The Emotional Approach in Visual Storytelling

Most marketers know we need to do a lot better when it comes to inspiring our audiences to want us, need us, and love us. In the earliest stages of contact and engagement especially though, measuring how well we are emotionally engaging our customers isn’t easy—it often feels too theoretical, conceptual, or woowoo.

To begin with, there’s no single formula for creating emotionally engaging material: While anyone can name a wide range of emotions and the corresponding situations or events that tend to trigger them—(joy: birth of a new baby; grief: death of a parent; excitement: purchase of a new home; disappointment/disgust: discovery of someone behaving unethically)—once you direct your marketing team to lure and lead your audience to an emotional response, you risk setting them up to overthink things.

When we overthink, the creative process stops being organic and sense-driven—it becomes goal and logic-driven. As a result, we continue to fail to meaningfully connect.

So, creating marketing videos to elicit emotion is complicated and sometimes paradoxical. Creating marketing videos that adapt too, across channels and to the changing emotions a customer might experience as they move through the funnel, adds to the marketer’s challenge. Remind me, why do we love what we do?

We cry like babies when we watch those viral videos of children receiving their first puppy. Our eyes bulge out and we question the laws of physics and human physiology when a Hollywood hunk does a split between two Volvo trucks being driven at high speed, in reverse.

We know emotion when we see it—we feel it on the regular—so why is 98% of the content marketers are putting out there still so emotionally unengaging?

“Because playing with emotions is risky,” you say.

Right: With love comes hate, and hate can escalate quickly, terminating a brand overnight. But moving forward, companies that remain risk-averse will miss out on building an emotional connection with their audience, and the cost of not connecting may very well outweigh the cost of trying, failing, and having to start all over again.

Right also: There are ways to be emotionally engaging without risking it all, and without being too weird or quirky.

Take this Budweiser commercial “Puppy Love” as an example.

It is almost impossible to watch this brilliant advert feeling no emotions at all. I guess I am not the only one here – this video became incredibly popular worldwide, gaining millions of views and shares on social platforms. Well done, Budweiser.

Now, compare the previous video to this Volkswagen ad:

This video definitely does not arouse the same spectrum of emotions as the adorable “Puppy Love”. Nevertheless, it keeps us in suspense till the very end – emotional approach kicks in again. I argue that 9 out of 10 videos, wherever they are in terms of the customer journey, must stir emotion.

Suggestions on creating visually engaging content

1.Place a moratorium on anything you already know is unexciting. What is the least exciting thing you can put in an email? Stop putting that thing in your email, and certainly do not put that thing in your videos.

2.Ask your team to be alert to their own organic emotional responses to marketing videos for one week. You can even provide a small prize to the team member who shares a concept or strategy your brand can use.

3.Discuss and analyze what could have caused the best—and the worst!—kind of emotional response for a particular campaign. Don’t be satisfied with: “I engaged ten readers with my last newsletter.” Discuss what the reader responses were and think about why you got them.

I confess: I’ve painted a paradox. I’m encouraging you to “drive organic emotional responses,” while also saying that once you start measuring emotional response, you risk developing content in a way that renders it too contrived.

Video viewers are smarter than ever, in part because everyone and their nephew make videos daily, but this brings me to my last point:

Approach the creation of emotionally engaging videos like you’d approach a new romance: Avoid focusing too much on the process and outcome, or you’ll lose the magic.

You improve your chances of engaging customers on an emotional level and capturing that elusive love from them by always being:

  • Curious
  • Honest
  • Authentic
  • Personal
  • Experimental

Accept the fact that there is no KPI for emotion, then ask your marketing team:

  • How does our message and brand impact real lives? Answers will naturally lead to emotional seeds from which you can grow great stories.
  • How can we hit that sweet spot between the customer’s armor of distrust, skepticism, and too much knowledge, to where their joy and pain, strengths and weaknesses reside?
  • What emotions are triggered in each of us, when we sit in the mirror asking, “What do I need to buy and possess to become more intelligent, efficient, attractive, successful, popular, and content?”

A solid story has the power to keep consumers emotionally engaged

Neuroscience points to emotion (rather than rational analysis) as the driving force behind the customer-brand relationship, affecting everything from initial purchasing behavior to lifelong loyalty. It’s our job as marketers to think through entire ranges of emotion, and storylines, for consumers. A solid story has the power to keep consumers emotionally engaged so that they don’t just visit us on the fly, but feel so safe, cared for, and comfortable that they never want to leave. They never get the urge to run off with the competition because they are invested—with sticky emotion—in us!

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