The New Science of Customer Emotions


You’re meeting the needs of your audience. They’re satisfied with your organization. But maybe “satisfied” is just a starting place, because you have the potential to connect with your audience in a deeper way.

Could you be connecting with your audiences’ emotional motivations? Those deep, sometimes unconscious, desires that drive behavior in all of our interactions?

Recent marketing scholarship has shown the immense value of connecting to people’s emotional motivations. Motista, a consumer intelligence firm, did a two-year research project and literature review to identify 300 universal motivating emotions. “To measure their impact on consumer behavior, we conducted intercept surveys of more than one million U.S. consumers through thousands of websites, gathering data across 30 industries and 400-plus brands that included measures of brand consideration, trial, repurchase, advocacy, customer satisfaction, brand differentiation, and emotional connection,” according to an article about the research in the Harvard Business Review.

The researchers determined which emotional motivators are most powerfully associated with customer behavior and customer value. They also measured the degree to which connecting to those motivators influences customer behavior.

And what did they find? “When companies connect with customers’ emotions, the payoff can be huge,” according to the Harvard Business Review article. “Given the enormous opportunity to create new value, companies should pursue emotional connections as a science—and a strategy.”

The researchers provide the example of a major bank that introduced a credit card for Millennials that was designed to inspire emotional connection. Use among Millennials increased by 70 percent and new account growth rose by 40 percent.

So what kind of emotional motivators drive behavior? Here are some of the top motivators according to the researchers at Motista:

  1. People want to stand out from the crowd. You can connect with this motivator by helping people project a unique social identity.
  2. People want to have confidence in the future. You can connect with this motivator by helping people to perceive the future as better than the past, to feel hopeful and have a positive mental picture of what is to come.
  3. People want to feel a sense wellbeing. You can connect with this motivator by helping people to feel that life measures up to their expectations. You can help them feel stress-free, without conflicts or threats.
  4. People want to have a sense of freedom. You can connect with this motivator by helping people to act independently, without obligation or restriction.
  5. People want to feel a thrill. You can connect with this motivator by helping people to experience visceral, overwhelming pleasure and excitement, or participate in exciting, fun events.
  6. People want a sense of belonging. You can connect with this motivator by helping people to have an affiliation with people they relate to or aspire to be like, and feel part of a group.
  7. People want to feel that they are protecting the environment. You can connect with this motivator by helping people to sustain the belief that the environment is sacred and help them take action to improve their surroundings. (Lucky you, environmental organizations! Your mission ties into one of the big emotional motivators.)

How and Why You Should Connect with Emotional Motivators

People who feel emotionally connected to your organization will spend more money and offer more engagement. A lot more. The researchers at Motista found that moving an existing costumer from “satisfied” to “emotionally connected” was more profitable than turning an existing “unsatisfied” customers into a “satisfied” one. Emotionally connected people are loyal, active, engaged, and price-insensitive.

Figure out what emotional motivators already bring people to your organization. Look to your most committed and engaged audience members. Why do they do what they do? Do they feel like they are becoming the people that they are meant to be when they donate money to you? Do they feel connected to other people and a sense of belonging when they volunteer for you? Does helping your organization allow them to feel greater hope for the future?

The Motista researchers warn that people’s emotional motives may not be what they say. They may be unconscious. And they may change depending on how and when they are interacting with your organization. Dig deep.

After you’ve identified what emotional motivators are connecting you with your best supporters, figure out how to communicate to better connect with others. Not only should you communicate to appeal to those emotional motivators, interactions with your organization should gratify those desires.

For example, if volunteering for your organization is largely motivated by a desire to  feel a sense of belonging, using images of your community of volunteers in your communications is a great idea. And the actual experience of volunteering should also allow people to feel a very real sense of belonging and camaraderie.

Thinking about people’s very human emotional needs and desires and how those things motivate their behavior when it comes to your organization helps to cut to the core of what you do. It’s no nonsense. It’s the opposite of a gimmick. And it works.