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EMOTION: The Key to Unlocking Your Audience

  • EMOTION: The Key to Unlocking Your Audience

    Marketing is a human interaction even online. Or at least it should be and the better we understand the science behind those interactions, the better we become as marketers and the better we become at engaging our audiences on- and off-line.



    In a recent piece on Fast Company dot com, excerpted from the book “The Power of Communication – Skills to Build Trust, Inspire Loyalty and, Lead Effectively”, Helio Fred Garcia* makes a point that is extremely important for any marketer involved in web communications and marketing. His lead proposition is that “the default to emotion is part of the human condition.” In his book he presents an argument that has some powerful implications for those of us in the mundane world of business and need to affectively connect with our audiences.


    The science behind his discussion is very sound, and to better appreciate the role of emotion and what it allows an audience – whether online or off – to do, we need to have a basic understanding of the physiology involved. Helio explains that “The human brain can be understood as three separate brains working in tandem, if not completely integrated with each other.” He goes on to say that “the primitive brain and the limbic brain collectively make up the limbic system, which governs emotion.


    Within the limbic system, there is a structure called the amygdala.” This is the part of the brain we need to fully understand. Definition for the non-psychology/med majors out there . . . According to the Gray’s Anatomy textbook the amygdala are almond-shaped groups of nuclei located deep within the medial temporal lobes of the brain in complex vertebrates, including humans. Shown in research to perform a primary role in the processing and memory of emotional reactions, the amygdalae are considered part of the limbic system.


    From a physiological and psychological standpoint, when given any type of stimulus, the amygdala turns our emotions on. We can’t help it. It takes place instantaneously, without having to think about it. As an example, we find ourselves responding to a threat even before we’re consciously aware of it. Think of jumping back when we see a sudden movement in front of us, or being startled by the sound of a loud bang – commonly called the “startle response”.


    Now as marketers, we can use the knowledge that the human brain responds instantaneously to positive stimulus without thinking about it. A couple of good examples come to mind. For instance, we tend to smile back when someone smiles at us. Or how we are immediately distracted when something we consider beautiful enters our line of sight.


    This part of the brain is the crucial to understanding an audience’s emotional response, and how to connect with an audience. It plays an important role in salience, what grabs and keeps our attention. In other words, attention is an emotion-driven phenomenon.


    If we want to get and hold an audience’s attention, we need to trigger the amygdala to our advantage. Only when we have an audience’s attention can we then move them to rational argument.


    To illustrate this point, Helio gives a narrative about how he starts his class sessions when he explains that he has “. . . become somewhat notorious in the programs I teach at NYU for the ways in which I start each class. I teach all-day sessions on Saturdays, and as the 9 a.m. start time approaches, most students are still milling about, getting settled and chatting with each other. At precisely 9 a.m.”


    “I touch a button on my remote mouse and play a sudden blast of very loud music. Most of the time it’s the chorus of “Let’s Get It Started” by the Black Eyed Peas, but to keep the element of surprise I sometimes vary the selection. After a 10-second burst of very loud music, I have every student’s undivided attention. I then lock in the connection: I smile, welcome them, thank them for investing a full Saturday in developing their careers. Only then do I begin the class. I have hijacked their amygdalas. We need audiences to feel first, and then to think.”


    Five Strategies for Audience Engagement

    He then suggests five specific strategies to engage with your audience. When communicating with your audiences you need to take the amygdala into account in determining how the content is structured and how the audience is engaged.


    In person, this is far easier to establish. Online is more presumptive and requires more forethought and persona planning, but it can be done.

    1. Establish connection before saying anything substantive – And remember that the connection is physical. This means pictures and graphics online or using the technique of asking for the audience’s attention, if only with a powerful and warm greeting, followed by silence and eye contact in person or by clear and well defined ‘next step’ directions online. The key is to make sure the audience isn’t doing something else or distracted by a purely extraneous element on the web page so that they pay attention.

    3. Say the most important thing first – Once you have their attention. The most important thing should be a powerful framing statement, that single statement or value proposition that will control the meaning of everything that follows. An important thing to remember – again with the psychology of the human mind in mind – that frames or framing statements must precede facts. It’s a matter of how we process, retain and engage as humans.

    5. Close with a restatement – Reiteration is power in communications: As you close your discussion, simply restate your powerful framing statement that opened your presentation.

    7. Make it easy to remember. Keep in mind how hard it is for people to read or listen, hear, and remember all at the same time. One proven method is to repeat key points. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking, “But I’ve already said this. I don’t need to say it again.” Or, “I don’t want to say it again and seem repetitive.”

    9. We need to constantly repeat the key themes, within any on- or off-line presentation and in general as a matter of organizational strategy. It doesn’t matter if you’re bored with saying it or feel that it’s repetitive. The audience needs to hear it, again and again. As a general principle, people need to hear things three times if they are to even pay attention to it. And because any given audience member at any time may be distracted or inattentive, they are unlikely to hear, see or attend to everything that is presented to them. So you need to repeat key points far more than three times to be sure that everyone has heard, seen or perceived them at least three times.


    Follow the rule of threes.

    This is incredibly important and one point that I consistently see violated in online and web communications. Have three main points. But no more than three main points, no more than three topics and no more than three examples per topic. Remember to group the thoughts in threes, words in threes, and actions in threes.


    Helio concluded by noting that “The default to emotion is part of the human condition.” The amygdala governs the fight-or-flight impulse, the triggering of powerful emotions and the release of chemicals that put humans in a heightened state of arousal and awareness.


    Humans are not just thinking machines. We’re feeling machines who also think. Most importantly we need to realize that we feel first and then we think. As a result, marketers need to meet emotion with emotion before they can move audiences with reason.


    * Helio Fred Garcia is the Executive Director at Logos Institute for Crisis Management & Executive Leadership and author of the book “The Power of Communication – Skills to Build Trust, Inspire Loyalty and, Lead Effectively”


    The article EMOTION: The Key to Unlocking Your Audience first appeared on Dan Hoff Blogspot

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