Strategy & Positioning

Rational or Emotional Marketing? You'll be surprised!
Rational or Emotional Marketing? You'll be surprised!

When the time comes to tell you clients about all the wonderful things you can do for them, do you ever take pause and wonder how to go about it?

Should you speak to a problem or a solution? Should you appeal to emotion or logic?

Hopefully after reading this you’ll wonder a little less and maybe come away surprised at what some research has shown.

Take a minute and read these marketing messages carefully. What are they promising, and how are they promising to do it?

1. “Learn how to write a better ad!”

2. “Learn the critical advertising mistakes that are costing you thousands!”

3. “Learn the advertising tricks that put thousands more in your pocket!”

4. “Learn the three advertising mistakes that kill your response rate!”

5. “Learn three simple tweaks that could increase your response rate by up to 70%!”

Okay, now which one appeals to you the most? Write it down. When you’re done reading this post, share it with us in the comments below, along with your thoughts on this post.

Now let’s talk about them one by one.

Message #1: Talk about the feature

In marketing we like to say that “people don’t want features, they want the benefit the feature gives them.” That’s pretty basic Marketing 101, right there. Famous marketer Ted Levitt used to say that “people buy 1/4″ drill bit not because they want a 1/4″ drill bit, but because they want a 1/4″ hole”.

My favourite example is one from a brochure pitching a car starter I picked up when I bought my car. This particular brochure has an honorary spot in my “don’t do this” swipe file.

The brochure provided a laundry list of features, first and foremost “FM technology.

FM technology? What the f*** does that mean?

Now what you may not know about me is that before I became a marketing guy, I was actually a telecommunications engineer, so yeah, I do know what that means and what they are getting at with the “FM technology” stupidity. They are trying to say that your car starter will work from indoors because the signal will carry though walls, brick, etc.

Which begs the question – why don’t they just say THAT?

I don’t want a car starter, I want the benefit of not freezing my tuckus on cold winter days. I could give a rat’s tuckus about FM technology. Clearly, this was written by an engineer (I am one, so I’m allowed to make fun).  Probably the boss came in one day and said, “Stan, once your done with those quality tests, make us a brochure, will ya?”

Features have their place – later on in your marketing, after you’ve talked benefits and one other thing. I’ll tell you about this in another post.

So don’t talk features, at least not early on in your marketing. Go for benefits.

So now we are left with some big questions: Do I go for the problem? Or do I go for the result? Do I hit ’em where it hurts? Or appeal to their most inner desires? Furthermore: Do I go for the heart or the head?  Do I give them a benefit that appeals to their emotions? Or their rational mind?

Let’s look at each.

Pain vs. Pleasure?

Look again at messages #2 and #4. Notice that they are about pain. “Ow! It’s costing me thousands! That hurts!” That’s dredging up pain.

Now look at messages #3 and #5. These two are about pleasure. It’s appealing to something I want or desire. A pleasure that I want to have. “Hey, I can learn some tricks and get thousands!”

(Actually, want to know what would be even better than this?  “Learn the advertising tricks that will make everyone think you are a genius!” Talk about a benefit that appeals to some people’s desire!)

Generally, you will hear it said that we’ll move faster and more decisively to avoid pain than to gain pleasure. On the surface it makes sense. Between saving thousands and making thousands, most people will want to protect what they’ve already got. But we can’t discount the power of desire, if we can whip it up just the right way. If I REALLY want to be an ad genius, then how that will make me *feel* might be much more valuable to me than simply saving a few thousand bucks.  This where knowing your ONE Person, really, really helps. If you know your ONE person, you know if you should talk about saving thousands or making them an ad genius.

Emotional Marketing vs. Rational Marketing

Now look at #2 and #4 vs. #3 and #5. Notice how the even numbered ones appeal to emotion. They want to stir up some sort of emotional response with their language whereas #3 and #5 appeal to logic. They use numbers, facts, and speak about tangible, rather than intangible outcomes.

The common belief out there is that we should be appealing to the emotions. The idea is that people buy emotionally first, then justify it rationally later. That is something we’ve referred to in the program and I’ve repeated several times as part of my sales courses.

Yet there is a least one person out there who says this is all poppycock.

In his book Jump Start Your Business Brain,  Doug Hall doesn’t buy this whole “emotions sell” business. In fact, he says it doesn’t make a difference at all.


Doug Hall is no schmoe. He’s probably the smartest marketer you’ve never heard of. What I like about Hall’s work is that he doesn’t speak from “opinion” or even “experience”, which he has no shortage of, but from scientific fact. He backs his stuff up with cold, hard data and statistical rigor. He’s polled over 6000 clients groups, gathered 1,200,000 customer reactions to new business concepts and collected and analysed over 60,000 data points to support what he says. And in this case, he says the notion that emotional benefits work better is pure bunk. I’ll quote from the book directly:

“Advertising gurus will tell you emotional benefits are far more important and valuable than rational ones. When probed on the facts to support their preaching, the gurus typically retreat, claiming that an emotional benefit can’t be measured — it’s just a feeling. I’m sorry but feelings never filled a bank account. And in fact, the data says differently. Our analysis of some four thousand concepts indicates that there is no difference in effectiveness between rational and emotional benefits.”

He goes on to report the facts: If a rational benefit is used in primary communication, the probability of success is 45%. If an emotional benefit is used, it’s 42%. Those two numbers are statistically equal. (No, you cannot conclude that rational is better, there is a margin of error that can’t be ignored).

So what’s a marketer to do?

How about BOTH emotional marketing and rational marketing benefits?

Well you might say, okay, if one if good, then maybe both is better. Let’s cover all the bases. Nope, sorry. What Hall concluded happens when you try to hit BOTH emotional and rational benefits in your messaging: the probability of success drops to 36% — no longer a statistical equality, but a noticeable decline.

So what do we take away from this? Focus on one thing and do it very well. Have one message and make it really clear. Common sense, again, really. Yet as so often happens, we get drawn in by all the sparkly marketing tactics and forget the basics.

As a bonus, now you can be a savvy marketer when someone tries to tell you should always use emotional benefits in your marketing: “Actually, according to research by Doug Hall…” You’ll be the life of the party! Okay, maybe not. :-)

Now it’s time for the action step of the post. Grab your latest or most important marketing messaging – whether it’s a brochure, your website text, whatever. Look carefully at your benefits. Are you mixing and matching emotional and rational? If so, clean it up! Just run one or the other. And don’t forget to test, test, test!

Were you surprised about Hall’s research? Let us know what you think!