Let’s Get Emotional: How to Truly Engage Your Audience

Herosmyth Staff
min read
April 25th, 2017

It doesn’t matter how actively you reach out to customers, how much original content you produce. It doesn’t even matter how good your brand’s reputation is.

The bottom line is this: without emotionally engaging your customers, your brand will fail.

Now, there are other ways to temporarily boost sales, but nothing works as well as genuinely connecting with customers to keep them passionately on board...for life.

Cold, Hard Facts

man pointing at positive smiley face

The numbers don’t lie, either: HBR found that “consumers who are emotionally connected with a brand are anywhere from 25% to 100% more valuable in terms of revenue and profitability than those who are ‘merely’ highly satisfied with it.”

And if that’s not reason enough to get emotional, consider the detrimental effects of not connecting emotionally: Forrester reports that “only 15% of consumers surveyed are very satisfied with brands’ ability to understand the emotions that will inspire them to interact, transact, and communicate with brands.” Only 15%!

Think of it this way: when you’re trying to explain a qualm to a friend and they tell you to just get over it, how much would you appreciate their “help?” Would you go to them the next time you need advice? I’d wager that you wouldn’t, because they did not truly connect with your frustration. Don’t be like that crappy friend.

It’s imperative to utilize emotional influence in all parts of the purchasing funnel, but even moreso as it comes down to the final conversion. Psychology Today found that “consumers rely on their emotions more than they rely on information presented to them when making buying decisions.” Let that sink in for a second: all the high quality, extremely detailed product features are virtually useless without emphasizing product benefits above all else.

Why is this? People shop for one main reason: they have a problem, big or small, and are looking for the solution that fits their specific needs, not all consumers’ in general.

Furthermore, consumers connect the most with brands that resonate with their deepest emotional drives, referred to as “emotional motivators” by HBR. So, what do consumers want out of a product or service that’ll win their heart over?

Let’s take a look at the top 10 motivators that HBR discovered:

  • Standing out from the crowd
  • Confidence in their future
  • Sense of well-being
  • Sense of freedom
  • Sense of thrill
  • Sense of belonging
  • Protecting the environment
  • Being the person they want to be
  • Feeling secure
  • Succeeding in life

If your content can inspire one of the above reactions in your readers, you’re on the right track.

Psychological Analysis of Emotional Reactions

shocked boy holding book

This isn’t just a game of coincidence and observations, as you may have noticed by now. Many marketing strategies are backed by cold, hard psychology. So is emotional response, which can be specifically mapped in the brain.

The amygdala part of your brain is what controls emotions - not you, at least not consciously. You know the classic “fight or flight” response your brain has under pressure? It also contributes heavily in making decisions, such as brand loyalty, though logically without the urgency.

The key to understanding your audience’s emotional response to your content lies in the amygdala, and unlocking the right response can capture readers’ attention and leave a lasting impression on their memory. As Helio Fred Garcia aptly puts it, “attention is an emotion-driven phenomenon.”

He also clarifies that “humans are not thinking machines. We’re feeling machines who also think. We feel first, and then we think.” Keep that in mind the next time you sit down to write anything targeted toward other human beings.

Speaking of feeling things, there are three top emotional reactions that drive people to share content:

  • Awe or surprise
  • Laughter or humor
  • Amusement or happiness

Take a look at every viral piece of content and you’ll find that it evokes at least one of the above emotions. So, if your content does not triumph at drawing on one of these, you’re missing out on a great potential connection.

This segues into a psychological theory called the Self-Reference Effect, where people are more likely to remember information that relates to them than if they perceive it to be personally irrelevant. If you’re writing just to write and none of what you throw at the proverbial blog wall sticks with readers, what’s the point?

They come to you for personal motives, and if all of those are totally absent from your writing, they will perceive your content as useless to their specific circumstances...and probably leave your blog as a result.

Another theory that is important to note is the Levels of Processing Effect: people tend to remember deeper-level analysis more than shallow. What this means is that viewers will be much more likely to recall content that pushes them to think and interact on a deeper intellectual level, which will lead them to remember your brand more than otherwise.

How to Write Emotionally Engaging Content

CEO of Marketing Insider Group Michael Brenner says that “engaging content has personality, value, and substance.” Let’s break each down for what that means on your end, my fellow blogger.


two men in unique suits

First and foremost, who are you to your readers? Are you some “rando” (as the kids these days say), or is your audience already in touch with your brand’s purpose, personality, and goals? Do they know your business’s story? Does everyone in your company know it?

This kind of background sets the stage for the reader: effectively conveying who you are helps them understand where you’re coming from and why it matters.

No matter what you write about, adding a personal touch is critical: not only does an author’s strong voice tend to result in a more smooth and suave piece of writing, but it emotionally engages the reader by speaking their language. If you use a lot of fancy, professional-sounding language and distant corporate examples, there will surely be a disconnect. It may even be boring, and the last thing you want to inspire is a yawn.

Use your own voice, keep it more conversational - you’re not writing a research publication, for crying out loud - and write as if you’re speaking directly to the readers’ needs.

Citing the usual Fortune 500 company as an example is fine when it suffices, but try to draw on examples from your own career or your company instead. It helps to establish your credibility and offers a new and refreshing case study that you readers likely have not heard yet.

You could also use inspiring customer stories or situational examples, or even share some day-to-day stories from around the office so that readers feel like they’re part of your world. Let them in and they’ll have more sympathy for what you’re trying to achieve.

Do you know what is the most shocking and effective trick that never fails to hook readers from the get-go?

I’ll let you ponder it.

Do you get it yet?

Do you really want to know?


See what I did there? Were you dying to know what the answer was? (Even if you weren’t, just play along, will you?)

Cash in on the element of surprise: use intriguing or provocative titles, be unexpected in your conclusions, use clever - and relevant - imagery, and think like an author. Novels tend to start in the middle of the action because the rest of day-to-day life is, well, boring, and authors are well aware. That’s why your writing should jump right into the mid-action part of your readers’ story: their plot will always keep on going, so jumping in and solving a pain point to resolve their conflict makes you the (handsomely captivating) knight in shining armor.  

Besides injecting your writing with personality to emotionally engage your audience, it’s also crucial to provide value.


person holding gift

The core function of your article is to do at least one of two things: help or entertain. Strive to make your content useful so that readers could take it and run with it; they will be more likely to find a connection and need for your writing when they could apply it to their own lives.

Besides, encouraging readers to take action is a great result: whether they succeed off of your advice or share the news with their circles, it helps establish your credibility and score some organic reach.

Make sure to give the audience something they cannot find elsewhere; it makes your content absolutely priceless and puts you ahead of the curve. If you’re the only one taking a certain stance on SEO optimization, your content will be the one that readers turn to when searching for a unique angle on the topic, because your content will be unique, and as a result, valuable.

Though the word may seem slightly overrated at this point, a key value point is to make a connection...and then follow it. Start your writing first by establishing a connection through a personal story, company struggle, or anything that the reader could relate to - before giving any information.

Then, put the most important thing first so that readers know they’re on the same page as you, because, as Dave Ken summed up, “what your audience connects with is what they identify with and what they make their own.” Let them take what you wrote and run with it - just make sure there is something to run with. Connect with readers’ hopes and fears alike, use compassion and empathy to encourage openness and trust, and focus on the readers, not the marketers. Your readers are human beings that amount to more than just their job description, so treat them as such.  

A valuable objective for writing an article is to fuel conversation, so do your best to encourage them by making your content interactive. Try to pose open-ended questions, write opinion pieces, or even get a little controversial - without endangering the reputation of your brand, of course. Challenge your readers’ worldview, stimulate them intellectually, and they’ll surely remember your article more than if you had let them stay in their cozy mental bubble.

Essentially, the goal is to ask the right questions to stimulate response from users and ingrain your content or brand into their memory as a result.

Above all else, always keep the discussion and interactivity respectful - it only makes sense to not leave readers on a negative note. So, give them a happy and productive ending instead.


think outside of the box written in chalk

Most importantly, don’t just hurl dry, brittle information in your readers’ faces - they won’t appreciate the facts for what they are when you serve them on an ugly platter. Be perceptive when analyzing data or trends; show that you can do more than regurgitate existing information.

Rather than rambling on about the features of your awesome product or service, tell your readers all about the benefits that come with the investment; elevate the conversation beyond just a measly and unwarranted sales pitch.

Your content should be providing some further insight for the reader that she would not have been aware of otherwise. This means your content should either educate or inform, solve a problem or answer a question, build brand awareness to drive sales, inspire, garner a few laughs, or even draw some sympathy.

The point is that your content should do something, not just float there uselessly.

To avoid that result altogether, start first by planning the purpose of your content and the desired response that you’re hoping to generate from it. Next, identify the readers’ emotions and location in the sales funnel, then use the opposite emotion to motivate them to move forward. If a prospect is feeling dread about a daily task, show them how your offering will make them feel relief instead. You can successfully connect with a reader by demonstrating a deep understanding of their circumstances, situation, and needs.

Other Tips

GIF of Tom Hanks having writers block

If you dive headfirst into writing more engaging content and the results don’t add up, don’t give up just yet.

Consider instead the inevitable snowball effect: the more engaging your content, the more people will read it, the more they read it, the more people it will reach, the more people it reaches, the more engagement you’ll eventually get. It’s not an exact science, but it does make a huge difference in the long run.

As the old saying goes, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!

What’s the ultimate goal you’re trying to achieve by writing a blog? Building a relationship with readers in hopes of converting them into prospects and eventually into customers, and loyal ones at that.

Again, as mentioned in the section about substance, it’s about truly understanding - and showing your audience that you understand - that makes a genuine connection.

Measuring Emotional Engagement

smartphone and charts

Although attempting to measure how engaging your content is can be analogous to attempting to objectively measure happiness, there are a few indicators to help determine if the strategy is working...or not.

Engagement is the amount of social activity stemming from your article, so what better place to start than with activity indicators? How many comments or shares does your content have across various social media channels? Are the comments long, insightful, or otherwise containing proof of genuine engagement?

Another sign of success is in the retweets: if your content is being retweeted by users with thoughtful captions that expound upon your article, it struck a chord with them in a way that inspired them to share and analyze your content further.    

Analytics-wise, there are a couple key pointers: first, how long did the reader spend on the page on which the content is written? 10 seconds spent on a 2,000-word article would be a very bad sign. Then there’s the bounce rate: if your content has people running in the opposite direction, something’s up. However, if your content emotionally connects with readers and inspires them in one way or another, your analytics for those pages should show high numbers for the time on page and low numbers for the bounce rate.

Ideally, your content should be paired with logical, naturally-flowing next steps, such as access to downloading related materials, subscribing to more content, or even a relevant purchase. So, if you write an article that’s a home run, the number of readers scrambling to sign up for more, more, more is a sign that you’re on the same page as your audience. Success!

Some marketers like to measure engagement success with two variables: lifetime and distance.

How long your content will last - or its lifetime - in terms of relevance, necessity, authority, and everything in general says a lot: longer lasting content is more impactful and therefore useful. The goal here is to always strive to write evergreen content to reap the benefits of emotional engagement for the long haul.

For your content to go the distance (literally) across the internet is an indubitable indicator of successful engagement. For readers to have read your content and then taken the effort of sharing it, pushing it further into the world of the internet, means that something internally clicked with them - and the content was shared because it created value. The further into the nooks and crannies of the web that your content can end up in, the more proof you have at succeeding in your quest of emotionally engaging readers with your exquisite content.

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, there is no immediate and indisputable way for a writer to know if the content will be engaging or not...until the reader determines it as such.

Now, that doesn’t mean that you can’t follow best practices to get close, but ultimately, listening acutely to the readers’ needs and wants, as any good marketer does, will result in the biggest triumph.