The World's Leading Independent Agencies: Baldwin&

Communications is an emotional business. After all, they're by people, for people. So let's focus less on focus groups and go with our gut

Bredemann, Ranew, Bodrie and Baldwin (l-r)…‘People, not consumers’
Bredemann, Ranew, Bodrie and Baldwin (l-r)…‘People, not consumers’

I’m going to make a shocking hypothesis: you are a human being. A person. You are reading this, after all, so you must be some sort of sentient something – and probably a marketing person, at that.

When it comes to marketing, the operative question is this: do you stop being a human being when you get to work? Do you stop reacting to events, friends, family, strangers and, yes, marketing as a human being would? 

In fact, do you, human being person that you are, even like to be marketed to in the first place? Do you enjoy it when advertising follows you around, tracking you like Daniel Boone on the scent of a raccoon for his latest cap? Do you like it when you see messages telling you the nine out of ten reasons why you should like something you’ve never heard of? Do you even listen?  

We live in a world where almost anything is measurable, where our actions can be tracked, traced, followed and recorded. We emit data 24 hours a day through our social media interactions, our smartphones, our Fitbits and our Internet of Things things, creating real-time data that supposedly helps marketers get a bead on us.

Meanwhile, marketers test their message exhaustively to make sure it resonates and is relevant and then use data to push it everywhere you might be.

Relying on all this real-time data, testing and social interaction is understandable. As always, there’s a never-ending search for silver bullets that will unlock the secret to selling consumers – or, as I like to call them, "people" – on whatever our product or service is. But the funny thing is: we just won’t stop being human beings. Motivated by the things human beings are motivated by – love, anger, envy, happiness, laughter, getting ahead. Emotions. And it turns out emotions may be more important than data.
For, while the behaviour we emit and things we say are "accurate", they’re not always true – and our analysis isn’t smart enough yet to know the difference.

For instance, let’s say a friend of mine invites me to "like" the Facebook page of her new company that makes boots. I "like" it because we’re friends. I will now be served up ads for boots for the foreseeable future. Those ads will have tested messages meant to resonate with me about why these boots are better than those boots. The prevailing wisdom is that I want a pair of boots and I want them right now. I just don’t know which boots. The problem is that I don’t like boots; I like my friend.

So, while serving me up a pair of boots may be a fantastic way to try to drive immediacy and may get me to act short term if I wanted boots, it will have no bearing on my long-term feelings towards any of the companies marketing to me. It doesn’t compel me to care or con­sider them in the future.

It turns out that this kind of marketing is nearsighted. And nearsightedness is just another form of blindness.

And yet, we as marketers spend our time trying to find the rational reasons why a person might want to buy something. We measure "likes", mentions and shares as if they’re true. We test things and act as though the findings are meaningful.

So how do you connect the dots? Emotion.

The key to action is not thoughtful deliberation. It’s emotion.

While most marketers understand these distinctions intuitively, they often fail to understand why emotion plays such a powerful role in communications or how they can harness it to its fullest effect.

For years, the behavioural economist Dan Ariely has led research on how organisations can actually get people to care. He and his colleagues have examined everything from charitable foundations to multinational corporations, even broader cultural trends and global news events. Ariely makes the important distinction that "the key to action is not thoughtful deliberation. It’s emotion. And, in fact, when we get people to do thoughtful deliberation, the emotion can actively turn off."

In other words, force-fitting rational messages into advertising may not only diminish people’s emotional connection to an ad, but it can actually prevent them from having one at all.

For this reason, we ought to stop treating emotion simply as a way to deliver the key consumer takeaway. Effectiveness data shows us that emotion can actually be the key consumer takeaway.

So, what if we reframed emotion as a strategic objective, rather than just a creative tone? What if we put away our storyboards and focus groups and went with our gut instead? What if we used our own emotions as a compass to guide the way a piece of communication makes us feel rather than leaning on the tired, old idea of  unique selling propositions or the notion of positioning?

I’ll tell you: we’d sell more stuff to more people who want it. We’d make people happier. We’d stop marketing at people and start marketing to people. People, not consumers. Human beings.

One thing’s for sure: that would make me happy. Hey, look – an emotion.

David Baldwin is the lead guitar at Baldwin&


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