Digital marketers are overlooking this critical fundamental

Emotions rule over logic

We humans are a storytelling species

Marketers understand that there has to be an ’emotional hook’ for an ad to resonate with consumers. What they are beginning to forget is that the glue that solidifies our emotion-based preferences is storytelling that resonates with our underlying values and beliefs.

Research demonstrates that emotions rule over logic/cognition more than most of us believe. We begin with long-standing individual emotional resonances that determine the likely appeal of a product (or value system or philosophy, for that matter). After we decide we like something, or someone, we then unconsciously cherry pick facts to support our largely unconscious emotion-based beliefs.

For the past 20+ years, digital marketing has focused primarily on advertiser performance metrics, e.g., clicks, time spent per screen, shares, and sales. These are useful tools, of course, but diagnostics for improving performance don’t necessarily provide a feedback loop for creating a better, more resonant brand or product story.

To be clear, you don’t have to tell a complete story when you brand or rebrand. However, you do need to convey a sense of your mission/vision, one that is original, genuine and speaks to your audience’s underlying needs and preferences. When you have achieved this, you help potential consumers can then imagine how your product or service can meet a need or even fulfill a dream they may not have previously entertained.

Our brains are hard-wired for stories

Our brains use stories not only to organize memories but also to establish a sense of life’s meaning. This is why ancient mnemonic techniques to improve memory work so well (e.g., linking a series of sequential facts to a fictional story we make up for the purpose of instantaneously access the outline of a speech we’re delivering).

So, effective advertising always tells a story, one that specifically relates to the personal experiences and beliefs of people in your target audience. You can see how this dynamic is playing out in the current U.S. Presidential campaign. The ‘stories’ told, and emotional ‘notes’ struck by the two major candidates are tailored for two entirely different constituencies.

Stories define the narrative of our unfolding lives

We carve out a sense of continuity and meaning in life day to day with the stories/narratives we ‘collect’ and then project out to others from minute to minute on social media, and face to face. Our online posts demonstrate how ephemeral our experiences are by contrast with the surprising consistency of our reactions to and interpretations of life events.

One type of advertising that conveys a coherent story is “native advertising,” in which product ad placement merges alongside an online publication’s editorial recommendations. Still more direct, but ethically and legally questionable are ‘advertorials’ in which you often have deceptive advertising that presents itself as independent journalism.