When working with clients, we often go back to a core question: “What problem are you solving for your audience?” This is a question most people can answer fairly easily. “Learn how to garden.” “Learn how to sell to doctors.” “Get data on prices in my market.”
This is necessary – but not sufficient – to create content that people will pay for. You also need to tap into the emotional side of your audience, even if you have a business to business (B2B) company.
Solving a problem does help with acquisition and initial conversion. People might search for “What is the best chef’s knife on the market?” or, “How has the price of paper trended over the last quarter?” They might land on your page, maybe even give you their email address. However, if your solution to their problem lacks personality, they likely won’t remember you.
Content creators who simultaneously solve technical problems and appeal to emotions have staying power. This is where loyalty and retention come into play.
Emotion also helps differentiate versus the competition. At some level, Architectural Digest and Better Homes and Gardens have similar content, but the tone and positioning is much, much different.
Science Supports the Importance of Emotion in Content Creation
According to Dr. Peter Murray in a Psychology Today article, MRI neuro-imagery shows that when evaluating brands, consumers primarily rely on emotions elicited by the product, rather than concrete information. Murray also cites studies that show positive emotions have far greater influence on consumer loyalty than more technical attributes like features and facts.
Emotions drive action. Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman presents a solid case for why this is the case in his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow. If your content products focus only on technical features, data, and information, you’ll miss the emotional links that influence consumer behavior and loyalty.
Think about some of the more successful content products out there. Is it just their technical attributes that make them successful? No – it’s also their emotional brand aura that makes them stick. Cook’s Illustrated has “recipes that work,” and also comes with an authoritative voice that gives the reader confidence in the reader’s cooking abilities. On the B2B side, Rich Reiff, CEO of Advantage Business Media (technology-oriented B2B content), says he forges a relationship with his B2B audience by having a personality in print, because readers feel that the content is “typically about people like me, doing what I do.”
Content Creators Can Discover Desired Emotional Attributes
I have helped several companies redefine their brand and products through consumer research that sought to understand not only desired technical benefits, but also emotional needs. With advances in technology and analytics, we can tease out these nuances. We then launch new products and marketing campaigns that appeal to the target segment’s desired physical and emotional attributes. We often realize a double digit sales growth as a result. The management consulting firm McKinsey has pioneered some of these methods; you can read this whitepaper to learn more.
If you’re not sure how to get started, here is a straightforward approach you can follow. I’ll walk through a fictional example with you. As an ode to the fact that the last VCR will be made this month, let’s say we’re the publishers of VHS Monthly, a magazine for video cassette enthusiasts.
First, do a self-audit of your recent content. Assemble a team of people from across your organization to consume your content for two hours and make a list of all the technical (e.g., product reviews, repair guides, pricing data) and emotional (e.g., authoritative, friendly, helpful, enthusiastic) attributes that come to mind. The more diverse your team is (i.e., across functions, tenure) the better.
Amass all your attributes, and organize them into two lists: technical and emotional. Then, bucket your attributes into sub-categories. For example, you can bucket “definitive, authentic, reliable” into “authoritative.”
Pick 20 attributes from your technical list and 30 from your emotional list. Try to pick from across all buckets (you can have multiple words from a bucket, but be sure not to ignore a bucket).
Create a list of competitors in your space. For our fictional example, we’ll choose VCR World and Be Kind, Rewind
What traits are important to you for a product that provides VCR-related information (1=not important at all, 2=somewhat important, 3=very important)?
Then list all 50 attributes, in random order (i.e., don’t put all the technical attributes together and be sure to spread out attributes that are in the same bucket).
In section 2 ask:
Which of the following magazines (or websites, or newsletters – depending on your product) do you currently subscribe to (or visit, or receive, or read – depending on your business model)?
- VHS Monthly
- VCR World
- Be Kind, Rewind!
- Other product with VCR-related information
In section 3 ask*:
Now, think specifically about VHS Monthly. How well do the following traits describe VHS Monthly? (1=not at all, 2=somewhat, 3=strongly)
Then list all 50 attributes, in a new random order.
*You can set up conditional logic in your survey software to skip this section if the respondent indicated he/she does not use your product.
If you have more time and resources, you can make it more complex by layering in questions about the competition, but let’s keep it simple for now.
If you surveyed a large enough population, you might notice different clusters of customers (who prioritized traits in a similar way). Each cluster represents a unique segment, each with different priorities. There are advanced analytical techniques that can tease that out for you. Read more about segmentation here.
Pick one segment of customers and look at the attributes that are most important to the respondents. Then see how well your product ranked on those attributes. If respondents felt an attribute was important and that there was a strong association between that attribute and your product, keep reinforcing that trait!
For attributes that are important to respondents, but you ranked low, you have identified a gap. You will need to develop ways to authentically play up these attributes to close the gap.
If an attribute is ranked “not important,” but came through strongly in describing the impression of the company, you may want to tone down that feature or emotion and replace it with an attribute that is more important to the consumer.
Look at how you are doing on the technical versus emotional attributes. Gaps in technical attributes are the easiest to close – just start creating content and features in those areas. To resolve gaps in the emotional attributes, here are some ideas:
- Appoint an actual person (or character) with the desired attributes be the face for your brand. Who could be the voice of reason, passion, authority, authenticity for your brand? Think about Rick Steves, who has built an empire around European travel guides and tours. He represents his brand perfectly – trustworthy, accessible, reassuring, genuine – and stands out in a crowded market.
- Create and promote a brand story that emphasizes the desired attributes. Dr. Murray says an “important foundation for a brand’s emotions can be found in its narrative – the story that communicates ‘who’ it is, what it means to the consumer, and why the consumer should care.” Consider the story behind Rachel Ray. She’s a “regular person” who loved teaching classes about 30 minute meals in Schenectady, NY. One day, she was “discovered,” and the rest is history.
- Add emotional attributes checklist to your style guides. Review all content before publishing and ensure it touches on one or more of the desired attributes
How The Sterling Woods Group Can Help
When we work with clients to develop new products, we can run this part of the research for you, or coach your management team through the process. We can also bring more advanced analytical methods to the research.