect the environment” and “be the person I want to be” were key motivators in the banking category for millennial age groups, while “feel secure” and “succeed in life” are more typical of older age brackets.

Now that brands exist in the realm of each individual’s emotional diorama, we can no longer think of brands as one dimensional.  “Owning” funny or irreverent or weird isn’t enough. You may need to be all those things at different times because your consumers aren’t interacting with you one dimensionally.

Stop lifting creative from offline mediums and sticking them into a digital format

Every second is precious, from a display ad which might have a 3 to 5 second looping animation, to a 6 second bumper ad on YouTube or 15 second video ad on Facebook. There are measurable financial reasons to put time and energy into crafting an emotionally effective ad that can communicate its message at top speed. Even CFOs are now using emotional connection as a predictive metric for customer lifetime value.

With digital we have so many amazing opportunities to be interactive, to weave in stories, and to lift emotional connection to the point where “share of emotion” should now complement “share of voice” metrics. Advanced targeting, personalisation and bidding strategies need to be used in combination with creative that evokes emotion, not just logic.

Because at the end of the day, you can buy likes, but you can’t buy hearts. Hearts we must earn.