I don’t know about you, but every “fun” purchase I make is an emotional roller coaster. There’s the thrill of hunting for just the right thing. The greater thrill of finding it. And then – if it’s on sale – Game on. I have to have it. NOW! Before someone else gets it! Last one? Oh no! Typing in my credit card number as fast as my fingers can fly. Phew! Okay, it’s being shipped. **Breathe**

And all of that happens before the object of desire even arrives. I don’t even know if it will fit, but my desires are fueled with dreams of mass admiration and glory.

Hey, your buyer’s journey may be different (you might not be as vain), but it’s probably not that different. Why? Because we’re all human here, we’re all impacted by emotion. Would impulse purchases happen on planet Vulcan?

Source: Lastwordonnothing

Nope. Here on Earth? Oh yes.

Emotion is inextricably tied to decision-making, and therefore conversion. It’s been scientifically proven a number of times.

Time number one:

When neuroscientist Antonio Damasio studied people who had sustained brain damage to areas of the brain that generate emotions, they were unable to make even the smallest of decisions. They still had logic and reasoning, but if they were asked to choose between pasta and risotto for dinner, they couldn’t do it.

Time number two:

Researchers at UCLA and George Washington University created two types of ads, one with facts and figures, which they called “logical persuasion” or “LP״, and one with fun, vague, or sexy scenes which they termed “non-rational influence” or “NI.”

They found that the brain regions involved in decision-making and emotional processing had significantly higher activity when participants looked at the logical persuasion ads. Sounds good, right? Unfortunately for CROs, these are the same brain regions responsible for inhibiting responses, like impulse purchases.

The non-rational influence ads, on the other hand, didn’t cause any major activity in those brain regions, suggesting that they lead to less behavioral inhibition – and less restraint when there’s a “Buy” button involved.

Time number three:

A study out of Missouri University of Science and Technology said that “atmospheric cues” – the web interface and the “look and feel” of design features of e-commerce stores – affect buyer behavior. In fact, the researchers posited that “consumers’ emotional responses” were predictive of whether they would buy. This study might seem a little obvious – a richer, more interactive environment produces more positive emotions which produces higher intentions to purchase. In plain English, we buy from stores we enjoy. Since emotion is clearly super-glued to the decision-making process, there are two questions that I’m burning to ask:

  1. Why has it taken us this long to try and measure it?
  2. Why are we only now finding ways to use it?!

The only answer I have is that it’s only been recently that technology and psychological awareness have come together to make measuring and manipulating emotion more possible now than it has ever been.

We’re swimming in the swell of a wave that hasn’t even crested yet because our understanding of human emotion is in its infancy. Paddle fast my friends – you don’t want this wave to pass you by.


How to use Emotional Triggers to Increase Conversion Rates

Customer data is the key to understanding the emotional component of conversion – much the same way as user-experience (UX) based conversion rate optimization (CRO) works. First, you gather analytical data (including, but not limited to Google Analytics, heat maps, and other behavior tracking tools) to eliminate any UX sticking points in the sales funnel. Many CROs stop there. But a cutting edge CRO will go one step further and research the target audience’s emotional triggers.

This requires qualitative research involving these three questions:

  • Why are your customers buying your product?
  • How do your customers feel when buying your product?
  • How do they want to feel?

Within the qualitative answers to these questions are your most compelling emotional payoffs (aka. benefits) – the ones around which you can form your entire marketing strategy. But you can’t just come out and ask “Hey, why are you buying my product?” Let’s see how that would go:

Question: ״Hey, why are you buying my product?״

Answer: ״Because it’s a toaster, and I wanted toast? Why are you asking me this?״

Question: ״No, I meant, why are you buying this particular product? There are a ton of toasters out there, we don’t even offer the best price. Was it because it’s red?״

Answer: ״Crap, there were cheaper toasters? Um, is it too late to cancel my order?״

Does not work. So you have to be subtle about uncovering the deeper motivations of why customers are buying your product, how they feel about their purchases (and their purchase experiences), and what they’re really hoping to feel as a result.

Source: Flickr

Notice that we’re looking at two distinct time periods for emotional experience: Before the purchase, and during the purchase process. To leverage emotion effectively for CRO, you need to understand both what they want to feel pre-purchase, and how your purchase process actually makes them feel. We’ll get into how to measure the purchase-process emotions later, but for now, let’s look at those aspirational emotions.

As Talia wrote in Emotional Targeting 101: “When we buy something, we don’t purchase a ‘product’, a special price or features; we purchase an experience and a better version of ourselves.”

Let’s look at some ways to find out what “better versions” our customers have in mind for themselves.

Use voice-of-customer (VoC) data to gain insights:

If you don’t have any emotion-tracking programs or surveys in place yet, you can get a pretty good idea of what your customers are thinking by seeing what they’ve already written about you.

  1. Testimonials from your best customers can yield common themes as to why they buy, why they love you, and what desired (emotional) outcomes they’ve achieved.
  2. Reviews are also rich in emotional feedback – good or bad, they’ll tell you what the customer was hoping for every time.
  3. Also look at comments and social media posts with an eye to categorizing common themes, frequently used words and phrases, and their associated emotions.

This research goes beyond ‘sentiment’ analysis – though sentiment analysis tools can help if they include exact phrases, not just scores. From this foundation, we can start to form hypotheses for how to use these emotional needs to increase conversions.


3 Emotional Triggers that Increase Ecommerce Conversions

Optimizing with Positive Associations

E-commerce store Modcloth is an expert at producing and magnifying positive emotions to drive conversion. The Modcloth experience begins with the visual storytelling on their home page. Each season and holiday has a theme that’s told throughout the professional photos they use on their website. Last summer, that theme was an all-girl road trip. Every image was infused with a combination of adventure and sisterhood.

That sets the emotional tone for the purchase experience, but the proof is in the pudding – or in their case, Modcloth’s gallery of user photos. Every photo is of a girl who loves how she looks. These are real women and they are confident, look beautiful, and are clearly having a blast. The emotional promise made on the home page is kept in this gallery (go here for more ecommerce optimization tips and examples).

Together, these two pages enhance Modcloth’s credibility with their customers and form a genuine bond. Modcloth’s customers love them because every single image and interaction is designed to produce positive feelings – not just sell clothes.


Positive experience is the start of a positive association, which builds upon itself over time. One transaction or interchange turns into a relationship. Zappos, Wistia, and MailChimp are three companies that have a business approach which accentuates the positive, and, as a result, their customers are both passionate and loyal.” – Walter Chen, co-founder of iDoneThis, for Kissmetrics


One of the ways in which Modcloth works its magic is through the Halo Effect, a cognitive bias (read: “thought shortcut”) that makes people tend to form positive impressions of something because they associate it with something they already know and like. The Halo Effect is used to form more personal, emotionally engaging experiences, because it bypasses the ‘getting to know you’ phase and goes straight to “I recognize this – and I like it!” (Pssst… want to learn more about the cognitive biases that affect us? get the free cheat sheet here)

Per Marketingland, the Halo Effect can also work when you prominently feature:

Uniquely positive aspects of your business or company that will appeal to a broad base of prospective customers. For instance, if you have a CEO who is well-known for his warm personality or expertise, then make him a prominent figure in your marketing channels. If your team members are active in charity work or have cool and interesting hobbies, feature them in your social media. You won’t only be giving your company a human face (humans are more likely to trust other humans than a faceless organization, after all), you’ll also be laying down the foundation for a more solid relationship with your customers by allowing these positive attributes to create a halo over the rest of the organization.”


Leveraging Fear

Negative emotions spur people into action, and fear is perhaps the most powerful of them. The power of fear to make things happen has to do with Loss Aversion: humans will do more to avoid a negative consequence than to make a positive outcome happen.

This behavior is predicated on the emotional truth that something bad feels worse than something good feels better. Losing $20 might wreck your day. Finding $20 may make you happier for an hour.

The conversion rate optimizer can use this information in one of two ways: To relieve the pain point, or to exacerbate it.

Identifying the emotions your target customers fear most is just as useful as identifying the emotions they most want to feel. In fact, it may be even more effective.

One e-commerce example is Amazon. Amazon offers one of the most loved customer experiences, some argue, because it provides “an unparalleled sense of emotional satisfaction.” How do they do that? Not through being especially friendly (like Modcloth), but by reducing pain points with features like:

  1. Multiple wish lists
  2. A save-for-later area
  3. An easily accessible cart
  4. and easily accessible price comparisons.

Each of those features comes out of the pain point of not having them. And, if and when a customer experiences the ultimate pain point – the product does not work! – returns are easy and customer service gets top marks.

A lot of bad customer experiences are death by a thousand cuts annoyances.

Avoid exacerbating pain in an already painful situation, the better the customer’s perception of their experience will be, and the more likely it is that they will become repeat purchasers.

Loss Aversion can also be leveraged in terms of “Fear of Missing Out,” which is the emotional component that makes “Limited Time Only” deals work. Never underestimate the potency of FOMO.


Urgency and Instant Gratification

“I want it, and I want it now.” – The modern mantra.

Most psychological models agree: Humans act on the “pleasure principle,” the need to gratify needs, wants and urges. If we don’t get what we want, we feel anxious – a negative outcome we’ll go to great lengths to avoid. If you look at instant gratification as a biological imperative, Amazon Prime is really just the natural result of human evolution. It was bound to happen sometime. Just like the food synthesizer on the Starship Enterprise (seriously, when are we getting food synthesizers?).

Source: communicationchaos

We’re hardwired to want things as fast as possible, and when you’re looking at generating more conversions, the ability to feed that need can really help. If you can’t make the “Get it now!” promise in shipping speeds, you can find other ways to leverage the desire for immediate gratification.

Use a desirable timeline in your messaging – whatever the desired outcome is, let your customers know how quickly they can expect to achieve it.

emotional triggers

Source: Youtube Christina Carlyle

Be realistic of course – don’t over promise and under-deliver (it’s not sustainable).

Other variations include:

  • “Save $5 off your next purchase – Sign up now!”
  • “Order Today – Ships Next Business Day” – This raised the conversion rate for Smiley Cookie by 41%.

When creating your offer, take into consideration “hyperbolic discounting”: The human tendency to choose a smaller-sooner reward over a larger-later reward. For example, if a buyer has to choose between getting 5% off of their purchase now, or 20% off of their next purchase, they’ll choose the lesser discount because it happens faster. This doesn’t only apply to purchasing behavior, incidentally. People who will take the smaller-sooner reward are also those prone to making impulse decisions they might regret later.

  • Speed up your checkout process – Amazon introduced 1-click checkouts for a reason. When you can reduce the amount of time and effort it takes to complete the purchase, your purchases will increase. The more time your checkout process takes, the more time people have to second-guess their decision.
  • Install an instant chat function on your product pages – When a user is on your website, looking at the product, and wondering “will this work for me?” – you want to be available to answer that question right away. This does two things: It keeps the customer on the site, rather than continuing to research elsewhere, and it makes the customer feel grateful for your attention. That gratitude will influence them to make the purchase once you’re done with your chat – it’s Cialdini’s Reciprocity principle in action (more tips for successful product pages here)
  • Encourage self-service – Give your customers all the resources they need to succeed ASAP. That means not only having an FAQ page and resources page, but making sure they actually contain the information users need most.

Remember: Your goal here is to deliver the customer’s desired outcome as fast as possible. That outcome isn’t necessarily the product itself, but rather the emotion that goes along with it. Even if the emotion is just the sense of satisfaction that comes from knowing the item you just ordered is on its way.


Measuring Emotion for CRO

You can’t optimize what you don’t measure, and optimizing for emotion is no different. But there’s no concrete set of “this is what you have to measure” for this. This is where you, the CRO, have to identify the metrics that measure critical emotions and identify the experiences with the highest emotion impact for your specific target audience.

A good place to start is by hacking your Customer Experience (CX) data. CX is also trying to capture customer emotion, and since their tools are essentially the same as what you’ll need, you can use the same data to optimize for conversion.

Most CX measurement programs rely on surveys, which usually only ask customers to evaluate their experience rationally, rather than emotionally. If that describes your current program, you’ll want to tweak both the timing of surveys and their content. Here’s how:

  • Timing: Your surveys should deploy in-app or on page – emotions are fleeting, so it’s very important to ask for qualitative data in the moment. The most useful places to place your surveys are the places where you suspect high emotion or friction – your conversion-blockers. You can also set your survey to pop-up when users go to leave the page you’re trying to optimize.
  • Content: This is where CRO and CX significantly diverge, because they’re looking to create an experience, but you’re looking to create action. As we’ve covered, different emotions drive different actions, and the emotion you target in each given survey depends on what you’re trying to achieve – and what your target audience needs to achieve.

When phrasing your questions, you can’t just ask “How did this page make you feel?” Emotions are hard to put into words – you’ll flummox your audience. You have to give them a hint, without leading their response. Using a smiley-face scale can be handy for this, like:

emotional targeting

People respond really well to emoticons – we recognize the emotions they convey instantly. Notice also that this example uses appropriate colors to reinforce the emotions shown, letting people answer based on their gut responses (which is what you want). In emotion surveying, the term for this is “asking the emotion question using visual cues.” These types of questions are easy to answer, engaging, and requires no translation to be understood.

Survey tools that use emoticons include: Usabilla, Customer Thermometer, and Hively (and many more – new ones are cropping up every day).

Pro Tip: You can also check out and use some of Talia’s favorite customer survey questions

Other ways to gather emotion data (without a focus group):

  • Asking the emotion question with plain ol’ words – Honestly, it’s better than nothing but it doesn’t work very well. Many people have trouble correctly identifying (or admitting to) their emotions, even if you help them out with a multi-choice question. The accuracy of your responses can be compromised by lack of self-awareness, lack of vocabulary, reading comprehension, or over-thinking!
  • Voice analysis – If your point of contact is over the phone, you can use voice analysis (like Mattersight) to analyze calls for communication style and level of distress and identify vocal red-flags indicating attrition. You can score the call (and hear the exact instances when customers feel specific emotions) without pestering the customer to take a survey and get more accurate results.
  • Facial coding – This method requires some significant setup to accomplish, both on the company’s end and the user’s end, because it depends on gaining access to webcam or video of the customer. Facial coding uses facial micro expressions that are often subconscious to deduce emotion – even emotions people try to hide. It’s very cool, though just a tad Orwellian.
  • Analyzing social media posts, open survey responses, call transcripts, and free-form text – This is the raw stuff of Voice-of-Customer data and is incredibly valuable if you analyze it correctly. That difficulty increases when your company is relatively new with little feedback (the data skews too easily since the sample size is so small) and established companies with hundreds or thousands of responses to sift through.

BrainJuicer uses a combination of these data-gathering methods:

emotional design

“Face trace” – which shows a series of human faces displaying different emotions, which are labeled to the side, like “sadness,” “contempt,” “surprise,” “happiness,” “fear,” “anger,” “disgust” and “neutral.”

Matter of degree – the follow-up question to the Face Trace question is “to what degree did this make you feel [emotion chosen]?” Followed by an open-ended question “What was it about this experience that made you feel this way?”

I really like how they combine the emotion faces with the words for added clarification, with the open-ended follow-up question.

Whatever methods you use to gather emotion data, be sure to include an open response section to capture VoC data. You always want to give your customers a chance to tell you *exactly* how they feel.


Mass Analysis

It doesn’t take a genius to go through responses and highlight emotional themes, repeated words and phrases and sentiments, and note recurring instances of negative and positive emotions. But when you have hundreds or thousands of responses, you’re going to need a tool to scale the task (or hire a whole lot of interns).

Tools, Programs & Companies for Emotion Analysis at Scale

  • Clarabridge – A CEM program great for collecting CX analytics and sentiment analysis.
  • Brainjuicer – Tracking, testing and brand strategy based on “Fame, Feeling and Fluency.”
  • Mattersight – Offers voice analysis for phone communications.

Conclusion: It’s still about what it’s always been about – what the customer needs most

Using emotion is really just another way to deliver a desired outcome, but instead of assuming the desired outcome is “out there” somewhere – a product, a result, the ability to spend more time playing with your dog – today’s CROs recognize that the desired outcome really comes from within. Humans are emotional creatures. Emotions drive us – sometimes drive us crazy. They’re at the heart of every action we take, every decision we make, every “buy” button we hit.

The question for us then is not what our customers need or want, but rather, what do our customers need or want to feel?

Continue reading and get the full guide for emotional targeting here.

Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré is a SaaS Consultant & Customer Success Evangelist. Founder at Authentic Curation. Moderator at @ProductHunt & @GrowthHackers. Previously: Growth at @Inboundorg. INFJ.

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