To create something powerful, enlist your emotional barometer

"You've got to create an emotional connection. That's really the key." Raise your hand if you've heard that line before.

“You've got to create an emotional connection. That's really the key.”

Raise your hand if you've heard that line before. Maybe even muttered it yourself on occasion? Keep those hands raised. As cliché as it might be, there's no shame in it – because it's true.

Brands that are able to transcend the functional and connect emotionally defy conventional results. Depending on what sociological camp you belong to, there are five, six, or seven basic human emotions. I prefer the latter, which is a world comprised of anger, contempt, fear, disgust, happiness, sadness, and surprise. So why aren't these more prominent compasses for communicators?

The medium through which we tell brand narratives varies, but no one likes boring stories regardless of the delivery mechanism. This holds particularly true for those littered with hyperbole and self-aggrandizing corporate bunk.  We gravitate to tales that move us – those that strike an emotional chord. Press releases, events, sweepstakes, online videos, or whatever the case, the opportunity to elevate facts to create something more visceral is always there.

I took stock of some campaigns that etched themselves into my memory: Gatorade's Replay ; Adidas' David Beckham photo booth activation; powerful commercials from Thailand telecom giant TrueMove H; recent stunts from Adobe Photoshop; the marketing team for the horror flick Carrie (which managed to “go viral” in record time); opportunistic real-time social responses from an increasingly-opportunistic Nokia.

No matter how greatly these brand communications differed – in mechanic, scope, or tone – they each succeeded in hitting one of my basic human emotions. Some aroused fear. Others created joy and happiness as the byproduct of laughter. Still others elicited sadness or surprise.

As content creators and communicators, human emotions should always remain front-of-mind, regardless of the client or story. For a nonprofit, strategy might dictate stirring anger around an issue that has failed to receive adequate attention. Surprise is becoming an increasingly used approach, because it often shocks us to attention. Humor can be a compelling tactic because it offers tremendous potential for content sharing and pass-along.

Regardless of how it's done, communications professionals are not only creators, but also the most powerful arbiter of a campaign's potential. Put aside media impressions, web traffic, and re-tweets as the sole measure of success and act as humans. Does the idea touch you? Would you pay attention to it? Would it compel you to act? Be real. If the answer to any of those questions is “no,” it's a clear sign to keep pushing.   Build an idea or piece of content that genuinely moves you, and chances are it will move things for your client and their business as well.

Steve Bonsignore is SVP and deputy director of the New York consumer practice at Cohn & Wolfe.

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