“Communications are all about the mind…and only about the mind. Keep that in mind.” Tom Ahern, How to Write Fundraising Materials That Raise More Money
Never did I think my study of psychology & neuroscience, albeit to a lesser degree, would have such an impact on my work in marketing communications. Was I wrong!
I promise not to go too deep into the realms of neuroscience. But, bear with me. Understanding that the brain is the seat of emotions and that emotions “rule” when it comes to making a decision has huge implications for the nonprofit communicator.
In The Emotional Brain, Ken Barnett states that emotions invariably are formed in certain parts of the brain, in which the consciousness that we term the mind resides. From the mind these emotions– fear, anger, stress, elation, anxiety, love and all the rest – can gush out anywhere and everywhere, controlled or otherwise, productively or destructively, far more powerful and irresistible than logic.
Neuroscientist Antoine Bechara declared in 2006 that the “popular notion … that logical, rational calculation forms the basis of sound decisions … [is] wrong and [has] no scientific basis….”
Ironically this is something that direct mail marketers have known for quite a while!
Everyone is affected by emotional triggers. The key is to discover which emotional triggers create the action that you’re looking for in your marketing communications. My personal bias is that the main action you strive for is support for your nonprofit’s mission.
Group triggers to lead to action. Couple negative triggers – anger, sadness, fear with positive triggers – caring joy and hope. Create what Tom Ahern calls emotional twin sets. Match a catalyzing trigger, most often negative to introduce the problem with a calming trigger, which is positive and offers a solution if the reader takes action.
Don’t forget, as neurologist Donald Calne, author of Within Reason: Rationality and Human Behavior shows — reason leads to thinking, while emotion leads to action.
Of course this isn’t the whole picture. Interested in more applicable insights into the use of emotions and nonprofit marketing communications? I strongly suggest:
- The Science of Emotion in Marketing: How Our Brains Decide What to Share and Whom to Trust
- Cry me a River: Why and How Emotions Can Save Fundraising and the Nonprofit World
- Research: The Emotions that Make Marketing Campaigns go Viral
Communication is everything in marketing. If you can’t get your messages out to your audience and create the desired actions, your nonprofit will shrivel and die. Marketing communications is about understanding the needs of your audiences and finding the best way to speak with them.
Don’t forget, people develop trust with organizations that they are emotionally connected to. So, telling a story about how you change the lives of real people who come into contact with your organization is critical.
One last plug for neuroscience — our brain is hardwired to learn from and respond to stories! So the fastest and easiest way for your audience to understand and get involved with what your organization is doing is through stories.
By the way, curious about the photo on this post? That’s my lizard. She/it sits on a shelf in my office watching me work – or not! I saw the lizard when we took a trip to Santa Fe New Mexico and I had to have it. After reading Seth Godin’s fascinating book Linchpin, I think I know why!
Any thoughts or contributions you want to make to the effects of emotional triggers on nonprofit marketing communications? I’d love to hear them.