Human behaviour expert Philip Adcock on the importance of engaging your customers’ emotions to improve sales

Emotion is essentially the most powerful lever you have to prise open your customers’ wallets. Human emotions are at the epicentre of everything we think and do, which means they influence almost every decision we make.

Emotions are built on three different psychological components, which all appear to a greater or lesser extent in every emotion: happiness or pleasure, stimulation or arousal and control or dominance. These are designed to prepare humans for a particular, basic, evolutionary course for action — fight, flight or mate.

Most businesses have yet to realise how powerful emotional engagement can be, or how hard it is for customers to change their mind using reason and rational thought once they’ve emotionally decided on something. But taking the time to consider emotions means that you can better align your customers with your products and improve the way that they engage with them.

The power of emotion

Customers are constantly making emotional connections with particular products, some good and some bad. You therefore need to understand fully how your products (and those of your competitors) are wired emotionally into your customers’ minds.

Personally, I’m fond of the Cape Town area of South Africa, having both worked and holidayed there a number of times. Therefore, I have strong emotional associations with a brand of lager called Castle, and a particular brand of red wine, Boschendal Manor, both of South African origin. When either of these items is available in the UK, I know I will choose them over any other brand in that store. They might be more expensive than other brands, and I probably couldn’t pick out either in blind taste tests. However, the emotional connection with downing a bottle of Castle on the Waterfront in Cape Town, or having a glass of the Boschendal Manor red wine while picnicking in the grounds of Boschendal Manor itself, are just too strong.

A lot of companies are obsessed with products having a ‘corporate’ look, with many emotional initiatives rejected because they aren’t corporate enough. What this means is open to debate, but in summary, they’re rejecting these emotional initiatives just because they look a bit different! The fact that they sell far more products is ignored.

A good example of the power of emotion is an experiment that Asda, Sainsbury’s and Tesco undertook to add emotional imagery in one of their aisles. All three recorded sales increases of around 15% from the same category of products. And this wasn’t a short-term spike, but something that lasted as long as the images were in situ. The power of emotion cannot be underestimated and therefore should be harnessed.

The future of selling

What’s important to remember is that by managing the three basic aspects of customers’ emotions, it is relatively straightforward for you to separate them from their money.

As we’ve already established, emotions are designed to prepare us humans for a particular course for action. It therefore follows that if you can alter and prime your customer’s mind-set, you can manipulate their emotion. I believe that the future of successful selling is linked to emotions and manipulating customers’ mindsets in a number of ways.

For example, a physical shop can manage what its customers do from the moment they set foot inside, influencing their psychological state and altering how they move around. Consider your mood as you lie relaxing on a beach without a care in the world; what about being able to recreate that serenity by buying and using a relaxing bath soak? Conversely, consider the thought of spending an afternoon strenuously digging over your garden and weeding. This isn’t about relaxing; this is war, and the total annihilation of all things weed-related. A very different set of emotional triggers are involved, and if cleverly manipulated will result in many more items flying off the shelves and into shopping trolleys.

Emotional management is a science and thus requires a scientific approach. You need to understand what primes your customers and thus how to alter their emotional state. In doing so, you will make many of your products instantly more emotionally appealing. Because if you can manipulate and manage your customers’ emotions, you will be able to exert far more persuasive control over what they buy.

Phillip Adcock is a commercial psychologist and author of Master Your Brain: Training Your Brain for Success in Life £12.99 from Amazon. 

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