There’s little question that mass media affects emotions. Facebook was recently in the news for conducting a large psychological experiment on nearly 700,000 users by manipulating their news feeds and assessing the effects on their emotions. The study found that emotions expressed by others on Facebook influence a user’s emotions, demonstrating a form of “emotional contagion.”
The importance of the study (regardless of questions raised by privacy groups about the study’s ethics) is that it suggests that in-person, face-to-face interaction is not strictly necessary for emotional contagion.
Media Has Significant Power Over Emotions
Facebook used an automated system to identify positive or negative words in posts, and reduced positive content in some news feeds. What they found was that when positive content was reduced, the users reading that content posted status updates that were more negative. When negative content was reduced in news feeds, the opposite occurred. There had previously been debate as to whether emotional contagion could take place via online social interaction, but the Facebook study indicated that it can. This is valuable information for news marketers.
What Does Successful Emotional Marketing Look Like?
Successful emotional marketing is less about the product (in this case news content) itself, and more about the emotions associated with that content. You may have noticed advertising videos that feature people who never actually use the product, but rather are designed to produce a specific emotional response. This is emotional marketing.
News content is often sad or distressing, and news stations in the past used fearful emotions associated with things like crimes, deaths, and disasters to draw viewers. However, customer loyalty expert Graeme Newell of 602 Communications recently told a PromaxBDA Station Summitt (a gathering of news industry professionals) that it’s important for TV news producers to balance bad news with good news so viewers also experience hope while watching the news. Said Newell, “Scaring viewers into loving you doesn’t work.” As an example, Newell cited the practice of KHOU in Houston of showcasing “everyday heroes” in its broadcasts to strengthen its brand in its news market.
The Importance of Humanizing Your Brand
“Humanizing” brands is taking on importance in news and other industries as companies realize that selling in the digital world is different from the way selling to a non-connected world was. Brooke Ballard, Digital Marketer and Chief Social Strategist and Founder of B Squared Media writes in Business2Community that consumers want:
- Data security
Capitalizing on Positive Emotions
Ballard cites brands that have tapped into positive emotions to successfully build brands, including Subaru. A few years ago, the company focused much of its marketing on warm, positive slice of life stories focused on the concept of love. And it worked: Subaru doubled US sales in five years. Other brands Ballard cites as having succeeded by focusing marketing efforts on positive emotions are home decorating network HGTV and shoe retailer DSW. HGTV asked fans to use the #LoveHGTV hashtag, while DSW ran an online campaign tagged “Prove Your Shoe Love 4 Free Shoes.”
The ROI of Emotional Marketing
Ballard researched whether deeper emotional interaction and relationship building online could help companies build positive brand associations, and she says it can. Ballard wrote on BusinessGrow.com, “[T]he really savvy brands had moved past asking their online communities what they were having for lunch, and were instead engaging by tugging on the proverbial emotional strings.”
In a world where social media is as important as it is today, consumers naturally open up about their preferences and feelings about brands. Brands that encourage this and engage based on positive emotions are able to build trust and loyalty. As a side effect, they can gather all sorts of consumer information that they used to have to pay for with focus groups and other types of marketing research.
Ballard offers the following tips for emotional marketing success, and they apply to news dissemination as well as commercial branding:
- Dump memes and clichés, because they don’t build brand messaging or trust
- Educate with facts, but focus on audience feelings
- Use information gathered from consumer responses to shape marketing efforts
- Make it a two-way conversation to enhance transparency and develop mutual relationships rather than allowing one-sided relationships (which don’t last) to develop
News and media companies, of course, have to have technological skills to compete effectively, but it’s important that they don’t forget about old fashioned emotional connection. Furthermore, those connections should rest on positive emotions rather than scaring news consumers into consuming content. “Emotional contagion” online is real, and news producers that respect that will have a better ROI than those that don’t.
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