Our days are filled with different emotions. It subconsciously regulates our decisions and behaviour while impacting on just about every aspect of how a business operates and inteacts with their customers.


motions influence what we buy (and the remorse we feel after), how we communicate, and how we interact with other people. Customer emotions impact on brand perception, what value they attach to our products, and how loyal they’ll remain to the brand.

It plays a role in shaping an organisations strategic direction, it determines employees work ethic and their ability to get along with colleagues but more importantly, their attitudes towards customers. 

I'm often asked to create emotional campaigns to increase sales or improve the customer experience, yet when asking clients what an emotion is, most cannot define it. Those who do, often describe it as a feeling​ of happiness, excitement or anger.
In fact, if you were to ask 10 people what an emotion is, you’d most probably get 10 different answers.

What's an emotion and why it's important to define it.

With only a superficial understanding of emotions it becomes difficult to elicit them from our customers or employees. Currently there’s very little consensus among experts on the definition of an emotion, some even use the words feeling and emotion​ interchangeably, adding to the confusion.

I however believe the definition offered by some psychologists and neurosciencists to be the most relevant in relation to marketing and customer experience.

First I need to get slightly technical on the definition, and then highlight a few key areas where emotions influence all the stakeholders within an organisation.

Neuroscience theorises that emotions are the brain’s mapping of body states (or more specific, sensations).

Sensations are physical bodily experiences. External sensations for example, are experienced on the skin - like weight and pressure, moisture or pain. Internal sensations are felt inside our bodies e.g. the pit in our stomach or the pounding of the chest.

Emotions can therefore be defined as a matrix of sensations to which we attach a label (name) for example sadness, happiness or anger. These internal or external sensations are labelled and then encoded in our subconscious.

Why Emotions get complicated

Emotions get complicated as we all encode them it differently. While some emotions are universal (happiness, sadness, etc) there are many examples of emotions being stored/encoded differently especially around trust and satisfaction. You might trust someone by what they say, while others trust people because of what they see, hear or feel. 

A key factor to consider is the way in which we store experiences and emotions. A memory of an experience together with its associated emotions, are closely linked to our major representational system.

Neuro Linguistic Programming suggests that we tend to (but not exclusively) process information, experiences and memory through our major representational systems.

This could be:

● Visual - associating a memory with a picture

Auditory - associating a memory with a sound

● Kinesthetic - associating a memory with a feeling

For example, when a visual person experiences jealousy they usually see, create, or access a picture in their mind, evoking an emotion of jealousy. This happens subconsciously, which according to Freud is the primary source of human behavior and emotions.

When we have a significant experience, we store it in our memory along with the associated feeling, then label it as an emotion. This is a very basic explanation as to how the mind stores memories.


Evoking a specific emotion is however where the real challenge lies.
As marketers, we try and evoke emotions through advertising and content subconsciously to connect with customers. In customer experience, we often measure the emotional journey of customers to get a clearer picture of moments that truly matter.

That's why it’s crucial to dig deeper than simplistic journey maps and persona's if we really want to connect with your audience. Understanding how they filter information through pictures, sounds or feelings could assist in understanding their emotional triggers.


Emotions and Decision-making

Emotions play a major part in all of our decision-making processes, even though we tend to think we're good at separating the two. Some of us believe that we base even the simplest decisions on logic and not emotion. Studies however, suggest otherwise.

Antonio Damasio, a neurologist whose well known study around a patient suffering from ventromedial frontal lobe damage (an important structure for emotional regulation and decision-making)  as a result of a tumor, and subsequent surgery for removal demonstrated the importance of emotion. As a result of his surgery, the patient was incapable of making decisions.

Even small decisions were fraught with endless deliberation: choosing where to eat lunch took all afternoon, even deciding which colour pen to use to fill out office forms was a chore.

Turns out a lack of emotion paralyzes our decision-making

Demasio went further on to say “We are not thinking machines that feel; rather, we are feeling machines that think”. Neuroscience has since built a strong body of evidence to demonstrate the inextricable link between reason, emotion and decision-making.

This is closely linked to strategies in neuro linguistic programming.

A strategy in NLP is a mental sequence, of external experiences and internal representations, which consistently produces and leads us to a specific outcome. Because we have strategies, we have certain behaviours that operate unconsciously like decision-making.

A simple example are shoppers who buy repeatedly by specific brands because of an experience they've had with it. It saves us from having to decide between different brands each time we visit the store . If we're purchasing a new or untested product however, our strategy might include packaging and peer recommendations or perceived value to make a decision. Trying the product creates a new experience along with an associated emotion, good or bad.

Loewenstein and Lerner divide emotions into two types during the decision-making process, those anticipating future emotions and those immediately experienced while deliberating and deciding.

Marketing and advertising often targets the customer’s anticipated positive emotional state in using or owning a product. In some instances like insurance, highlighting a negative future emotion like loss or even death could be very effective.

CX and user centred design to a large degree focuses on making the immediate experience seamless and intuitive, with minimal obstacles in the deliberation and decision making process. 


Your Customers emotions

Creating awareness and influencing buying decisions and creating memorable experiences is top of mind for most businesses.

That means partly pressing the customer's emotional hot buttons (or emotional motivators) based on their major representational systems i.e. visual, auditory and kinesthetic.

Emotions in our experience, 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. 

It also gives us a better understanding of brand positioning, where products could be improved, and where processes should be streamlined. In fact our branding, customer experience and marketing frameworks are all built around customers emotions and their expectations of a brand.

Emotions and Employee's

So why is it important for organisations to better understand employees emotions and their emotional responses? Well, our skills are only as good as our emotional state on any given day. This is valuable in understanding interactions between employers, employees and customers.

You could have the most skilled worker but their performance will be limited by the emotional state that they’re in at that specific moment.

This emotional state, good or bad could be triggered within your organisation by a positive or negative colleague (or the even physical environment). A negative emotional state could be triggered before an employee gets to work, a fight with a spouse or the stress of taking public transport.

This is especially important for client facing staff as their emotional state could affect a customer's experience of your brand. Conversely, your customer’s emotional state affects the performance of your frontline employee if they’re not emotionally competent.

Hiring emotionally intelligent (and competent) staff is where good customer experience starts. In fact, emotional intelligence skills training should be high on every organisations agenda. Daniel Goleman covers this extensively in his books showing a direct correlation between organisational success and a higher level of emotional intelligence. Lots of work still needs to be done around nurturing emotional wellness in the workplace and eradicating the “leave your emotions at home” work environment.

Organisations who embrace emotional engagement and employee well-being often see a boost in productivity and performance, generally translating into better customer service and more committed staff. Positive emotional states tend to boost productivity, translating into happy customers and an improvement in the business bottom line. 

Emotions and loyalty

Research carried out by Motista across hundreds of brands and in different categories shows that it’s possible to rigorously measure and strategically target the feelings that drive customers’ behaviour called “emotional motivators.” They provide a better gauge of customers’ future value to a firm than any other metric, including brand awareness and customer satisfaction.

Customers emotional attachment to your brand is of more importance than customer satisfaction. Customers will often forgive poor service (to a point) if they're emotionally invested in your products and services. These customers also tend to spend more, and often actively promote your brand as ambassadors through word of mouth and recommendations.

Putting it all together

Organisations who are differentiating themselves in an increasing over-communicated world are the ones who are becoming more human i.e. connecting on a human level and delivering on their brand promise.

Influencing employee emotions and creating new customer emotions (or linking existing ones) to your products and services is where you can stand out from the crowd. It does however require commitment across an organisation to engage employees and listen to the voice of the customer with empathy and a willingness to really understand their needs to make a difference that makes the difference. 


darryl blog
Darryl Alexander
Helping organisations synergise their business, design and marketing strategies, to ...
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