Choosing Between Heart and Mind

Lynne Hartzell | Jun 03, 2015

12 Ways to Find the Right Balance Between Emotion and Intellect in Your Marketing Messages

Winston Churchill once observed, “If you’re not a liberal at twenty you have no heart, if you’re not a conservative at forty you have no brain.” The British prime minister and orator may have been speaking with more than a hint of hyperbole, but his comment endures because some still believe—many marketers among them—that emotion and intellect are separate states of mind.

The tendency to view emotional and rational appeals as warring concepts may stem in part from the theory of left brain and right brain dominance—the supposed hemispherical split between the source of rational and creative (and presumably more emotional) impulses within the human brain. If only it were that simple.

Researchers today say both sides of the brain are involved in rational and creative thinking, and the ways we solve problems and make decisions are far more complex than past hemisphere theory suggests.1 The implications of this learning can be enormous for marketers. Even if your target’s persona skews to one end of the rational-to-creative spectrum or the other, it can be dangerous to assume their purchase behavior will be ruled purely by either the hot intensity of emotion or the cold calculation of hard facts.

Evidence that purchase decisions can be ruled by both emotion and rational thinking at once is all around us, calling into question such conventional wisdom as larger purchases are ruled by intellect, but emotions drive impulse buying.

Consider the deliberate big-ticket shopper who will invest more than $80,000 to purchase a Mercedes SL-Class convertible despite evidence that the car is a magnet for speeding tickets—its drivers are 400% more likely to be ticketed by police than owners of other makes and models.2

On the other end of the spectrum, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports increasing numbers of Americans on the go are heeding the rational urging of nutritionists, resisting the emotional allure of fast foods and choosing healthier, home-cooked meals instead.3

All of which suggests that, even if conventional wisdom about heart and mind was sufficient to guide the mass marketing of the past, those generalizations are no longer enough to attract attention, earn preference and compel engagement in today’s age of customer empowerment and personalized brand experiences.

This complexity extends to the supposedly more rational B2B world. Research suggests that while rational proof of business value remains a prerequisite for purchase consideration, the emotional personal value buyers associate with a brand has double the impact on commercial outcomes.4

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Today, the question isn’t whether your marketing should appeal to the heart or to the mind, but rather, how to most effectively appeal to both at once.

Here are 12 starting rules for optimizing the combination of emotional and intellectual appeals to create truly disruptive marketing:

  1. Know them well—It should go without saying that a clear understanding of what makes your targets tick is the key to developing and delivering a compelling message. But, our list would be incomplete without this obvious reminder: Make sure your customer personas are multidimensional and represent both the emotional and rational drivers behind your targets’ decision-making. It doesn’t matter what you think (or hope) they want and need. Dig deeply to understand what really moves them. Only then can you arrive at a solution that will strongly appeal to both their hearts and their minds.
  2. Lead with emotion—When success depends on quickly making a connection, or overcoming many voices to break through, remember that the human mind reacts emotionally more quickly than rationally. Lead by evoking an emotional response first; then, provide rational evidence that validates your targets’ initial impulse.
  3. Create a difference—If your product or service is viewed as similar or exactly the same as competitive offerings, use emotion to prompt targets to think about their decision in a new way. It can help disrupt a commodity market and create a special connection with your brand.
  4. Appeal to group think—When the purchase decision is shared by a business team, emotions often give way to deeper analysis. To achieve a positive meeting of all those hearts and minds, make the business case clearly and concisely with plenty of proof for everyone who needs to sign off.
  5. Excite all of their senses—Emotional engagement is not all about the words. Use color and sound to set the right mood and more strongly shape your targets’ perceptions, from relaxing calm to the peak of high energy. Video or other rich media add motion and interactive engagement to online experiences, while the right texture adds sensory appeal to physical materials. Go all in with experiential events that surprise and delight your targets in person and on multiple sensory levels, sparking an instant and lasting emotional connection.
  6. Tell them why new is better—If your product is new to the world, or in a category all its own, the facts often speak best for themselves. Let the brilliance of your invention shine through with clear, descriptive messaging seasoned with emotional flair. It’s a mix that will share the excitement but ensure the significance of your breakthrough is not lost.
  7. Make complexity simple—Consumers can’t be experts at everything. Faced with mechanical, financial, healthcare or other complicated buying decisions, due diligence can start and end when the buyer’s emotional need for trust is met. To earn their confidence, help them picture how good your solution will make them feel rather than describing how the product or service works.
  8. Prove you’re safe—Fear is among the strongest human emotions, which makes avoiding risk a powerful sales proposition, particularly in B2B marketing where careers are often on the line. Don’t miss the chance to use hard evidence of your reliability, past customer success or reputation for service to strike an emotional chord and drive the most calculating buyers to your door.
  9. Renew the love—When your brand is well-liked and widely accepted, the rational case has already been made. Use a fresh emotional appeal to renew targets’ interest and remind them how great their past experiences have been.
  10. Don’t forget the basics—If your B2B brand is not yet an established leader, you may have to prove your business value factually to earn a place at the table. But, once you are there, turn up the volume on emotional appeals to your targets’ pride, confidence or desire for career advancement…it can help you win an initial sale and potentially command a higher price.
  11. Borrow from others—Your voice isn’t the only one your targets can hear. Make an immediate emotional connection by building on your audience’s existing affinity for other brands or current favorites in music, films and popular culture.
  12. Be authentic—If the mix of emotion and intellect in your marketing doesn’t fit the essence of your brand, it won’t convince the hearts and minds of your targets. Understand what they expect from you and what rings false. Then express your message in terms they can believe in emotionally and rationally.

Emotion and intellect are both involved in almost every buying decision, so don’t use these rules to choose one over the other. It’s all about the right mix, for the right customer, at the right time. Armed with deep understanding of your targets, you can strike the right balance and deliver appeals that resonate strongly with both their hearts and their minds.

Blue Flame Thinking combines strategic insight with inspired creativity to break through, engage and move targets to buy. To explore how we can help you make more meaningful customer connections and drive tangible business results, contact Lynne Hartzell at lhartzell@blueflamethinking.com or call 312-343-2236 to learn more.


[1] Tania Lombrozo, “The Truth About the Left Brain/Right Brain Relationship,” npr.org, posted Dec. 2, 2013, retrieved December 2014.
[2] Patrick George, “The Most Ticketed Cars in America Will Genuinely Surprise You,” jalopnik.com, posted July 2, 2014, retrieved December 2014.
[3] Melinda Beck and Amy Schatz, “American’ Eating Habits Take a Healthier Turn, Study Finds,” wsj.com, updated Jan. 16, 2014, retrieved December 2014.
[4] “From Promotion to Emotion: Connecting B2B Customers to Brands,” executiveboard.com, posted 2013, retrieved December 2014, page 7.

Lynne Hartzell - President

Lynne has been on the cutting edge of marketing for over 25 years, first as a Fortune 500 Brand Strategist and, now, as an agency leader.

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