Make Your Business Storytelling Better With the Right Emotions

What do you think of when you hear the word "emotions?" Your mind probably goes to common feelings like joy, sadness, and anger – and if that's all you think of, you might wonder what emotions have to do with business.

I've found that some people get nervous about being "too emotional" in business. In the U.S. especially, the business world is often seen as being serious and rational – it's no place for emotions, and it's certainly no place for emotion-based storytelling.

This notion persists in part because of a narrow perception of what emotions are. People typically picture quite dramatic emotions, like the kind they see and feel when they're watching a movie.

The reality is, the emotional landscape is a lot more diverse than that, and tapping into that vast landscape can help you tell better stories, forge stronger connections with customers, and ultimately earn more business.

Why emotions make better business people

One of the most important "ignored" emotions that's particularly useful in business is empathy. As Allegra Chapman writes in a Virgin blog post, empathy is essential for understanding customer pain points and how we can solve them. It makes us better at problem-solving and innovation. It even helps us connect with our internal team's developmental needs and motivators.

Chapman also cites James Allworth's assessment that companies that can't use empathy to understand their customers and competitors "will be disrupted out of business."

I, too, have found empathy extremely helpful in communicating with corporate clients. As a veteran of the corporate world, I've been in their shoes and have dealt with the types of challenges they face every day. It helps me connect with them and build that "human bridge” between us when I'm exploring how Go Narrative can help their business. The goal is to get that client to think, "Matthew understands us because he's been there. He's going to help me work through the challenges I have as a corporate leader."

However, empathy is far from the only emotion that belongs in everyday business communications. Internally, you might use things like humor, playfulness, competitiveness, and camaraderie to bolster a sense of collaboration among your staff. For your external communications, emotions like desire and aspiration might come into play when you're figuring out your value proposition and story framework. Your customer wants to achieve something, and explicitly referring to those desires can help you communicate that you are the solution.

It all boils down to this: Humans are emotional beings. Emotions help us understand and connect with others. Whether we realize it or not, all of our decisions start from an emotional, not rational, place. Appealing to those emotions in every instance of communication will help you win, whether you're talking to a team member, a business partner, or a potential customer.

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Telling an emotional business story

Now that you vigorously cry “I get it! Emotions matter in business communications!” let's take that one step further and incorporate those emotions into a story.

We've talked a lot in previous blogs about the power of storytelling and how it helps humans make sense of the world. When you think about story in terms of dealing with a challenge or solving for an opportunity, emotions become really important.

As a brief example, picture yourself as an executive leader at an established software company. Things are going great for years, but suddenly, something changes (as things often do in the technology world). The company faces a competitive existential threat. Maybe there's a new startup on the block that's causing trouble, or the perception of the company in the market has shifted to something less than favorable. Either way, you're losing market share, and it's all falling on your shoulders to fix it.

Think about it – there are many emotions involved in that for you as a leader!

  • You're afraid. You've worked so hard to reach the C-suite, and now you don't know how long that’s going to last because your company is under attack by the competition.

  • You're stressed. Everyone in the company is turning to you to fix things, but you don't know where to begin.

  • You're overwhelmed. You're receiving a constant barrage of communications from investors, leaders, employees, reporters, and customers, and you barely have enough hours in the day to read them.

  • You doubt yourself. If things don't start turning around soon, how will you prove yourself as a strong, competent leader?

Now consider that you're a firm hired to help reverse the tides and boost sales again. You know the executive is feeling all these emotions – why not tap into that as a bridge to unlock the ability to communicate and connect with him? Show that you understand his situation. You feel his pain, and you want to help relieve some of his stress by doing great work and crafting a marketing campaign that will bring customers back into the fold.

I imagine a similar scenario that might have played out at Facebook, Inc. over the last couple of years. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the social media giant is ramping up its global ad spend across all its brands, including Instagram and WhatsApp, as it "aims to rebuild trust after a series of privacy missteps and other controversies dented [its] reputation."

Highly-publicized incidents like the Cambridge Analytica scandal have rightfully decimated public opinion about Facebook. Now the company is attempting to tell the right stories to empathize with their users and partners and join them on their journey as they relearn to trust the platform.

Facebook's marketing chief, Antonio Lucio, even said this directly in a statement to the press:

"There's no question we made mistakes, and we're in the process of addressing them one after the other, but we have to tell that story to the world on the trust side as well as on the value side."

WSJ reporter Alexandra Bruell goes on to say that Facebook has shifted its focus from B2B messaging to consumer-focused stories. It plans to accomplish this by hiring several ad agencies to create "brand stories" across multiple global markets to establish Facebook's family of platforms as spaces for "meaningful experiences" and self-expression – things that resonate strongly with its user base.

While the success of Facebook's attempt to reestablish trust remains to be seen, emotions remain at the core of the company's strategy. It's clear that Facebook understands and acknowledges its users' emotions about its recent scandals – betrayal, outrage, disdain, etc. But at the same time, its marketers are attempting to tap into other, positive emotions that might be associated with using social media to reposition itself as being more in tune with the human experience.

Defining and respecting the emotions throughout your customer's journey

I recently read and shared a Fast Company article about the impending demise of the airline industry at the hands of autonomous vehicles (AVs). Here's the gist: AVs, though still in their infancy, are rapidly evolving, and as they become more common in the consumer market, they stand to pose a severe threat to airlines as a means of long-distance travel.

Now, AVs can't compete on efficiency – logistically; there's no way a car can cover the same distance as fast as an airplane. However, we all know that when you factor in everything involved with flying – traveling to the departure airport, checking in, waiting in endless security lines, enduring the boarding and deboarding process, claiming your luggage, and transporting yourself to your final destination from the arrival airport – a two-hour flight can quickly turn into a six-hour travel day (assuming the flight isn't delayed).

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Despite this lengthy process, most people would still choose to fly rather than get behind the wheel (the article used the example of a 10-hour drive versus a two-hour flight from Atlanta to Washington, D.C.). If they took a driverless car, though, they enjoy a relaxing, door-to-door ride on their own schedule – without worrying about airline baggage restrictions, invasive security scans, or renting a car in their destination city. Unsurprisingly, totally worth the extra few hours of travel time.

The Fast Company article acknowledges that there are still some barriers to a reality where people choose driverless cars over a flight. AV manufacturers and sellers face a serious lack of public trust, awareness, and education about the benefits and improving technology behind self-driving vehicles, However, if they play their storytelling cards right – that is, if they tap into the negative emotions associated with air travel and tell stories that position their vehicles as a better alternative – they just might succeed in winning over frequent flyers.

There's a lesson in here for marketers across the board, no matter what industry they're in: You need to respect your customer's entire journey, including the emotions they're feeling at each stage. Think of yourself as the AV seller, putting your product up against the status quo of flying. What do people hate about their current options? What might trigger a change in their lives? How will they feel when they've experienced the better alternative (i.e., your solution)?

This is why diving deep into your target persona research and mapping out their buyer journey is so critical to all marketing content. A persona journey map will help you clearly understand what someone is doing, thinking, and feeling at each stage of the process. To recap our previous article on persona journeys, those six stages are:

  1. Awareness – The buyer becomes aware of the need for change.

  2. Realize – The buyer realizes the scope required to improve their situation.

  3. Internalize – The buyer connects their experiences and feelings to potential solutions.

  4. Visualize – The buyer can see their "improved" future and begins to put their plan in motion.

  5. Decide – The buyer seeks rational, logical data to confirm their emotional commitment to a certain product or service.

  6. Evangelize – The buyer is satisfied and wants to share their positive experiences.

Your customer is experiencing unique, distinct emotions at each of these points in their journey. It's helpful to come up with a single word or short phrase to describe that emotion so you can hone in on it when you craft your messaging, whether it's a blog post, a newsletter, a podcast, a video, etc.

You'll also want to write a sentence or two from the customer's perspective to encapsulate that emotion. For example, if your customer is in the Realize phase, the emotion they might be feeling is "exploring," and they might be thinking something like, "There are so many options on the market. Which one is right for my needs, at a price I can afford?"

Check out this example journey we created to envision what this might look like in your own persona journey map.

Don't be afraid to 'get emotional'

Defining, understanding, and deeply empathizing with your customers' emotions throughout their journey is Step 1 for any marketer. The next step is actually translating those emotions into stories that resonate with your target audience. Remember, don't choose an emotion in a vacuum. Choose one that is relevant for the journey that your ideal buyer is experiencing.

We know you might be apprehensive about getting emotional in your storytelling because you think you'll scare people off – and you might: If you use the wrong emotions, you'll create content that just doesn't connect with people.

That's why you need to not only zero in on the right emotion, but the right level and use of that emotion, too. By doing that, you'll be able to understand your audience better, select the right emotions to utilize within your stories, and create content that is as engaging and helpful as possible.

Go Narrative is a marketing consultancy that assists business leaders in technology firms to build and implement advanced marketing strategies. Our secret sauce is storytelling for business growth and transformation. We can help you cut through the noise and improve your reputation. We love helping business leaders understand, use and apply storytelling in business via writing, presentations, video, strategy and actionable plans. Get attention. Be heard. Sell more.

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