Emotional triggers have driven sales for decades, but 2020 will be different


95% of purchasing decisions are subconscious, according to Harvard professor Gerald Zaltman –– meaning they’re based on how a consumer feels –– about their day, about the product, and about your brand. 

There isn’t much new to the emotional side to brand building; we’ve known for decades that how a consumer feels about your brand matters. A lot. 

Just think back to any one of the good episodes of Mad Men. For example, the Heinz beans campaign Don wins for the agency with a pitch that shows children eating Heinz at the dinner table over the decades. It was called “Heinz Beans: Some Things Never Change,” and originally conceived by Don’s wife, Megan Clavet – and it worked because of emotion. 

The ad had nothing to do with logic. Heinz beans don’t necessarily taste better than other beans. They aren’t necessarily the cheapest. In fact, competitors had been swooping in on the legacy brand and taking customers. What’s an old-school brand to do? 

Enter nostalgia. Give people the warm fuzzies. Remind them why these kinds of product even matter at all, i.e. they don’t. The time with family, the full belly, the happiness, the laughter –– that’s what matters. 

It’s the same hat trick all of the company’s we love most have used:

  • Apple’s Misunderstood Technology Campaign: Showing a family together, with that one person always on their phone. (We’ve all been there). Come to find out, he’s been using his phone to create an amazing video for the whole family. The ad won an Emmy
  • REI’s #OutOutside Campaign: This ad campaign spoke to folks to get outside, spend more time with family, and think less about consumerism. REI’s sales went up for doing the thing no one thought possible –– shutting down on the busiest holiday of the year so families could do the same. The ad campaign has won many awards.
  • Google’s Home Alone Again Campaign: This ad harkened back to the Home Alone series of the 90s that most millennials loved, starring the lead actor Macaulay Culkin. Now, they’re Home Alone with Alexa. It was the most watched ad of 2018, racking up 70.7 million views

The point of all of these campaigns was to sell more, of course, but they did it through emotional resonance and building a connection between the viewers (potential consumers) and the brand. 

So, if we’ve known this all along, what’s changed in 2019 –– and where will that take us in 2020?

The importance of purpose in the experience economy

In the past, brands may have been able to get away with amazing ads that pulled the strings of nostalgia and made consumers fall in love. Today, that isn’t enough. Millennials, and especially Gen Z, who’ve grown up discerning between various options on the internet, have a keen and critical eye. 

The question these generations will ask is: Yes, you can pull on emotions via advertising, but what else about your business stands up for what you say you believe in?

This means that brands must have a higher purpose beyond growth and revenue

  • Do you give back to 1% for the planet? 
  • Do you use ethical labor laws and pay a fair wage? 
  • What is your political stance, and when might you put your company’s dollars behind it? 

The answers to these questions matter to Millennials and Gen Z, which means looking forward to 2020 as Gen Z becomes a major percentage of the American wallet over the next decade, this will only continue to matter more. 

Emotional intelligence in business, including with employees

In 2007, Arianna Huffington, the Founder and former CEO of The Huffington Post, collapsed from burnout and exhaustion. She broke her cheekbone on the way down and had to have four stitches in her right eye.

“That was the event that got me to start asking these questions that we stop asking ourselves after college,” says Huffington. “Things like ‘How is a good life,’ ‘What is success,’ ‘Why by conventional standards do we measure success by money, power and recognition?’ By any measure of success, if you are lying in a pool of blood in your office, you’re probably not successful.”

Huffington then started Thrive Global, an online publication focusing on education and storytelling around burnout, the importance of sleep and meditation, and overall improved mental health that highlights true success, as measured by personal happiness.

It’s a movement that’s taken deep root in the U.S. and will likely continue to do so. After all, millennials graduated college into the worst recession in modern history. They also carried with them the largest student debt of any generation. Both of which happened as the middle class was shrinking, cost of living rising, and wages staying pretty much the same. 

The old adage that working hard will get you to where you want to go just hasn’t panned out for a lot of millennials, and the added stress of growing up surrounded by social media has put new pressures on Gen Z.

These two generations are worn out, anxious, depressed, and more lonely than any others before them –– and now, they are demanding brands and internal business culture that recognize mental health and emotional intelligence in every campaign, meeting, and boardroom. 

CX makes every moment matter, leading to loyalty and advocacy

In the last year of this decade, customer experience and employee experience are the keys to building a beloved brand –– and will be long into the next. And CX, both B2C and B2B, is about emotional intelligence and resonance. 

Differing from how brands have previously used emotional triggers to win loyalty, brands today and for the next decade will need to balance the marketing of emotion with the actioning of emotionally intelligent systems and processes.

Without these, the campaigns of the future will on deaf ears as consumers savvy up to ads and brands that promise connection without any semblance of it.

We’re taking this topic to Twitter.
Join us for our next #CXTweetchat on Friday, November 22. 

Tracey Wallace
Share this:
Tracey Wallace

Subscribe to our newsletter for the most up-to-date e-commerce insights.