Love, Pain and Email Marketing: How do Human Emotions Drive Purchasing Decisions?

Mar 04 2021



*The following is a guest post from our partner, Ongage, an email marketing platform for advanced email marketers*

We’ve all felt the burn of emotions in our purchasing decisions.


• “I love this!” 


• “I have to have that.”  


• “This what·cha·ma·call·it will fulfill my every need, and it even has a reasonable price!” 


Usually, the trigger is something new and shiny we just saw online or in-store, and it’s almost entirely impulsive. Sure, we use some rationale in our purchasing decisions, but that’s not what closes the deal.


Emotions drive purchasing decisions, and evidently, it’s reflected in the language we use.


It’s so intense sometimes that we express pain or even compare not having what we desire to the act of dying, like in these all-time classics:


• “I would die if I didn’t get this.” 


• “You’re ruining my life by not giving it to me.”


• “Everything I have is worthless compared to this!”


You might think that these pearls belong only to teenagers, but even if we don’t express ourselves this way as adults, we do genuinely feel like it. 




We are now going to take a closer look at the `why’ behind emotion-driven decision-making and `how’ it can work for you in your email marketing. 


Let’s take a deep dive into our subconscious mind.

#1 The buyer’s journey is an emotional trip

While humans like to think that they make decisions based on a thoughtful evaluation of the facts, the link between feeling and purchasing runs a lot deeper than you may think.


The human tendency toward emotion-driven purchases guides most buyer’s journeys. When we are considering buying something, our brains don’t just fix on facts and figures. We process all of the input related to that item–how it makes us feel and what it reminds us of, as well as what it looks like and how much it costs. 


For example, before I bought a new car, I took it for a test drive. That drive was what convinced me to buy. Sure, the car fit all my requirements, but it was the drive that sealed the deal.


On that test drive:


• I experienced that ‘new car’ smell.

• I enjoyed the pleasant scenery.

• And really felt what it would be like to own that car. 


The entire experience and evoked emotions were all factored in like an 80’s montage until I signed that check!


Of course, the people who sold me that car were aware that I might feel this way on my test drive. They were eager to get me behind the wheel and chose that attractive route. 


They knew that the more I responded emotionally to the car, the more likely I would be to purchase it. 


As email marketers, we can’t offer a full sensory experience to our customers. However, we can–and should–still leverage the power of emotion to drive our customers’ purchasing decisions. 


“Facts tell, emotions sell”


This phrase sums up the persuasive part of the art of marketing.


Take a look at this print ad from car maker Volvo, a brand that has centered its messaging around safety for decades. 

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The headline asks a provocative question: “Are you man enough to survive a car crash?” 


The ad explains the headline by pointing out that many crash tests only use models based on the average male’s size, while Volvo analyzes data collected from men, women, and children. 


The ad leads with a hook that makes the reader curious, a bit afraid, and even mildly outraged. 


It also incorporates a physical experience without putting the reader behind the wheel of a car. The facts are there, but it is the emotional triggers that are doing the heavy lifting. 


Now, look at this ad from Porsche.



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I bet that the panoramic view makes you feel something. 


For me, the ad evokes thoughts of freedom and happiness–things never mentioned in the minimal text. 


Porsche here evokes our imagination and fills it with promise and possibilities. 


Why does it work? 


Because images have the power to surface memories and remind us of our aspirations, taking us on an emotional journey. 


Adding these kinds of limited yet meaningful interactions in your email’s imagery and copy can help in:


Creating a bond


When you invoke an emotion, whether it’s nostalgic recollection or future aspiration, you create a bond with your target audience.


That bond is the beginning of a beautiful friendship that you’ll have to develop and invest in with the same level of materials and commitment to the customer.


When you stop investing in your friends, they can feel that.


Developing brand recognition


Can you identify a Coca Cola ad without their logo? You probably can.


The reason is that they invest continually in your awareness, providing you with continued reinforcement and investment for you always to identify their brand.


They do that with their general artistic line, their color theme, personas, heck! Santa wears red because of Coca Cola!

Planting a subconscious need


Meaningful product messages and imagery that continue to stimulate your peripheral vision develop a relationship between you and the product.


With that relationship, the seeds of wanting it are planted.


When prospects can identify your product without any help, they become more inclined to explore the possibility of having it.


Let’s dive into understanding why it works step-by-step.


#2 Why emotions drive our decision-making 

The awareness that emotions have the power to persuade dates back centuries.


In the 300’s B.C., the Greek philosopher Aristotle identified emotions, or pathos, as one of three primary strategies for rhetorical appeals. 



He tried to understand why our emotions control us? 


Shouldn’t we make our decisions based on more rational factors such as ethos, which looks to the source’s credibility, or logos, which looks at the facts? 


Like everything in life, the path of least resistance is the path most traveled, and this case is no different.


Emotional-driven decisions are a cognitive shortcut


Your brain makes a billion billion (a.k.a. 1 exaFLOP) calculations per second. 


With that much input, it’s not possible for you to consciously consider every factor that influences every decision you make. There’s just not enough time. That’s why 95% of cognition, including purchasing decisions, is handled by our subconscious mind. 


Our subconscious mind manages all this input by employing several cognitive shortcuts. 


These include categorizing and sorting information based on its perceived importance, forming connections between various bits of information, and allowing some decisions to be made by parts of the brain that are more emotion-driven. 


If you were asking yourself where biases came from? Viola!


Pain puts our brain on the fast track


In a nod to our ancestors’ need to react quickly in order to survive, strong emotions in particular drive rapid, intensive responses. 


When it perceives a threat, your brain doesn’t spend a lot of time weighing different survival strategies. Instead, it goes binary: You can stay and fight, or you can run. 


In support of either choice, your body gets a quick rush of hormones, your heart beats faster, and your focus narrows. The whole process is so automatic that when you feel fear, stress, anger, or pain, your body may be reacting before you are consciously aware of the trigger. 


Okay, that’s interesting. But how triggering someone’s fight or flight reflex gets on your email marketing bucket list?


Remember those time-limited offers? Or those all-time classic ‘if’ ‘then’ slogans? These belong to the past, and you can hardly trigger anyone today to act with them, but other, more sophisticated triggers might still do the trick.


For instance, in this email from Lemonade, an innovative insurance company, the company uses the recipient’s fear of not getting claim funds on time while offering a solution via their service.



If you got burned by this lengthy process in the past or are now concerned about it because you’re stuck in the same scenario, this will trigger you.


Love puts our brain out of commission


Romantic love in its first flush releases a series of chemicals in the brain that can make fight or flight look like a stroll in the park. 


The feeling of euphoria this causes can rival that of drugs or alcohol. In addition, new romances can trigger obsessive-compulsive behaviors and cause your heart to pound. 


If only Romeo and Juliette had taken some time to chill before acting. Tsk tsk tsk.


The calmer side of love, after that first infatuation, triggers feelings of contentment, calmness, and security. If your email campaign can evoke this warm-fuzzy component of the love equation, you’ll have a winner. 


Emotions in between – the extremes guide our day-to-day decisions


Our emotions drive not only impulsive actions and quick responses but also the more mundane choices we make. 


Psychologist Daniel Kahneman explained the reasons for this in his book Thinking, Fast, and Slow. In the book, he highlighted our two systems of thinking. 


System 1 is the quick, subconscious process that allows us to handle all the sensory input coming our way. System 2 is the slower, more methodical thought-process that we apply when consciously considering various factors. 


These two thought processes work in tandem. While you can choose to engage System 2 before making a decision, System 1 will do its thing with or without your consent.




That’s why even the most rational person’s purchase decisions have an emotional influence behind them. 


It’s also why you may not be able to explain why you love that sweater in blue but hate it in yellow and, if you do have an explanation, there’s a good chance your rational mind came up with it to justify your choice after your emotional brain had already made it. 


Keep the brain’s tendency toward efficient decision-making when creating your email campaigns. 


If your email’s color scheme, word choices, and other elements evoke conflicting emotions, your recipient’s subconscious will make a snap decision about its meaning that may not match your intent. 



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The example above illustrates the Stroop effect, which is a delay in the reaction between what our brain perceives and how it reacts.


This means that even the fastest brain can make wrong decisions fast.


#3 How to use emotions to boost your email conversions

People make decisions to achieve their objectives and avoid setbacks. In essence, we want to pursue pleasure and avoid pain. That doesn’t mean every decision is based solely on self-interest.


You may derive pleasure from helping others. But, it does mean that where your brain is concerned, pain is a strong indicator to avoid choosing a particular path. On the other hand, positive emotions, such as happiness, excitement, or confidence, draw us in. 


To use emotions in your email marketing, you must first be aware of this push and pull effect. A negative emotion, such as concern for your family’s safety, can push someone toward purchasing a vehicle with a high safety rating because it eases their fears. 


A positive emotion, like the thrill that comes from driving a fast car on an open road, can pull someone toward buying a sports car because it promises to deliver that feeling. 


Now, let’s explore how you can put what you know about your audience to work by creating email copy and content with feelings in mind. 

Add a personal touch with audience segmentation


Understanding your audience is just as important as understanding the effects of various emotional triggers. 


Different people may have very different responses to the same message. (Remember Christmas 2019? Were you Team Peloton or Team Aviation?)



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Don’t send the same content to everyone. Create personalized messages using dynamic content that can be tailored to match your recipient’s preferences


Studies have shown that messages matched to your audience perform better because people are more likely to pay attention to information that fits their existing beliefs. Positive emotions that come into play are vanity or self-reference and the comfort of familiarity. 


If some of your customers click through when you offer significant discounts while others click on exclusive deals, use dynamic content and create an email that alters the offer based on the individual recipient’s responses to previous offers. 


Having said that, don’t go overboard when creating a personal experience. 


Consumers are sensitive to the use of their personal information, and you don’t want to slip into the “creep” zone. If your messages infringe on someone’s sense of autonomy or they perceive it as a criticism, you’ll trigger negative emotions instead of positive ones. 


Forever 21 learned this lesson the hard way In 2019, when the clothing retailer included free samples of Atkins nutrition bars in packages sent to some of its customers. 


Because Atkins is a well-known name in the diet and weight control industry, the gifts were not well received by all of Forever 21’s customers. The resulting social media backlash undoubtedly caused some headaches for Forever 21’s marketing department. 


To create compelling, customized emails, go beyond just basic demographics and engagement information. Use your email analytics and CRM tools in combination to gather detailed information that helps you distinguish your Volvo drivers from those who own a Porsche or your customers who prefer blue sweaters from those who love yellow T-shirts. 


Even a person’s preferred time of day can affect how well your email is received, say researchers. Finding the best time to send emails per geo, habits, and events should be a part of your segmentation analysis.



Match your content’s style to the emotions you want to convey


When you send an email campaign, every element matters, the colors, fonts, images, and tone of voice you choose can all affect how your subscribers interpret your message at a conscious and subconscious level. 


Color, in particular, can influence how we feel and respond to brand messages. 


Want to encourage feelings of calm, security, and trust? Go for mid to dark blues and greens. 


A brighter green makes people think of prosperity and growth. Oranges and reds inspire intense, energetic thoughts. 


Images have a powerful influence as well. You probably intuitively knew this. If you want your subscribers to stock up on warm socks and thick blankets, you include cold-weather images in your emails to trigger feelings of nostalgia and comfort. 


In the same way, you would only picture your warm goodies in a tropical setting if curiosity or amusement were the emotions you wanted to evoke. 


As you create your email campaign, use style, color, and word choices that engage and inspire without being wholly unfamiliar. 


If you choose to go completely off-brand, do it intentionally and for impact. 


For example, every year, The American Heart Association sponsors a `Go Red for Women’ campaign to draw attention to women’s heart health issues. 


Brands that don’t feature red in their style guide might choose to make an exception when sending an email about their Go Red events participation. 


Remember, too. Not everyone responds to input the same way. Segment your email and test different colors, images, and word choices and measure the impact. 


Take your audience on a trip down memory lane



When you catch a whiff of a familiar scent from your childhood, the smell of the sea, or the asphalt of the playground, how do you feel? 


Our brain connects various sensory inputs over time to form memories and recall information. 


This is why you may visualize a page from a book in your mind as you try to recall what was written on it or why it is easier to sing the ABC’s than to say them. 


These saved sensory connections often bring with them emotional associations that affect behavior on a very primal level. The sea scent may make you hungry for ice cream because your memories are of seaside vacations and creamy cold treats. 


These connections can be a powerful tool in your marketing toolkit. 


Can you taste the Coke and feel the anticipation in this Coca-Cola “Roller Coaster” ad? The sound of the pour, the sight of the ice. 



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You can deliver the full experience in an email, and it can leave behind more than just a taste. Use imagery, words, and colors that bring positive memories to your recipient’s mind. 


They will carry that mental image and neural connection with them, and at some point, act on it.


Email campaigns are excellent in building these emotional connections, and they can do it in one of the most personal environments someone can have in their inbox. 


Send your subscribers an email that makes them laugh or feel good about themselves. This associates you and your brand with those positive feelings that will have a carry-over effect, and it does so in a 1:1 format. 


A phenomenon researchers refer to as associative coherence encourages subscribers to assume that the next email you send will be pleasant as well. 


The next time their subconscious brain has to make a snap decision about whether to open an email from you–that positive effect may tip the balance in your favor. 


Remember the ABC (Always Be Cialdini-ing)


It would be hard to discuss the use of emotions to influence decision-making without mentioning

Robert Cialdini, author of, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. Cialdini is famous for identifying seven persuasive strategies that marketers can use to move prospects to action.


Cialdini’s principles were drawn from his observations of people’s behavior, which he found was often driven by the individual’s feelings and their desire to avoid pain while achieving pleasure. 


Apply the following principles to craft your email campaigns that boost the emotional impact of your message: 




We feel indebted or obliged to reciprocate when someone gives us a gift or does a favor for us. 


An email announcing that everyone is receiving a 10% discount on their next vacation this weekend with a free boat ride may not be as effective as saying that:




I just wanted to tell you that you got a free boat ride as a special gift that you can collect on your next trip to Cabo, because <enter special reason here>. 


And in addition, you get a 10% discount on the whole trip, because that resort has a reverse ranking system, and you left such a good impression last time you visited, that you’re considered there a VIP, and they want you back!”


Commitment and consistency


People tend to be drawn toward consistent behavior both for themselves and others. 


Why did you order that dish off the menu? Because it’s what you always order. Why are franchise restaurants so popular? Because you feel confident that you’ll get the same dish at any location you visit. 


Social proof


We trust the opinions of others and will rely on their experiences to guide our decisions. 


People don’t like to feel foolish. If someone else has already tried and liked a product, it validates their decision and removes doubt from the equation.



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This is social proof with a boost of ethos. We tend to follow the advice of people who appear to be authority figures. 


Assuming our past experiences with professionals and other authority figures have been positive, the appearance of authority makes us feel safer in our choices. “9 out of 10 dentists recommend…” 




You are more likely to purchase from someone who makes you feel good. 


The reason for the liking–admiration, mutual benefit, physical attraction– matters less than the fact that the emotions they trigger are positive ones. 


Don’t be the bearer of bad news, at least not too often! 


Your recipients may take action in response to a negative message, but they may limit their engagement with your brand if all the news is bad news because who needs avoidable friction in their lives?  




Missing out on an opportunity (or a meal) brings up powerful feelings, including fear and jealousy that people want to avoid. 


This principle is often used by marketers as a push to get consumers to take action. People will respond to a scarcity appeal. But, use a delicate touch. 


You want customers to remember the thrill of not missing the deal when they buy, not the scarcity-induced fear. 


The best uses of scarcity are genuine ones–when an offer really is limited in time or volume. 




In, Pre-suasion: A revolutionary way to influence and persuade, which discusses your audience’s priming and the timing of your message (kairos), Cialdini introduced this seventh principle. 


Unity is about the links between the influencer and the influenced. What do they have in common? 


Sharing affinities and attributes with a group builds our collective self-esteem. And when they look at you and identify with you, as someone will reach and pull, you also benefit from authority.


In order to keep it that way, your content needs to address your recipients’ interests and deal with the issues they care about the most.


Immerse your audience in an experience


Our brains are hard-wired to respond to stories. People’s attraction to storytelling is a natural extension of their desire to experience new things and the brain’s reliance on sensory input and emotions to bolster memories


We can’t experience everything in a single lifetime. But, we can live more lives and learn from more experiences through storytelling. 


When reading a story or seeing a movie, our minds places us in action! 


When your brand tells a story, you draw your audience toward you. Stories trigger emotional, empathetic responses from those who experience them. If you have facts to tell, put them in the context of a story to make them sell. 


Convey a sense of ownership that sticks


Remember that test drive that sealed the deal on my car purchase? 


One of the emotional tugs that brought about my conversion was the feeling of ownership that the test drive delivered. 


Psychological ownership is incredibly effective at moving people along their buyer’s journey toward actual ownership. 


But, how can you manage that in an email? You can’t put someone behind the wheel of a car. Or can you? 


Have you ever clicked on a Google doodle? Maybe you’ve taken a virtual test drive. From trying different paint colors for your home’s interior to entering your measurements for accurate clothes sizing, online experiences are becoming more interactive and personalized at an amazing pace. 


To engage your email subscribers and give them that sense of ownership that makes them want to hang on to you, use a combination of sensory and emotional inputs. 


Test using interactive content such as video and audio components, quizzes or games, and dynamic features that encourage users to control their experience. 


Inviting subscribers to choose a product’s name, design their own outfits, and similar strategies to gain their investment and attention. 


Feel the sensation of success with emotion-driven email campaigns


Much of modern marketing strategy is data-driven. This makes sense. To achieve success, we need to know what success looks like and what has got us closest to it in the past. 


We need metrics. But, we also need to remember that even though our calculations may seem complex, our customers are more so. If you want to reach your customers and compel them to action, triggering an emotional connection, and developing it over time, is key. 


With a message that taps into your subscribers’ feelings, you’ll draw them closer to the end of their buyer’s journey and their purchase decisions. By understanding the emotions that drive those decisions, you’ll learn how to craft the messages that get them to respond positively, time, and again. 



This is a guest post for the Xverify blog from our partners at Ongage. To learn more about  Ongage’s email marketing platform for advanced email marketers, check out their website!


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