Using Emotion for Persuasion
by Robert F. Abbott
Whether you are writing copy for sales letters or internal memos, most of us underestimate the power of emotion in getting the response we want from our messages.
The other day, I received the last issue of a business magazine before my subscription runs out. Now, I like this magazine, but I'm swamped with reading matter so I won't renew.
Of course, I've received many reminders and offers about renewing; magazines try very hard to keep the subscribers they've got. So when the last issue came with a special promotional wrapper on the cover, I wasn't surprised.
But, what made this one interesting was a clever piece of copy that hit an emotional chord: inside the back cover of the special wrapper were the words, "You're about to be dropped from our list of active subscribers. Unless you act now."
Personally, I thought it was an effective piece of copy (even though I still won't renew). It made an emotional case for what is essentially a business-to-business offer.
Many people who write persuasive copy, whether in sales letters or internal memos, say the rest of us underestimate the power of emotion in getting the response we want from our messages.
There's a sort of rule of thumb that goes like this: Consumers buy on emotion and justify on reason. In other words, we, as buyers, think we're being rational in making a decision to purchase, or in choosing among different offers, but in reality we make the decision with our hearts and then justify that decision with our reasoning powers.
In the case of the magazine copy, I was about to be dropped -- Imagine! Me being dropped! -- from the list of active subscribers. I'm not sure what active subscribers are: do they also have passive subscribers? But, the meaning comes through. I'm about to get dropped from an exclusive club unless I act now.
Which is where the emotional factor kicks in. Who wants to be dropped? Isn't that like being in high school again and not wanting to be excluded from a popular group? Isn't there an eternal desire to belong?
With this appeal to my insecurities and ambitions, the copywriters have forced me to think about my decision not to renew. I can't just make a 'business as usual' decision; it must be a personal as well as business decision. And when a message gets 'personal,' it demands more involvement from the reader or listener. More involvement, in turn, means more attention to the message, making it more persuasive.
If you sell, this idea won't come as much of a surprise. But, if you try to influence behaviors in other ways, you may wish to add emotion to your communication toolbox. It's something you do by getting 'personal,' by tapping into the hopes, fears, or aspirations of those with whom you're communicating.
Of course, we must use emotion ethically and responsibly. If you plan to use it, step back and ask yourself how you would respond if someone else directed that kind of a message to you. That's always a simple but helpful litmus test.