Getting Emotional: How Customer Sentiment Impacts Marketing

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Customer Journey

In today’s age, our customers know a lot about us – and we can know a lot about our customers. We can conduct market research, ask for customer feedback, even pay for rich demographic data. But one data point we may miss is emotion or customer sentiment and, as it turns out, that’s an important indicator.

Customer emotion can be the deciding factor on whether they purchase from us, a competitor – or no one at all. This goes beyond “customer is having a bad day; customer doesn’t purchase.” In the context of marketing, customer emotion – also referred to as customer sentiment – represents the long term emotional connection that a customer has about our brand.

What is Emotion?

Emotions and feelings. What’s the difference? The two are inextricably linked in a chain of events: Emotions come first, and feelings second – as a response to the emotion. Emotions are universal, and often instinctual. Feelings, on the other hand, are more personal.

Basic emotions include happiness, anger, fear, surprise, sadness and disgust. In fact, there are dozens – if not hundreds – of emotions. We humans are an emotional bunch, it turns out – a fact echoed in pop culture. Slang like “feel all the feels” and “I just have a lot of feelings” come to mind. There’s even a whole music and lifestyle genre devoted to the concept: Emo.

But, put the jokes aside for a moment. The truth is emotions carry a lot of power. Emotions don’t just translate into feelings (though that is important). They can also translate into action. They impel us to react. For example, if we are feeling the emotion of anger, our tempers may flare quickly; in turn, we may react by cutting off people on the freeway, or slamming a fist on a desk. On the other hand, if we are feeling the motion of joy, we may react by offering a smile, a hug or even buying an unexpected present for someone we love.

Why Marketers Must Pay Attention to Emotion and Customer Sentiment

This connection – emotion and reaction – is important for us marketers to notice. If emotion affects what we do, it likely follows that it drives our decision-making. It likely affects what we buy.

An article on the sales process, posted in Brain X, puts it this way: “If customers used logic to make all their purchasing decisions, then designing an effective sales process would be a cinch. All your sales team would have to do is lay out the features and price and let the customer make the most logical decision. In reality, the field of sales is both dynamic and challenging because all decisions are based on emotions.”


Let’s consider a few factors that may influence customer emotions.

The Role Problem-Solving

The first one is problem solving. As Forbes says: “Customers interact with a brand because they connect emotionally and/or need a problem solved. Thriving companies drive this strategic growth by delivering experiences that meet these customer needs, generating relationships that leave customers wanting more.”

Time for a few questions to think through: What problem(s) does your product or solution solve? Next, put yourself in the shoes of someone with those problems. What might their emotional state be? What feelings might they be experiencing as they deal with the weight of those woes? And – and here’s the big one – how might you play off those emotions to target them and turn them into customers?

As marketers, we must convince people that they need the thing we are hustling. It’s our job to create that feeling of need. We need to influence the buyer to turn that emotion into a purchase.

The Price to Pay

Remember that scene in Pretty Woman when Julia Roberts goes shopping at a Beverly Hills retailer, only to be looked down on and ignored? Think about how she probably felt: uncomfortable. Judged. Sure, she had a pocketbook full of cash to spend, but in the moment, she felt insufficient – and angry.

Which leads me to another set of questions: How comfortable do your customers feel walking in to your store, or using your product in public? Consider these emotional responses to the perception of your brand – and how that may influence your marketing efforts.

Also factor in the price of your product or service. If your customers only need to drop a few dollars to purchase your item, they may not pay much attention to their emotional or feeling response. The swing isn’t very high or low. But if they’re going to spend beaucoup bucks, you can expect a wild emotional ride. The item had better spark some serious joy.

Consider Motivation

On any given day, in any given human, there are a range of things we desire – such as to feel like we are fitting in, doing good, feeling free, etc. Harvard Business Review calls these Emotional Motivators.

According to HBR, these motivators “provide a better gauge of customers’ future value to a firm than any other metric, including brand awareness and customer satisfaction, and can be an important new source of growth and profitability.”

I find this fascinating. We talk a lot about customer benefits in our line of work: what benefits our products offer, what problems that we can help solve. Those are important – but it goes even deeper. If we can prove that our business/product/service helps a customer feel a certain way, we may be able to reel them in to buy.

The Role of Empathy

We can’t control all of our customer’s emotions. After all, they, like us, are human – and span a wide range of emotions in a day/week/year. But there is a secret weapon that we can control, and that is our ability to connect with customers through empathy.

If you can put yourself in your customer’s shoes – if you can empathize with them – then you can understand their emotional state.

Brand Trust

A related topic to emotion is the concept of Brand Trust. Trust is, in and of itself, an emotion. If customers feel your brand is trustworthy, chances are they are more likely to turn to and buy from your brand.

I came across this quote which sums up this concept well: “The emotional benefit: Customers don’t speak about it, but this is the reason they come back time and again. This is all about how you want to make the customer feel and how they connect with the brand.”

Some factors that help achieve brand trust include a willingness to be transparent, unflinching, and consistent. Are you?

Tying it Together: Takeaway Tips and Tools

  • Study your customers. Try to find out what they like and dislike. Study what they typically buy – and where and when.
  • Ask questions about their emotions and emotional motivators. What are the things they are striving for in life, and/or with their purchases? Via surveys, for example, you can ask your customers such as if your brand is one they trust. Ask if they are comfortable being seen using your product – and if not, why not? Pay attention to those telling answers.
  • Turn these insights into action. See what emotions your customers are feeling – what motivators they are triggered by – and dovetail in how your brand can meet those needs. Play those things up in your marketing.
  • Try psychology tactics. For example, “priming” your audience to be ready for the message you wish to convey. This may include planting language seeds of ideas early in your campaign, so they are ready for the keyword when it appears, and/or playing with homonyms. For example, use the word “by” or “bye” early in your copy – and then “buy” in your CTA. Another concept to play with is conformity – that is, tapping into the basic human need to “fit in.” We may think of ourselves as unique creatures, but at the end of the day our habits often converge into predictable patterns and outcomes. We want to act like others act, do like others do. To wit, pepper your copy with customer testimonials and case studies to show how your product or service has served others well. Make customers more comfortable by providing credible evidence that others have gone before them – and seen success.
  • Tap into the buyer’s journey. Where, based on data or emotional insight, might your customers be making their purchase decision?
  • Bring it all together in your campaign. Play up your brand’s strengths – the way you meet needs and solve problems – by infusing customer testimonials infused into your marketing. Use effective storytelling to show (not tell) about your brand. Employ customer sentiments, emotions, and motivators to infuse the tone of your campaigns – everything from word choice to color palettes and imagery. Have fun! People say this is where the magic happens, but you and I will know it’s the result of a lot of in-depth insight and work.