How To Attract Readers Using Emotion

Emotions shape our perception of reality. Fear and anxiety increase the frequency with which we detect threats to our safety. Sadness makes us more vulnerable to visual illusions. Happiness leads us to feel positive about unrelated situations. How we feel dictates how we process the world around us. In the same fashion, emotions also shape our reactions to brands.

How successfully a brand triggers our emotions determines whether we’ll engage with its products or services. Think of the best story you’ve ever read or the best marketing campaign you’ve ever seen. It’s highly likely both are imprinted in your mind because you had an emotional reaction to it. Whether it inspired joy, hope, or anger, you felt something because of it. Thus, you formed a connection with the brand that inspired that emotion.


The importance of writing with feeling

Not all writing is suited for emotional storytelling. Some information (i.e. raw data, case studies) are grounded in hard facts, and emotions can distract from the purpose of the article or post. But most pieces work best by evoking feelings.

A 2015 study published in Scientific American discovered that the most shared articles from the New York Times were those that elicited the strongest emotional reactions. Headlines like “Redefining Depression as Mere Sadness” and “Wide-Eyed New Arrivals Falling in Love with the City” scored high in their likeliness to go viral. Although both pieces varied greatly in tone, they clearly indicated emotional ties to the reader.

You want to create a story that generates a reaction to the information you’re presenting. The core of your piece doesn’t need to be emotional writing per se, but even informational writing can still inspire an emotional response from your audience.

Emotion boosts the engagement pathway by not only engaging new customers but also further relating to current clients. Harvard Business Review estimates that, on average, emotionally engaged customers are 52% more valuable than other types of customers, including those who are “highly satisfied.” Similarly, University of Pennsylvania researchers discovered that emotional marketing has a much higher chance of going viral.

Emotions influence two important factors crucial for business success. First, they determine a customer’s feelings toward your brand. Second, those emotions are a deciding factor in the consumer’s actions. Whether they buy your product, comment on your post, sign up for your newsletter, download your e-book, or interact with your ad depends almost exclusively on their emotional response to your content.

However, emotions have an even more profound effect on readers and consumers than simply driving them to action. In 2016, groundbreaking neuroscience research indicated that emotions aren’t just a part of our decision-making process. They’re completely responsible for our decision outcomes. Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio discovered that people who’d suffered damage in the area of the brain where emotions are created couldn’t make decisions. Though it’s widely believed that logic is the basis for most decision-making, Damasio proved that logic alone doesn’t drive our choices. It’s our emotions that do the heavy lifting.


Understanding feelings in writing

When it comes to feelings, there’s no limit to what your readers can experience. Excitement, happiness, fear, anger, sadness, surprise, curiosity—every feeling is a good feeling if it provokes some sort of actionable reaction on the part of your readers.


Surprise has been shown to activate our brains more than happiness. It stimulates us and grabs our attention. Aren’t you more engaged when someone throws you a surprise party as opposed to planning the party yourself? Readers develop a stronger emotional response to information they didn’t know or expect to find out.


It can be a useful tactic to leave the reader asking questions or wanting more. This makes the reader feel deprived and, thus, more likely to engage with the content. When it comes to reading, people are most motivated by their curiosity. Give them a headline and first paragraph that asks a question they crave the answer to. These pieces build intrigue based on the curiosity gap—the amount of information someone knows versus what they want to know.

Anger and fear

Negative emotions can be just as impactful as their positive counterparts. In fact, Outbrain conducted a study on 65,000 affiliate content pieces over a four-month period. The positive posts performed 29% worse than the negative ones. Negative posts often appeal to a reader’s anxieties, fear, and worries. You can then use your content to introduce a solution to these feelings (like your product or service).


Like anger and fear, sadness is a negative emotion. It can be used to create a gap between what your reader has and what they want for themselves or others. This is a technique that Upworthy used to great effect (and was initially parodied for doing so). Nevertheless, many sites have found tremendous value in utilizing this tactic.


Positive emotions are easily connected with positive feelings about your brand. Customers’ happiness brings them back to your business time and time again, creating brand loyalty. Happy customers spend more and become more loyal to the brand. In fact, research shows that loyal customers go on to spend upwards of 10x more than their first purchase. But too much happiness could come off as insincere. Rather than always writing in an upbeat tone, focus on happy topics in the tone and voice of your brand.


How to write so your readers will feel

Choose the most relevant emotion for your audience. Identify your target reader’s emotional motivators. What do your customers want? What are your readers worried about? Appeal to these driving factors. For example, a travel brand may want to evoke a sense of wonder or excitement in its content versus evoking a fear of travel accidents or sickness.

Additionally, show the reader your story—don’t tell them. Provide vivid and concrete stories and examples to illustrate your point.

Explicitly ask the question that you’re going to answer. Make that question potent, relevant, and forceful. Use emotional motivators to drive home the question’s importance.

Choose your language carefully. Language is a key factor in determining emotion. Think of the differences between the following phrases: “Traffic is annoying,” “Traffic is frustrating,” “Traffic is infuriating,” and “Traffic makes me want to pull my hair out.” Each phrase appeals to a different reader and indicates a specific tone.

With emotional writing, it’s important to acknowledge the reader and empathize with their emotions. How does this emotion relate to your product or service? Make it clear how your brand relates to the consumer and how it shares their pain or celebrates their happiness.


Your turn

Now, it’s your turn to put emotional writing into practice. Revisit the last five articles you’ve shared or connected with. What was it about these pieces that pulled you in? Was it the language in the headline? The promise of the first paragraph? The opportunity to learn something new?

Dissect this content and jot down what emotions it stirs in you. Then, get down some thoughts about what made you feel that way. Think about the phrases, words, and styles that gave you that reaction. Remember, these are the kinds of connections you want your audience to form with your content as well.


Vanessa C