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As I continue to delve deeper into the real need that (I believe) businesses must have in understanding human emotion – and how that emotion will link to longevity for the business, I was introduced to Plutchik[1]. In his study of emotion, Plutchik hypothesized that emotions and emotional reactions are evolved – not only during the course of an individual’s life, but through the course of humanity and its history. Now, you may be wondering why the history and evolution of emotions is of any importance to business; this, after all, is all about psychology only, right? Wrong!

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, it is my genuine belief that consumers interact with your brand based on an emotional catalyst. From the conversations I’ve had after writing that post, it would appear that some people agree. As I studied (and continue to study) some of Plutchik’s work, some truly interesting facts stand out. Of particular interest for marketers and brands:

1. Emotions are broken into 2 parts:

  • Being exposed to a stimulus, and
  • Evaluating that stimulus.

A couple of things are important to note here.

  • First, the stimulus can be anything from a person to a thing to an event. For a brand, this means every person; every touchpoint; every product; and every phone call is a stimulus!
  • Secondly, the evaluation, which is how the emotion is selected, comes from the individual’s lifestyle, genetics, history, work and life environment. For a brand, this means that a person’s context in life is critical to understanding how and why people react the way they do to your brand and to your messages.

2. Emotions trigger behaviours. In fact, the effect of an emotion is to create an interaction (positive or negative) with the trigger of the emotion.

This explains a few things for brands.

  • Everything you do – from advertising to posting on a Facebook page to selling your wares – will trigger an emotion. (We haven’t discussed intensity yet, but suffice it to say your audience is feeling something.)
  • When your audience feels something, they will do something. Every emotion triggers a behaviour. (We also need to remember that not every behaviour will be overt.)
  • The content of the interaction becomes the stimulus for the emotional trigger. As marketers, we need to ensure that the content triggers a positive emotion to link to a positive behaviour. We know all too well the results of negative emotions, now don’t we?

3. An emotion triggers a behaviour; and the result of that behaviour inevitably engenders another emotion. So the cycle is started…

This reality is of particular importance for brands and marketers. Consider an event – an interaction between your brand and your audience.

  • A negative reaction (aka negative emotion) will result in your audience sharing the experience. When people talk about their negative emotions, the dialogue often turns visceral and the negativity increases in intensity – not to mention increases in reach in our hyper-connected world. Needless to say, your brand comes out as the villain in a story that can only have one hero – your competitor!
  • On the flipside, a positive emotional outcome also has reach and the opportunity for a shared experience. When people share positivity, especially as the emotion intensifies, the benefits – from both a biological and psychological standpoint – increase for that individual. When that happens, people tend to have the desire to repeat the behaviour that started it all.

Brands should pay attention to this last point. The idea that consumers will repeat behaviour sings a beautiful song to brand owners, marketers, and business people. It supports the notion that somehow, somewhere loyalty to a brand exists. And it does, but it doesn’t just happen because someone smiled. Take another look at that paragraph – the key is in the intensity of the positive emotion. The deeper the emotional bond, the more intense the positive reaction and the richer the experience, the more likely the consumer will repeat the behaviour.

Generating that type of intensity requires much more than product knowledge or customer service training. Getting to that point with your consumer demands a genuine demonstration of caring. You must go beyond the desire to sell your product or service simply for the benefit of your bottom line. You need to show an authentic desire to help your consumer, to improve their lives in some way.

So, what are you doing to value your consumer’s context, develop engaging content and demonstrate genuine caring?

It’s time for us as marketers, brand managers, business owners and leaders to realize that…

The true marketing revolution will elevate the role of the business from making money to satisfying consumer needs and desires to making genuine contributions in their communities (local, national and global).


[1] Robert Plutchik (21 October 1927 – 29 April 2006) was professor emeritus at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and adjunct professor at the University of South Florida. He received his Ph.D. from Columbia University and he was also a psychologist.

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