Creating meaningful connections—why emotion belongs in the workplace

by | Apr 17, 2020 | Analysis, Public Relations

The art of storytelling is one many people discover at an early age; its universal allure unites us and has sticking power. Think of your favorite childhood book. A special one probably comes to mind without hesitation. Did the thought of it make you smile?

Storytelling has inspired some of the most successful marketing campaigns and it has an undeniable impact on consumers’ everyday purchase decisions. Why is that? Simply put, stories evoke emotion. They make us feel something. Understanding the power of emotion can help today’s brands create meaningful connections—giving them that allusive “It” factor.

The following showcases why emotion belongs in the workplace—and how we as marketers can lean into some basic best practices of psychology to advance our brand communications (and bottom lines):

1. Find your purpose

As a PR professional with a background in cognitive science, a daughter of a clinical psychologist, and a sister of a psychiatrist, the value of emotional connection has never been lost on me. Ignore the cliché; family dinners growing up didn’t entail talking about our feelings every night around the table. Moments were meaningful and conversations were organic. The ability to create that authentic blend of emotion and community is something I’ve marveled at in my adult years. It’s a common thread that extends to the PR industry. Countless brands engage our agency for guidance on how to forge meaning with their target audiences.

It’s important to understand that a meaningful connection is synonymous with an emotional connection. We challenge every brand to identify its why as a starting place. This means looking beyond features and benefits to answer the question: what is your purpose?

Pinpointing a brand’s north star is an invaluable exercise to defining the reason people should believe in your brand. Why should they feel brand affinity? As Simon Sinek says in his TED Talk, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe.”

2. Get personal

Today’s hyperconnected world means companies across every industry are in pursuit of delivering personalized customer experiences. After all, brand loyalty isn’t the customer’s responsibility to give, but rather the brand’s job to earn. This desire for personalized experiences connects back to a basic human need: to feel connected. We all want to be heard, understood and listened to.

While not an exact science, PR plays a key role bridging the gap between brand and customer. We work with our clients to flip the narrative from the outside in, understanding audience psychographics and what truly motivates the end target. Utilizing messaging that establishes an emotional connection is a powerful way to make brand communications feel more personal. Selling a product is one-way; however, approaching the campaign strategy or brand communication from the perspective of what matters to your target will help invite two-way dialogue.

3. Actively listen (emotions reflect expectations)

Sharing your why and getting personal can introduce an aspect of vulnerability. Brands face a unique challenge to connect with audiences despite a volatile election year with high-stress, high-stakes conditions. For marketers, we must assume the role of equal parts storyteller and active listener. 

This means being cognizant of possible reactions to your proposed campaign or brand narrative. Emotion-based communications can be polarizing, and you can’t control how target audiences will react. You can anticipate and adjust by listening and understanding what your target expects of and from your brand. This can help mitigate negative emotions, which typically emerge when there’s a disconnect in expectations.

Always pressure test the story against a variety of diverse audiences to help safeguard brand reputation. As Warren Buffet said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” Whether you employ focus groups, market testing or a media audit, you’ll be grateful for the due diligence and taking a beat to listen to ensure any go-to-market strategy reflects and resonates with the expectations of your core target.

4. Think long-term brand strategy

Recent industry studies on growth marketing principles report that emotional messaging is more effective in the long-term compared to rational messaging. According to this research, emotional campaigns are better at brand building.

The B2B Institute by LinkedIn talks about what psychologists reference as “mental availability.” In a nutshell, their research suggests most people don’t use rational thought to make decisions. Instead, people use mental shortcuts like “The Availability Heuristic.” The shortcut indicates that “given a choice between several options, people tend to prefer the one that comes to mind most easily.” The report cites IBM’s campaign of the 1970s (“nobody ever got fired for buying IBM”) as an example that successfully built mental availability by appealing directly to emotions. It’s a great case study for marketers today on how to effectively use emotion to create a meaningful brand connection.

Understanding the psychology of emotion and its influence on people can only strengthen our communications strategies. As a collective of storytellers, let’s dig deeper with our brand narratives, and together embrace getting emotional at work. After all, it’s what makes us human—and it’s how we connect.

Taryn Finley
Taryn Finley, vice president of Havas Formula’s Los Angeles division, is a creative, results-oriented public relations professional with more than 15 years’ experience developing marketing strategies that strengthen brand reputation, awareness and the bottom line.


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