The idea that people don’t act in an entirely rational way is nothing new. Even the most dispassionate of us are emotional creatures at our core. Which means that our decisions are driven as much by our feelings and perceptions as they are by our cognitive deliberation.
What does this have to do with business? Well, if you want to sell – which is what most businesses ultimately exist to do – then you need to understand why people buy. And that means you have to understand the feelings and perceptions, as well as the rational choices, that drive their decisions.
In order to do this, it is helpful to take a look at the idea of emotional capital. Emotional capital exists in a number of areas, but for the purposes of this article we’re talking about external emotional capital.
What is external emotional capital?
In his book Emotional Capitalists, corporate psychologist Martyn Newman PhD defines external emotional capital as “the value of the feelings and perceptions held by the customer and the external stakeholder towards your business.”
He adds: “The only way to create real profit is to attract the emotional rather than the rational customer by appealing to his or her feelings and imagination.”
Notice that Newman talks about feelings and perceptions. People will have feelings about your business: “I like that brand, I can trust them”. And they will have perceptions, which are more about the stories they use to rationalise those feelings: “They care about the environment, they are experts in their field.”
From here, we can reverse engineer the idea of emotional capital in the context of content marketing. What stories can you tell about your business that will create the right perceptions in your audience? What feelings can you evoke that will create positive emotional capital, drive brand loyalty and ultimately increase sales?
How do you want people to feel about your brand?
The first step in your emotional capital strategy has to be to define what kind of capital you want to build. How do you want your audience to feel when they come into contact with your brand? What do you want them to perceive about your business?
For example, you might want people to believe that your brand is environmentally conscious, fair, good value and fun, and to feel happy and inspired whenever they interact with it. Or perhaps you want to be seen as a luxury brand that champions innovation and invites customers into an exclusive club, creating desire in those who are not yet customers and a sense of personal satisfaction in those who are.
The same works in the B2B space. You might want to be seen as pioneering and trailblazing, with clients and potential clients feeling inspired and excited by your brand. On the other hand, you may want to be seen as a quietly confident teacher or encouraging coach, evoking feelings of reassurance, encouragement and safety.
Perhaps you are in an industry where many brands are perceived negatively, such as recruitment, law or car sales. Here organisations might be seen as greedy, self-seeking or even dishonest, leaving customers and clients feeling irritated or frustrated. This can be a useful starting point for building a brand that is in direct opposition to this stereotype.
How content can build emotional capital
Emotional capital is not something that is created in a one-off event. It is built over every touchpoint that your audience has with your business. This ranges from your logo and branding to how easy it is to book an appointment, the functionality of your website to how polite your reception staff is.
Where content fits in is that it is perfectly suited to meet the “show don’t tell” requirement of building emotional capital. Rather than telling your audience how they should perceive you – your values, your expertise, your personality – you can demonstrate the relevant elements that will allow them to come to the right conclusions for themselves.
Just look at the Hubspot blog, packed full of insights written in a straightforward and encouraging tone. It’s easy to see why people feel that Hubspot as a brand knows what they’re talking about, that they’re experts, they’re helpful, they have their finger on the pulse. We can trust them.
To take a B2C example, Lego have recently started publishing a free magazine. The many activities and ideas inside underline the perception that Lego is a fun brand that cares about creating and developing young minds. It’s encouraging and exciting. They want us to have fun!
Using content to serve your audience
Content allows you to add value, to be helpful, to serve the needs of your audience and thereby create positive emotions. An example might be a swimwear company publishing a “what to pack for your beach holiday” checklist, or a leadership consultancy practice hosting a webinar about developing emotional intelligence at work.
On the flipside you can use a blog post to address your audience’s concerns about working with you, a buyer’s guide to help them avoid a poor product choice (and with it buyer’s regret), or a series of tutorials to help them navigate the challenges of getting to grips with your system. All will steer them away from negative emotions and perceptions.
This isn’t a quick fix exercise. Content marketing is a long game, as is building emotional capital. You can’t force people to feel or believe anything. But with a consistent approach that is both authentic and strategic, and by measuring and iterating continuously, it is possible to build emotional capital that will serve your brand well.
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