Rational vs. Emotional Marketing Strategies – Are They the Same?

In the modern world, emotions and rational thinking go hand-in-hand. In fact, according to recent studies, a majority of consumers prefer to purchase products they believe will make them feel empowered, relaxed, or entertained. So it’s no wonder that marketers should reflect this desire to create a connection with consumers on a more personal level.

But what exactly is emotional marketing? How does it differ from rational marketing? Do the two strategies work together? Which one should a brand owner or marketer pursue?

To better understand the nuances of emotional marketing, we need to first examine the differences between the two terms “emotion” and “rationality.” While both terms have positive connotations, when used individually, they can mean somewhat different things. So, before we dive in, let’s take a quick moment to discuss the differences.

Rational vs. Emotional

Imagine, if you will, a world without the internet. Or the world before it became ubiquitous. Back in the day, when the idea of being connected to a vast network of information and people through a smartphone app was merely sci-fi, information about brands and products was still primarily exchanged through word of mouth, newspapers and magazines, and billboards and buses.

In this pre-digital world, marketers had to be more discerning about their approach to marketing and advertising. The primary difference between emotional and rational marketing is that the former entails targeting the customer’s emotions while the latter aims to impart information or persuade cognition.

An example of emotional marketing would be advertising aimed at encouraging customers to purchase luxury products they can’t necessarily afford, such as a $500 TV, or convincing them to buy a car through slick advertising versus an informative article in a newspaper. In these cases, marketing would be aiming to make the consumer feel something while also having an informative or rational goal.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have rational marketing, which can be defined as “information-based marketing aimed at transforming consumer behavior via the acquisition and analysis of consumer data,” according to Scott Gerber, Founder, and Director of The Gerber Group.

“Rational marketing is all about behavior, not feeling,” he says. “When marketers aim to guide consumer behavior using data and analysis, rather than relying on assumptions, hunches, or stereotypes, they’re engaged in rational marketing.”

So, as you can see, the two aren’t really opposing each other. Emotions can be used to persuade consumers to act in a certain way, such as purchasing a luxury good or trying out a new product, and vice versa.

It’s also important to understand the difference between the constructs “mind” and “heart.” While you might use your reason — your head — to analyze the information coming from your ears (your heart), your heart isn’t always an accurate reflection of your thinking process.

In other words, if you find that you’re more likely to purchase a product after watching an emotionally-charged video advertisement, but don’t necessarily agree with what you’ve heard, you should question whether or not the ad had an impact on you. Was the video informative, or did it leave you feeling something?

The Importance Of Context

When interpreting any kind of information — be it numbers, text, or images — it’s important to consider what isn’t being said as well as what is being said. In other words, while a particular brand’s product might be superior to its competitors in terms of quality and service, this doesn’t mean that it will necessarily make you feel better about yourself or your life.

Now, with that being said, let’s discuss the importance of context in marketing and advertising. When trying to understand what a brand is trying to communicate, it’s important to remember that each and every ad and piece of content might not be contextual; it’s also possible that different media could have different goals. As a whole, the intent of the marketing strategy is what matters, not the specific details of any one component.

For instance, if a brand owner wants to encourage consumers to purchase a luxury good, they might create an advertisement with a limited context. In this case, the brand could be aiming to encourage other consumers to purchase their product, but the advertisement itself isn’t providing any additional information about the product. In other words, even if you understand what the brand is trying to say, you won’t necessarily know what you’re supposed to do — or what product you’re supposed to purchase — until you try it out.

So, in general, the more context a brand provides about their product, the better. By giving consumers additional information — whether that’s in the form of product listings, reviews, FAQs, ratings, or something else — they’re more likely to make an educated decision about what products to purchase.

The Importance Of Feelings

When marketers consider the difference between product and service, it’s important to remember that products can evoke a variety of feelings in consumers.

As a brand owner or marketer, it might not be easy to identify the exact emotions you’re trying to convey to your audience. But, as Scott Gerber points out, that’s part of the fun. In order to truly understand the effect your marketing efforts are having, you have to leave your analytical thinking and step away from your desk.

You have to consider how your product (or service) is making the customer (or potential customer) feel, identifying the emotions (and related psychological factors) that might be preventing them from acting in your favor.

The Importance Of Actions

To return to our television advertiser, suppose they’re trying to persuade you to purchase a luxury good (ie, high-end appliance, such as a $500 TV) because it will make you happy. In this case, they’re not just trying to get your attention through advertising, but they also want you to take an action, such as making a purchase.

In some situations, this might mean that the TV advertiser wants you to make a purchase after watching their ad, but in other cases it could mean that you’ve already decided to purchase the luxury product and they just want to nudge you in the right direction.

In any event, even if you didn’t necessarily feel encouraged to make a purchase after watching their ad, perhaps they made an impression on you and you subsequently changed your mind. At the very least, it’s important to consider the fact that they made an attempt to engage with you on a personal level, encouraging you to do something — or to think about something — that might benefit the brand.

Actions speak louder than words, as they say, so make sure that your marketing and advertising efforts aren’t just words on a page or on a screen. Even if you believe that your product is the best on the market, if it doesn’t impel the consumer to take action, it might as well not even exist.

The Importance Of Data

While social media might not seem essential to a successful marketing or branding strategy (at least not at first glance), it should be noted that a vast number of consumers — 72% according to a recent survey — have adopted the internet as their source of key brand information. So, in a way, it’s essential that you have a digital presence.

This being said, as a marketer or brand owner, you might not always have access to the data you need in order to make educated decisions. In some cases, you might have to rely on your instinct and previous experience.

In these situations, it can be helpful to look to other industries, such as finance or healthcare, where data is more easily accessible. In healthcare, for instance, if you’re searching for information about a disease or condition, chances are you’ll find a wealth of data, readily available for analysis. The same can be said for financial services, where data is readily available and can be examined through the proper lenses.

As the name implies, data analytics refers to the process of analyzing existing data in order to make educated decisions about future plans or actions. When applied to marketing and branding, it’s often used to examine consumer behavior, such as purchasing patterns and trends or which products are or aren’t resonating with your audience.

The Importance Of Mindsets

Another important factor to consider when marketing is the consumer’s mindset. In order to truly understand how a brand might be influencing your purchasing decisions, you have to examine the way you’re approaching the world — your attitude, beliefs, and feelings — which, in turn, shapes how you perceive and interact with the products and services available to you.