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As impressive and complex the modern world is, and the grand business tools that come with it, that's not really what convinces an audience to buy your products.
So what does?
Good, old-fashioned, heart-to-heart stories...
... aka Emotional Marketing.
At the end of the day, consumers are human beings with complex emotions and even more complex stories. In fact, a major part of our ability to survive so well in this world and out-compete many of our brethren in the animal kingdom is owed to our complex emotional capacity. Our ability as human beings to recognize emotions in others and to feel the same feelings as others is profound.
It's a concept that has been studied to death in Social Psychology and has since moved into the business world, informing marketing teams around the world on how to connect with potential customers through their ad campaigns.
And boy does it work.
Not only does emotional content performs nearly twice as well as fact-based content, but people are also more likely to make decisions based on emotions rather than facts.
No matter your budget or your toolset, adding an emotional marketing strategy will help you connect with your potential customers and boost sales. I'll break it down in this article and then give you 15 solid examples that you can learn from.
The 4 Emotions of Emotional Marketing (+15 Examples of How to Evoke Them)
Emotional marketing is a type of advertising that uses basic emotions, such as happiness, fear, or anger, to elicit a consumer response. This can typically lead to more social shares and purchases of the advertised product. It can also lead to customer loyalty as trust builds between your brand and the customers as well as improved customer experience.
Basically, emotional marketing connects with people at the core of their feelings.
Whatever the marketing message may be, whether it uses positive emotions like happiness or negative emotions like fear, it moves people to act with an emotionally based response.
And when people are acting out of emotions (which is most of the time), they don't use rational thinking that might otherwise prevent them from social sharing or purchasing a product.
Emotional marketing can happen anywhere in your digital marketing, from your social media posts down to writing your product descriptions. You can use emotions to elicit certain behavior from your customers every step of the way.
Before we get into how to create an emotional marketing strategy, let's first look into how emotions work.
Most marketing articles will claim that there are only 4 basic emotions (there are tons more than that) to use in your marketing message if you really want to drive some kind of response (ie more sign-ups, social shares, or purchases). While there are nearly 30 identified emotions that humans experience on a minute-by-minute basis, they mostly stem from these four core groups of emotions: happiness, sadness, fear, and anger.
Emotions are so much a part of our living experience as human beings that we experience at least one emotion 90 percent of the time. That's over 21 hours of the day that we are feeling some kind of emotion, meaning that we are emotional beings even when we sleep.
And if you've ever woken up deep in a dream, then you know that to be true.
It's not just that, though.
Emotions came to be as a survival mechanism in our developing brains, making up for the fact that we weren't as strong or as fast as our competitors. Though we couldn't out-climb, out-run, or out-hunt other animals in the natural world, we could out-think them, finding creative solutions to survival problems and learning about danger before it threatened our lives.
This is all thanks to our big, beautiful brains.
And emotions played a major role in it as they helped us learn when to pay attention to danger (that's why fear is such a valuable emotion) and when to know that we can trust another person (love and happiness are essential to our survival for this reason).
They are so much a part of who we are that they are in the oldest part of our brains, often called the 'reptilian brain' in reference to how far back they go in our evolutionary development. The rest of our brain, such as the prefrontal cortex where our personality and decision-making abilities reside, was formed around our reptilian brain, which sits like a ball at the top of our spinal column deep inside the folds of our cortex.
All this to say: emotions are a BIG part of who we are.
And everything we do, from the clothing we wear to the people we love, stems from our emotions.
So yeah, creating a content marketing strategy that taps into human emotions is a really good idea. Luckily for you, marketing teams big and small have already studied this and learned a few things that you can easily incorporate into your own marketing campaigns.
Before you can convince people to buy your product or service, you first need to convince them to trust your brand. One of the best ways to do that is by getting your brand in front of them. This is called 'brand awareness' and is a crucial yet often overlooked first step in the buyer's journey. This is why influencer marketing is so popular and why social media has become a powerhouse for brand awareness - and why everybody shares positive messages.
Social media provides an endless audience and with the right content, you can expand your reach tenfold. If that's what you want to do, then create a few campaigns that focus on positive emotions, such as happiness and joy. Emotionally positive content spreads faster on social media via social sharing than any other type of content.
If it bleeds, it leads.
Another branding strategy that many companies use is to build an emotional connection with their target audience by touching on negative feelings, such as sadness. Sadness is a human emotion that naturally brings people together for support. When our emotions first developed, sadness was an emotional response that came in handy when people needed help and support the most, such as with major loss or difficult situations. This helped us survive, pulling on this innate emotional response to get through whatever tribulations we faced.
Now, in the 21st century, we can use this emotional response to intrigue others and have them virtually gather around for support. By sharing content that elicits an emotional reaction of sadness, then you will likely garner more clicks and engagement on the post as humans naturally want to learn more about it. While it's not necessarily advisable to create entire emotional marketing campaigns centered on sadness, it is a useful tactic to use when you're looking for more engagement on your content.
When we experience negative feelings, such as fear, we naturally look for comfort and reassurance. What scientists have found is that this is even true branding. Surprisingly, people feel more loyal to a brand that was present during a scary situation than to brands that were present during a pleasant situation. The most common example of this is with product placement in movies or video games where fear is induced. When a brand or logo is present during the fearful event, people show more brand loyalty than if the logo were present in a joyous event. While this marketing strategy is powerful, but not necessarily a good fit for all brands because it doesn't always make sense for a brand to scare its target audience.
Another strategy that many marketers shy away from is using anger and disgust in their emotional marketing strategy. Unlike happiness and sadness, which mostly just pulls on the heartstrings of the audience, anger and disgust can elicit an intense emotional reaction from readers...
...which often turns into actual action, like sharing, forwarding, or commenting on the piece of content.
This doesn't mean that you should purposefully upset your reader or provoke your target audience with incendiary comments, though. Instead, marketers will often choose a controversial topic related to their niche that already garners emotional reactions from people without the help of their advertising campaigns.
Environmentally conscious brands, for example, might share factual content about the massive impact that single-use plastic has on our soil and water in hopes of provoking strong emotional reactions in their target audience. When you approach these topics at an emotional level, then you're more likely to get an emotional response. In terms of digital marketing, this means more engagement with the content, which, in turn, leads to virality.
Okay, so we now that emotional stimuli can get your brand some attention or even lead to viral content. But what is the point of releasing all of these emotional triggers if it doesn't actually lead to sales? Before you experiment with emotionally charged marketing campaigns, be sure that you understand their purpose and how to employ them.
There are basically three different marketing strategies that are used to evoke emotions: emotional branding, emotional advertising, and general storytelling.
Emotional branding is the process of building a meaningful relationship between your brand and potential customers by provoking basic emotions. Hallmark, for example, provokes positive feelings of love and happiness just like Nike provokes feelings of awe and inspiration. Ads with emotional content are often used to help develop this brand image. By building emotional meaning into your brand, you are better able to create a lasting response that is deeply intertwined with your brand. This helps develop trust and brand loyalty over time, which ultimately influences buying decisions, like choosing your brand over your competitors.
Emotional advertising is directly related to the types of advertisements that are placed by the company in order to evoke emotions, raise awareness around their brand, and to build trust with their target audience. Emotional ads can be used both to establish a brand as contribute to a larger discussion about current events or tragedies. Airbnb, for example, launched its “Let’s Keep Traveling Forward” campaign following the 2018 US travel ban. While this particular marketing message doesn't necessarily encapsulate their entire brand, it certainly speaks to its target audience at an emotional level that helps promote trust and even brand loyalty.
The tactic that brings it all together, the marketing goals and customer loyalty, is storytelling. Storytelling is an art form that has been used since the beginning of human existence and, just like human emotion, is a craft that was developed for survival. After all, if you can accurately portray a valuable lesson that will not be forgotten for generations, then your offspring will be better for it. So being able to tell a story well not only helps you connect on an emotional level but also helps others remember your story—and brand—for a long time. The goal of storytelling is to be so good at it that customers remember your brand when they are in the decision-making process just before purchasing a product.
Now that we’ve touched on a few basic emotions and different emotional marketing strategies to accompany them, it’s time to look at real-life examples of emotional marketing. You don’t need to copy them (it might be weird if you do), but take a look at how each of these brands talks very little about themselves or their products. Instead, they talk about a bigger issue that, of course, can be quite emotional.
Always, a company that sells feminine products, flipped the age-old insult ‘like a girl’ on its head by launching an entire campaign that looked at all of the amazing things that girls and women are doing both in sports and in the world. The #LikeAGirl campaign not only turned a lot of heads but also won a lot of hearts…
...and possibly customers.
Gillette released a moving video that highlighted four Olympic athletes as the Rio Olympics approached in 2016. It showed that being perfect, which is loosely defined as Olympic-worthy athleticism, takes a lot of sacrifice and pain. Though Gillette only sells razors, which are vaguely incorporated into the commercial, the brand created an emotional pull in its audience by aligning itself with the hard workers of the world. While viewers may not be sure what kind of product features Gillette can offer, they do know what kind of mission the brand stands behind. And this will come in handy when buyers are ready to purchase new razors.
Another super emotional campaign released for the 2016 Rio Olympics was created by P&G, which highlighted the mother’s role in our lives. In this video, we watch Olympic athletes remember how their mothers encouraged them and comforted them as children, which helps them have the courage to compete in the Olympics. P&G is a company that encompasses a wide range of products all meant for the home, so it’s a powerful move to do a little emotional branding on the home aspect of their company just as millions of people sit down to watch their commercial from home.
I dare you to watch it and not cry.
In this creative commercial, Gatorade utilizes storytelling to convey an emotional message that helps its audience bond with both the brand and the main character, Usain Bolt. As Usain Bolt becomes a household name around the world, so too does Gatorade for sponsoring him. It’s a smart move that all brands can learn from.
Just like I mentioned above, Airbnb took a stance against the US travel ban in 2018 by launching the “Let’s Keep Traveling Foward” campaign. In it, they reference a super controversial piece of legislation that banned a list of countries from traveling to the US due to their religion and/or role in certain American-centered international political scandals. Understandably, many people around the world were appalled by this move, including the founders of Airbnb. They used this opportunity to incite anger in their audience and to provide a positive beacon to cling to.
Rather than boasting all of the chemicals in their disinfectant sprays, Lysol pulls on the heartstrings of their customer base of mothers by promising that they “protect like a mother”. This message empowers mothers and validates all that they do, which likely positions the brand as one that mothers can trust. It’s a smart yet simple move to build trust and loyalty in their customers.
This campaign cuts right to the heart of the experience of losing weight, which is also, coincidentally, what Lean Cuisine offers a solution for. By connecting with their target audience on a deeply emotional level, it makes the often difficult topic of weight issues a little less difficult.
This video was part of Apple’s “Think Different” campaign, which proved to be a huge success by winning numerous awards, including the 1998 Emmy Award for Best Commercial.
Interestingly, the “different” in “Think Different” was meant to be a noun, not a grammatical mistake that some claimed it to be.
Google’s Search Stories showcase a series of videos where individuals have used Google services to improve their lives or solve problems.
This particular video shows how a helicopter rescue team was able to save an entire family with the help of Google Maps.
The WWF doesn’t mess around when it comes to speaking about the negative effects of climate change. They’re known for creating emotionally charged images that either provoke anger, fear, or awe, all in hopes of compelling action in their target audience.
While most of the world doesn’t seem to care much about the Earth or its animals in the face of climate change, Patagonia was certain about one thing: we care at least about ourselves. So when they post a picture of a child that is ‘facing extinction’, it’s naturally going to cause some emotional reactions in those who view it. Even if the viewers aren’t compelled to tell Congress how they feel, they might remember this brand the next time they go shopping.
Nike took a bold step in this emotional ad campaign by aligning with an athlete most known for kneeling during the national anthem in protest against police brutality against African American men in the US. As a result, half the nation was outraged and burning their Nike products in protest. The other half was applauding the brand and investing in Nike products to support the brand. As for Nike, no matter which side you’re on, they were the talk of the nation that year.
The challenge: Selling a German car to Americans 15 years after WWII.
Volkswagen’s Lemon ad featured a Beetle that had a small blemish on the chrome strip on the glove compartment and had to be replaced. Their minimalism in their marketing campaigns, coupled with their perfectionism, set Volkswagen apart from other carmakers.
When Procter & Gamble released “The Talk”, they were referencing something that is often swept under the rug in the United States, causing quite a stir in both blacks and whites alike. It’s a powerful reminder of just how important open communication is in families as well as the protector role that mothers naturally hold. This commercial put on display a very harsh reality that black families face in the US, evoking a whole host of emotions, from anger to awe.
The AFL released the “I’d Like To See That” campaign, touching on the women’s empowerment movement that has been taking place over the last century. In the video, they highlight all the different ways that women are excelling in sports, evoking pride and awe in its viewers.
Professor Jonah Berger has spent a decade investigating what makes things go viral. This is part of a series of his research into the 6 principles of virality (STEPPS):
Contagious: Jonah Berger's 6 STEPPS to Viral Marketing
Another great way to invoke people's emotions through marketing is reciprocity. Reciprocity marketing has proven on many occasions to be very successful. Why? Check out our article on reciprocity marketing here.