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Rational or Emotional Marketing? You’ll be surprised!
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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.

Surprised?

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!

Peter Vogopoulos is a business and marketing coach, and proud co-founder of Firepole Marketing. If you want more tips and ideas, sign up for our FREE 7-Day "Business Fireproofing" Video Course, where you'll learn the seven biggest marketing mistakes that most businesses are making, and that you need to avoid!

36 Comments

  1. Bradley says:

    Hey Peter, thanks for the insightful post. I’ve worked in the “naming” (branding) industry for 10 years and have this conversation quite often, but your clear examples really help. I especially like the pain versus pleasure part. I really don’t like doing the pain (or worse: fear, think political ads) solution, but it does work. I’d say my favorite is #5 because I’m a sucker (like many people) for the numbered lists and then it talks about the gain (or pleasure) you could achieve by following these three steps.

    Great job. 

  2. Marlee Ward says:

    Hey Peter!
    I was surprised by Halls research. I didn’t know about his work and I’ve always been taught to use emotional triggers. What I especially like about what you’ve shared here is simply to focus on one or the other and knock it out of the park. I think that all of your marketing has to be filtered through the screen of “who is my audience”. If you are doing that a lot of these elements will be dictated for you. Thanks for sharing this great post!

    • Peter Vogopoulos says:

      I think you’ve hit the important thing, Marlee. I’ve wondered whether Hall’s research would change if he took into account one more variable: the receiver. I wonder whether in a sample size of people, some generally respond to rational headlines and others to emotional for a given product, and that explains the fairly equal result. (Obviously both together won’t work, we’ve established that).Essentially what I am saying is that I wonder how much overlap there is i.e. whether the people who make up the 45% and 42% are the mostly the same people or very different people. Maybe in the first case, it’s a group of people is triggered by a rational message for THAT SPECIFIC product, and were non-plussed by an emotional headline. In the other case, vice versa: for that same specific product they were more likely to respond to an emotional headline.For example, it’s hard to get worked up about office equipment, but I’d probably be very responsive to a rational headline for a laser printer, but was totally enamored with the promise of tidy receipts provided by my much loved “Neat Receipts” scanner. How would that count in Hall’s research?I make this point because I maintain that the receiver (and their needs, desires, pains, motivations) has as much to do with the message than anything else. Hence why in a recent post we made a big deal about the importance of defining the ONE person you are talking to. Would the ONE person be more likely to respond to an emotional headline, or a rational one? Use that one first.

  3. Anonymous says:

     Thanks for the great post.  I was surprised to learn that there was no difference between emotional and rational benefits.  I work predominantly in the weight loss industry and we use emotional triggers as much as possible in our copy.  In fact, your marketing message #4 stood out most for me because it follows the same structure of one of our most successful headlines, “3 foods that are secretly making you fat.”  Thanks again.~ Vic

    • Peter Vogopoulos says:

      What a neat industry to think about in this context. There is so much emotional baggage associated with weight loss, too. I wonder what sort of rational “headline” would work? Thanks for stopping by, Vic.

  4. I’m surprised by which one appealed to me most, which was #5. This is incredibly interesting to me and after re-reading it a good amount of times, it makes sense. I also feel better knowing this more clearly, but … you just added to my work week; now I have to go back and review a few things! ;) Uh … thank you I guess. ;)  Seriously, thank you! Great post!  Much kindness, Elena

    • Peter Vogopoulos says:

      That’s us — turning marketing on it’s ear and adding to to-do lists everywhere since 2010. :-)

      Just kidding. Thanks for reading and commenting, Elena. Good luck with your review. 

  5. You reminded me of another example of jargon that I saw last week while I was waiting to board a Delta flight. I’m pleased that Delta now has electronic signage that shows the status of passengers wait listed for upgrades. The names were shown with a large headline “All passengers cleared.” I thought to myself, what does “cleared” mean? Have they been upgraded or does it mean they’ve been cleared off the list because they can’t be upgraded?  How about just “All passengers upgraded.”

  6. Ruthy107 says:

    Well, I read them again – and I still would pick marketing message #1 – simply because I think that it holds in it all the others, tricks, tweaks and mistakes… But it could be that I just happen to understand that particular feature…

    As for rational vs. emotional – I take it to say that I, the marketer, should use what I feels most comfortable with. Actually it makes sense, since it means I would be using the “language” I am most familiar with, hence my message would come across more clearly and fluently… That was a valuable understanding, thanks  :)

    • Peter Vogopoulos says:

      Thanks for your comment, Ruthy. You bring up an interesting point about messaging. You liked #1 because you want the implied result of writing a better ad. Which assumes that you know what that result is (or can be). In essence, you connected the dots to the benefit yourself. However, it’s also been said that such an approach can backfire if you are marketing this way. The idea behind this is that we are so barraged with marketing messaging, unless we get hit between the eyes with the benefit — expressed as overtly and directly as possible — we won’t waste time connecting the dots to understand the implied benefit therein. Just like my car starter example.I’d probably go for overtly presenting the benefit, myself. But when in doubt, test.

      • Ruthy107 says:

        Thanks, Peter, for informative and educating reply – I have to say, I am very new to this area of marketing and learning a lot following your blog. Thanks again :))

  7. Great article Peter.  The pain vs. pleasure distinction struck me as very relevant to this site.  Is your “ONE person” someone with a marketing problem or someone excited to learn about marketing.  I enjoyed this one because it felt empowering.  You guys obviously really know your stuff at a deeper level than much of the cliche advice found all over the web, and in this article you were sharing that deeper understanding with us readers… struck me as very relevant to this site.  Is your “ONE person” someone with a marketing problem or someone excited to learn about marketing?  I enjoyed this one because it felt empowering.  You guys obviously really know your stuff at a deeper level than much of the cliche advice found all over the web, and in this article you were sharing that deeper understanding with us readers…

    • Peter Vogopoulos says:

      Why thank you for your kind words, Gregory. It is very appreciated.
      Danny and I always write under the assumption that our audience consists of smart people who don’t want a warmed up cliche. 
      Re: the ONE person, that is precisely the dimension I wonder whether Hall took into account. I’m about to opine on it in response to other comments on the page.

  8. Brad Harmon says:

    Interesting post, Peter.  Like a few others have noted, I found #5 to be the “best” marketing message too.  I think it appealed to me because it was the most actionable of the five choices, and the word simple implied fast, easy, and painless.  I found it struck both an emotional and rational chord.

    It’d be interesting to see the data broken down by industry.  For example, I can’t see McDonald’s using a rational approach to their advertising.  Perhaps, the two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun is the closest I’ve seen them come.  You can thank me later if that song is stuck in your head all day.  ;)

    I’m still not convinced that people don’t buy on emotions then search for facts to back it up.  Maybe some buying decisions are much less emotional than others, but it’s still there.

    • Peter Vogopoulos says:

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, Brad.The research certainly bucks what we’ve believed all along doesn’t it? There are certain purchases — “status” purchases come to mind, like expensive watches and cars — that you’d expect to appeal to the emotional side. Yet a good friend of mine bought his BMW purely on features and tangible characteristics (horsepower, 0-60 in .0003 seconds — that kind of thing) – or so he says. I maintain that deep down he just wanted to feel a certain way.

  9. Robert Pinto-Fernandes says:

     Hey Peter, how are you doing? 

    I always learn so much from you! I liked statement number 3. However, if I was spending thousands on advertising, I would probably favour number 2! 

    I think that the greatest problem is overcomplicating things – trying to target everyone and getting no one. I love how you and Danny focus on specialisation, but conveying your marketing message in a simple way, so as not to confuse or disillusion anyone. 

    What an interesting analysis. I’ve never heard of Doug Hall but how can anyone argue with those cold stats!? Thanks for shattering a couple of marketing myths.

    In the most basic terms, marketing to me is about clarity and simplicity, doing all the complicated stuff behind the scenes, but conveying a simple, clear and effective message to the ONE PERSON.

    I always look forward to your posts. Hope that everything is well on your side.

    Robert

    • Peter Vogopoulos says:

       Hi Robert!
      Great to see you again — hope things are great for you, too!

      Thanks for your kind words. The mantra seems to be the same whether you are looking to achieve your goals (as your excellent blog helps with), or looking to market your business. Simple, clear actions and messages, repeated again and again, WORK and GET RESULTS.

      Thanks for being a booster!

      • Robert Pinto-Fernandes says:

        Definitely, I’m with you 100% on that one. Nice to hear from you, and thanks for your reply and your kind words. Yes things are great on this side as well, just working hard as usual :)

        Speak soon and take care,

        Robert

  10. Anonymous says:

    Peter, this was a great read man, thanks for sharing!

    When I see adverts, I always resonate more with those that affect me emotionally rather than logically. I’m a guy who leads from his emotions, and if something tugs at my heart-strings, I’ll feel more compelled to buy it rather than something that makes logical sense to me.

    I’m not saying I’m a emotional wreck, but rather, my heart makes the final decision in matters, and my head figures the rest out.

    Learned a few things from this, thanks! :-)

  11. Anonymous says:

    Peter, this was a great read man, thanks for sharing!

    When I see adverts, I always resonate more with those that affect me emotionally rather than logically. I’m a guy who leads from his emotions, and if something tugs at my heart-strings, I’ll feel more compelled to buy it rather than something that makes logical sense to me.

    I’m not saying I’m a emotional wreck, but rather, my heart makes the final decision in matters, and my head figures the rest out.

    Learned a few things from this, thanks! :-)

    • Peter Vogopoulos says:

       Yep, that fits what we’ve always heard — that we make the decision emotionally and then justify the whole thing later. In response to another comment, I’ve wondered if this is just not a situation of different strokes for different folks.
      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  12. [...] course, all of the usual best practices about speaking to emotional versus rational benefits, rather than features, and addressing your one ideal customer still apply. No need to rehash them [...]

  13. Introducing The 6 + 1 Model For Effective Copywriting (Better Than AIDA!) | Actors Without Borders says:

    [...] course, all of the usual best practices about speaking to emotional versus rational benefits, rather than features, and addressing your one ideal customer still apply. No need to rehash them [...]

  14. Danny Iny says:

    Good question, Vicki. That’s why we changed the name of the video course. :)

  15. Ed says:

    Really interesting article. I read Hall’s book and normall tend to follow his approach. I wonder though if the current’s brand perception affects the direction of the message. Maybe a brand with negative brand perception will be better suited for rational advertising until their perception gets more positive and then they can try being more emotional.

  16. Introducing The 6 + 1 Model For Effective Copywriting (Better Than AIDA!) | Smashing UX Design says:

    [...] course, all of the usual best practices about speaking to emotional versus rational benefits, rather than features, and addressing your one ideal customer still apply. No need to rehash them [...]

  17. Very interesting stuff and one of the most eye-opening looks at features-vs-benefits I’ve seen, Peter.

    [applause]

    I particularly like how you quoted Doug Hall on this, his focus on facts & data reminds me of Derek Halpern + Kevin Hogan.

    It’s interesting though, because if you asked Doug Hall WHY he wants to “fill his bank account”, he’d eventually spit out a strong emotional motivation like to feel freedom, to feel choice, to feel ease, to feel fun, to feel status, to feel success, etc.

    He wouldn’t give you a # or some hard data in response to such a question, and neither will customers, when you get right down to it :D

    The reason the two numbers are statistically equivalent though, is because although everything starts with an emotional motivation/desire, there are always physical, tangible representations of those feelings, and so speaking to either of those evokes the response.

    Feelin’ me? ;)

  18. Justin says:

    Peter.
    This is perhaps the most important thing i have read. Now i can use your fab post to turn my sales and landing pages into something that works at last. i am totally new to all of this marketing and selling. Thank you for sharing!

  19. [...] to them, what they care about, what functional problem or need of theirs you’re addressing, the emotional vs. rational benefits that they are after, and the psychosocial motivations driving it [...]

  20. […] world and they might venture into your store. And don’t be afraid to let your feelings show- emotional marketing can really set you […]

  21. […] to them, what they care about, what functional problem or need of theirs you’re addressing, the emotional vs. rational benefits that they are after, and the psychosocial motivations driving it […]

  22. […] Which is a shame because, when it comes to handing over their money, how your prospects feel about you is much more important than what they think. […]

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