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Using emotion in business

By Will Stevens - August 20, 2015

In this the latest video from 123Conf, an event held at Google’s London headquarters earlier this month, Rob Mathers will explain how using emotion can help you build a stronger business. The video is full of great tips and explains how this is a technique that can be used by companies of all sizes. Click the play button to begin.

Hi everyone. My name is Rob Mathers, I’m a marketing executive at 123-reg and I’m here today to speak about the topic of using emotion in business. What I’m going to do in this talk is I’m going to run through how you can use emotion within your business hopefully to get more new clients, to retain the clients that you already have and also how you could potentially enjoy your work even more for using this approach.I just want to start off by giving a brief overview of what my talk will entail. Firstly, I’m going to give a little bit of a definition as to what I mean specifically about using emotion just so we’re all on the same page. Then I’m going to give a little bit of context about how emotion sits in business in general and then I will go on to showing you how you can start implementing it: firstly how you can define the emotions that might work for your business, how you can make them scalable over time and lastly how you can also make them authentic and believable over time, which is really important as well.

Starting with it, just giving this definition of what I mean by using emotions. What I mean is very general but it’s presenting your business to evoke a positive emotional response from your audiences. When you’re doing your work you should always have “who your audience is” in the back of your mind and be focusing on “how is the audience going to feel about this piece of work”. That does sound very simple and it does sound very obvious as well. The thing is, I think you would be surprised about the frequency with which work is done where the customer isn’t always at the forefront of the person’s mind and sometimes gets neglected. They don’t really think always about how that person feels and I think that is really important in terms of driving success for your business.

A bit of context about how I feel emotion in general is used in business. The first thing I feel about it is I feel it’s quite misunderstood and it’s often overlooked. For example, people tend to get quite uncomfortable about the idea of talking about emotion in business and they don’t seem to realise that they likely already do use this, if it’s only establishing the trust necessary for someone to convert with you for the first time, to create the excitement needed for someone to share your content or to recommend you to other people.
I think as well businesses in general are quite reserved in terms of emotion. They tend to very much focus on their product specs, making those extremely good and talking about those. They don’t often go beyond those very far to really try and make audiences feel strongly about who they are as a business, what they believe in, the way in which they do their things and the way in which they create the products and their services. Because of these two things I do feel that the use of emotion within business can be significantly improved, the main reason why I’m here to give this talk today.

What I’d like to do now is just run through a list of some of the reasons that I’ve heard in the past as to why people don’t really use emotion enough or try and not use it that much. The first one is they say: Look, it doesn’t apply to my industry or it doesn’t apply to my product. You might have someone saying like: Look mate, I sell hoovers for a living. Nobody cares about hoovers. That is a fair point but the thing is that even if you work with a product that has no emotional resonance itself, it doesn’t mean you can’t create a brand in that product that does have emotional resonance.

So if I were to use the example of hoovers, people don’t care about hoovers in general but they do care about the Dyson brand. What they’ve been able to do is to go beyond just thinking about hoovers and they stand for things like richer engineering, they stand for innovation and they stand for the creativity of new ideas to have that emotional connection with their customers.
Another good example would be the Aeron chair. I don’t think people in general really care about that much about office chairs. In my case all I really want from an office chair is for it to be comfortable to sit in. But Aeron, when they released this chair, they made the chair a state to symbol of who you were in the office, depending on where you sat, and therefore could have that emotional connection with their customers.

Last example I’ll give on this is planes because people I don’t think care that much about planes People I think see it almost like a boss company but they think “ok, I want to get from point A to point B, and I want it to cost as little as possible”. This is arguably why airlines like Ryanair are so successful. But what Virgin did is when they started doing an airline they were thinking beyondplanes, they started thinking about the experience of flying, about who people feel when they are flying. So they’ve been able to create that emotional connection and because of that, if you do have a bit more money spare for your travel, you might be more likely to go with Virgin Airlines than going with an airline for example like Ryanair.

I was on the train coming down here yesterday and I thought I really want to push the idea on this so I tried to think of the most unemotional product I could possibly think of, which to me was bin bags. Nobody cares about bin bags. I really feel strongly about that but if you talk bin bags and only outside of them, you were to put kind of quirky phrases and things, maybe similar to the ones that Innocent have put on the outside of their packaging that have been so successful, and you had a very well designed website. You made it very clear that what you were about as a company creating these bin bags is about recycling, helping people to be more green. Maybe if you had several initiatives that you were working on or partnering with people to try and make the world more green, then of course you could have an emotional connection with that brand even though you might have none essentially with the product itself.

Other reason why people don’t use it enough is they’re not emotional people themselves and this might be because of something about their personality anyway but I think much more likely is to do with the source of environment in which they work. If they work in a very corporate environment that’s very stressful with a lot of tension all the time and the people above them just say “Look, I don’t care how you do it, just bring me that figure”. If they don’t have any positive emotion going in the work that they do, I feel it’s less likely that they are going to want to use positive emotion in presenting the business externally. I think that’s a really good example of how what a business does on the inside can sometimes be reflected in how it presents itself on the outside.

Another one is: if we use emotion we’re going to seem unprofessional. I’ve had people say this to me before. They say “we’re a law firm, we want to be extremely formal with our customers because that’s the sort of industry we’re in.” But I think the thing they miss there is that you can use emotion to be extremely unprofessional certainly but you can also use it to be extremely professional. You can focus on just creating huge amounts of trust and reliability. That is also an emotional connection and one that people don’t realise they’re using a lot of the time.

Another one of these is people say: “We don’t have time. We don’t have time for that. We are trying to grow as quickly as possible. We don’t have time.” The thing I feel about that – I feel it’s like a bit of a cop-out. What I feel like they’re actually saying is for one of the other reasons they don’t want to do it but they say that just to dismiss the conversation. To me that is like saying: “we don’t have time to make things consistent on our website.” So when we design it we just do the first thing we can possibly think of, we just get it up there and nothing looks consistent at all. To me, having something that has a positive effect on your audiences, that is an essential part of the work that you’re doing. I would even argue that if you are using a lot of emotion within the work that you are doing you could arguably save time by having to produce less work to create the figure that you want to have in return for that.

Another one, quite similarly, people say: “We don’t have the money. Look, we don’t have Apple’s marketing budget, we do not have the money necessary to create that emotional connection.” But I would ask you: how much money does it take to have a tone of voice that inspires people? It’s free. How much money does it take to create content that people love and want to share? It is free. There are certainly things you can do with money to create an emotional connection but it is certainly not the case that you need money to do it at all.

Another one there is we don’t use emotion now and we’re doing fine. You might say to me: “Look, we’re not doing it and we are growing at a huge rate. We’re really satisfied. Why rock the boat?” But this comes back to what I was saying earlier that people don’t realise that they are already using it. You need to create trust with people so they buy from you as opposed to someone else. You need to have some sort of emotional connection for someone to want to keep buying from you.

The last one that I’m going to list on here is we don’t use emotion because we’re a small business. I had a designer who’s worked on designing agency and client sites for ten years. We were speaking about a company and I said they could use some branding, some emotion in their work. He said to me: “They’re not Apple. They don’t need branding. You only need branding when you’re a massive company”. I feel that is really untrue. I’d like to show you why with the following two examples.

Just to explain on these two, believe it or not I’m a skateboarder and I have been for about 14 years so both of these examples come from within the skateboarding industry, mainly because that’s something I’m quite familiar with at this point. This is a company that is called Unabomber, a skateboard company. They have five full-time members of staff. They’re not a large business whatsoever but they are the pinnacle of creative skateboarding in the Netherlands. This is because they have made sure that the people that they work with in terms of their marketing and their website are extremely creative people, and the people that they have representing them, the people that ride skateboards for them are also incredibly creative individuals. Because of this they’ve been able to make a strong emotional connection with myself and lots of other people. So I have bought skateboards from Unabomber when there were better quality skateboards on sale for less money because I have that emotional connection with their brand.

Another example is the skateboard shop that is based in Nottingham called 42. They’re even smaller. They’ve got two full-time members of staff and a few people who help out. They are not a big business at all, they’re about as small of a business as you can get. They’ve only got one premises. But they are were the vast majority of people in Nottingham will even consider going when they need something for their skateboard because they’ve been able to create a real community of skateboarders in Nottingham. They’re really focused on how they can get people together and to create an emotional connection.

An example of this would be their logo, which they have stickers. People go around, because they love the brand so much, and they put these stickers all over the place. I’ve seen them in Nottingham on skips, on bus shelters, I’ve seen them on crosswalks, I’ve seen them on road signs. I’ve seen them on the top of buildings and I’ve seen them also in Coventry, and I’ve also seen them here in London. The people who do this, they don’t work for them, they don’t get paid to do it and they’re not expecting any reward from doing this at all. But it’s because they have an emotional connection with this brand and they really care about it. That’s why they go out and essentially promote them for nothing.

Now I’d like to just explain a few reasons as to why you should use it. The first of these I feel is differentiation. Like I said, because I feel a lot of businesses don’t do enough with emotion, if you’re still doing quite a bit with it you will seem different to other people. I think that is crucial, especially in industries now where customers have got a huge range of choice, more than ever, and industries are only becoming more and more crowded. Differentiation then only becomes more and more important.

Loyalty also happens as a response to an emotional connection. I gave the examples of Unabomber and 42, places where I need an extremely good reason not to buy from these people. I have extreme loyalty with them and the vast majority of people I know in the skateboard community do as well.

Also, I do feel that you will get a higher conversion rates if you are using emotion within your business. I feel that if you are able to create that emotional connection it’s more likely that people are going to buy with you in the first place.

Another one is potentially you might have the opportunity to increase the price of your products easily. If you’ve got very strong emotional connection with your customers, then they might be willing to pay more for your stuff. Like I said, I buy Unabomber skateboards when it’s a worst deal than buying other things that are on sale. I’d be happy to pay way more money for what they do because they’ve got that connection with me.

I feel like there’s less time needed to reach the sale. If any of you guys have got sales teams and you have two sales agents and you say to one: “you can use as much emotion as you like, you can smile before you dial, you can connect with the person on the call, do whatever you like.” You say to the other person: “you can’t use emotion whatsoever. You have to be completely neutral.” And who do you think is going to make the sale quicker? And who do you think is going to make the sale for a larger amount of money? It’s going to be the guy who uses emotion.

Also, I feel it does give you an opportunity to create greater word of mouth. I feel you do need to do something quite significant now for someone to think it’s so amazing they have to tell other people about it. Creating an emotional connection is a great way to do that. I would argue that I’ve come here talking about 42 and Unabomber. I’ve not come down talking about other companies. Actually, by doing this presentation I’m generating word of mouth for those people because I really like their brands.

Lastly, I believe it can also increase the enjoyment of the work that you do. If you are focusing in your work beyond just making some money out of it. Your are focusing on “how do I make people feel, how do I increase their quality of life”. Then it actually feels like doing the work feels better, you’re more satisfied through doing the work.

What I’m going to do now is just explain how you can start implementing this stuff yourselves. Whenever someone does something that you want them to do – you want them to buy your products, you want them to renew, you want them to sign up to your newsletter, whatever it is – there’s a process I feel that has to happen for them to get there. The first step is about perceptions. They have to perceive that you are business, they have to know you exist, they have to know that you sell a product that might be relevant for them. That is the first step.

Emotion is the bit in the middle. This is the bit where, for example, they get on to your site and they start looking around, and they think like “ok, this looks like a good company, this looks like they know what they’re doing. I feel like I can trust them with my money”. I get the sense through maybe you’ve got logos of providers at the bottom that make them feel safe checking out with you, like they’re not going to have issues with the cards or anything. You create the emotion as the middle step and that is what leads to the action. People have to feel, for example, I trust this company therefore I will buy with them. There has to be that step in between.

To start off, I feel the most effective ways to actually work with this is to start with the end and the work backwards to the beginning. The first thing to do is to focus on the kind of actions that you want people to do. These should be pretty easy to come up with, especially if you have already got business goals. So what do you want people to do with regards to finance for you? How many sales are you looking to make this year? How much money do you want to make this year or over a period of time? Where do you want churn to be at?

The other goals that you can have, which are important to also consider, are what you want to do personally with this. When you started your business, I would contend that you were quite excited about the idea that “yes, I could make some good money from this”. I would also argue that you did think: “this is awesome because I have the opportunity to do this, I have the opportunity to do something cool, something interesting, something that will satisfy me”. I think it’s important not to ignore those things. So what do you want to get out of it on a personal basis, something that’s not necessarily led by money?

An example of this could be – say you work in the fashion industry. You really love fashion and you think art is kind of connected to fashion so you want to do things that get involved with the art scene. Then you might have a personal goal to be involved with exhibitions and things that are going on locally. That’s potentially a goal that you could have. Another example would be – say you want to run a vegan business. One of your goals might be to help people eat more healthy in general, possibly by setting up something like a forum so people can share their knowledge and help them to find more vegan recipes and things like that. It might lead to more money for you but that isn’t the primary reason for doing it. I think it’s also important to consider those.

Once you know what actions you want people to do, then you come back to the emotions. There are two types of emotions I think are important to focus on, the first of which is how you want people to feel about your products and services. I mean, your products and services have to be good, that goes without saying. They have to be things that people feel good using and they enjoy them. But also, in terms of going beyond your product specs and your products themselves, it’s important to think about how you want people to feel about you as a larger company, about what you stand for, what you are doing in general, your take on your industry.

So you establish how people need to feel to do the actions that you want them to. You can scale them up so that you can get more out of them over time. I will just show you the scale that I’ve made up using the iPhone 6 as an example. The first level in this is focusing on what the customer does. So they’ve got a phone and what they do with that phone is they ring people, they text people, they use apps, they use the internet, and things like that. At that level, that’s kind of alright. Those are things I’m sure that people approve of doing but there’s no really much emotional connection just with the idea of sending a text.

The next level in this is to think about how they do that thing. This is where you’re getting a little bit into the emotional territory, talking about things that they like. For example, yes, they have a phone but they like it if that phone has really great design and it’s really intuitive and they feel cool using it. And they like using apps because of the things that they can do with them. The highest level on this scale with the iPhone 6 is why they have a phone in the first place. So the reason they have a phone, Apple put in their ad, is because they’re more powerful than they think. They use this phone to plan their life, they use it to connect with the people that matter most to them, they use it to do more as a person. So if you’re able to focus on the why behind what people are doing with regards to your business, you’re able to have more of an emotional connection with them.

Then, once you’ve sorted out the emotions, you just go back to the perceptions. How do we get that out there, how do we make people see it? I’d ask three questions in terms of doing this, first of which is: how/ where can you communicate these emotions? Where does it make sense for people to feel this way? Do you really want them to feel the trust to convert on the homepage because you’ve got data that says that’s where most people are looking or is it in another places? Also ask yourself: where and how do you currently do this? My guess is you’ve been working in the industry for a while that you’re in, you probably know a fair amount about your customers by now. I wouldn’t throw what you’ve currently done and there’s probably a lot of stuff that you already do that does work out so pay attention to that.

Lastly, I would ask: how could you improve these things for better results in terms of having more of an emotional connection with your customers? The last bit of this is how to remain authentic because you can’t just go from using no emotion to start branding yourself with loads of it but that can have a negative effect. So there are a few factors just to consider when you’re starting to think about using emotion more. The first of those is how well known is your brand. If you’re literally just starting and you’ve only got ten clients who pay your quite a bit and if you want to make a significant change in your business, that’s much easier than if you have been in the industry for ten years and you’ve got hundreds of thousands of customers who might potentially not like the new direction in which you’re going because it’s a surprise.

Another factor is how positively are you currently perceived. Do people really like you in general? Then it’s probably all right to start using a bit more emotion. But if you have a really negative press within your industry and then you start using loads of positive emotion, that’s going to ring false for people and I imagine that they aren’t going to like it. So it’s important to phase things in if you are in that sort of a position. Another one is how much emotion do you currently use? If you use plenty of it already and you can identify that, then using a bit more is going to be totally fine. I don’t imagine your customers will have an issue with that whatsoever. But if you use none and then start using loads, people are going to feel like there’s a disconnect there and they’re going to ask why.

This is what I’m saying as well. It depends on how big of a change you are planning. If you’re just planning small incremental steps to ramp it up, then I think people are going to be all right with that. But if you’re making a big leap, that’s possibly not going to be ok.

Lastly is: how effective the work is through which you’re trying to do this itself? If you are taking a big leap but you’re doing it with work that is effective, it does make sense with what you do and customers can relate to that, that will probably be fine. But if you do sloppy work to try and do this, then I think customers are going to see through it, things that don’t really ring true to them.

In summary, to start using emotion in your business, I think the first thing to do is to start with the action that you want them to do, whether financial or personal as well. Then you need to scale up the emotion you’re using. Maybe you can identify areas in which you’re only focusing on what the person does rather than how or why, so you can scale those up. Then you work on defining the right perceptions for getting that out there to people, where it’s going to be most effective for people to see these things. Lastly, you phase in the new emotions based on your current position so that your customers take to it very well.

I would like to close with this, and this is the other reason, apart from the fact that I think it will make you more money, as to why I think it’s important to use emotion in business. It’s so you can do something with your business you will be really proud of. If you are constantly focusing on how in your business you can increase the quality of life of your customers, your co-workers, your industry community or the local community in which your work, then I feel like you’re going to get more satisfaction out of doing that work.

It’s often not really talked about, the fact that the business your work for, the business that you own is the best opportunity you have to do what you want to do with your life. If that isn’t actually true at the moment, then I would encourage to take some steps to put more emotion into your business so that this can be more true. At the end of the day if you’re going to spend eight hours a day or more on this, five days a week or more, 45 years of your life or more working on this stuff, then I feel like I hope there’s some more good to come out of this for you than just money. I know, and I’m certain that some of you will do as well, people who finish their career a bit disillusioned with how it’s gone, a disillusion potentially with the company they’ve worked for, maybe the people they’ve worked with or even business as a general idea.

So I think if you take anything from this presentation then I would hope it would be some inspiration or some reaffirmation for you to use emotion in your business to make a positive mark so that you can look back at the end of your career and be really proud to say “That’s awesome. That was me. I did that”.

I want to say thank you so much for listening. I’m going to be walking around down here. I’d love to talk to you about what’s going on with your business, maybe how you use emotion at the moment, more opportunities for that or just any questions that you’ve got about the talk. I’d encourage you not to be shy. I’d like to say thanks and I hope you have a fantastic rest of the day.