You’re as cold as ice – Why you need emotion in your corporate comms and how to introduce it

You’re as cold as ice – Why you need emotion in your corporate comms and how to introduce it

More likely than not, emotion is absent from your corporate communications. Why is emotion important and how can you introduce it?

Are you as cold as ice?

How good are your website, mobile apps, intranet, customer extranet or CRM system? Do users go into a “Like” frenzy when in front of your content, or do they throw their hands up in the air in frustration and vow never to come back? The answer is probably neither. The likely scenario is that your digital properties are just ok; functional, usually reliable, offering an acceptable user experience and featuring adequate content. Not a bad feat considering the monstrosities corporations used to launch until recently. So is there a problem?

Unless you are one of the very few exceptions, your corporate communications are likely to be painting a not so exciting picture of your company: formal, sterile, dry, formulaic and above all impersonal. What is missing from this picture is the human touch: emotion, personality and a narrative to deliver it. The good news is that you are not the only one; your competitors, partners, suppliers and clients probably suffer the same ills. The bad news is that you are missing a great opportunity, first to differentiate and second to connect with your audiences in a more meaningful, rewarding and long-lasting way. Aarron Walter, lead user experience designer at MailChimp, recently said:

Until recently, emotional design has not been a high priority in web design because we’ve been fighting battles on other fronts–spreading the word about web standards, translating the history of layout in graphic design into our medium, and making our interface design process user-centric

In his book “Designing for Emotion” Aarron included the graph below (slightly amended by us) that illustrates the nature of the problem. Most companies have managed to reach a point where their digital properties might be functional, reliable and usable but, being devoid of any personality, they are also unable to evoke any emotions.

5 reasons why emotion is important

In the last couple of years the words humanisation, personality and emotion, concepts that have defined consumer marketing for decades, have started to dissolve the traditionally monolithic world of corporate and B2B communications. Here is why you should embrace these concepts:

  • Emotion adds personality to your brand: Adding elements of emotional design into your communication can transform how your brand is perceived; from a faceless source of services, solutions and features into a personable being, capable of listening, understanding, responding and building relationships.
  • Emotion adds meaning to the user’s actions: Emotional design can turn mechanical actions such as browsing, clicking and skimming into more meaningful interactions.
  • Emotion makes an experience more memorable: It has been proven that emotional engagement makes experiences more memorable. Add emotion to your communication and it is a lot more likely that your audience will not forget.
  • Emotion makes your audience more forgiving: Emotion increases the perceived value of your digital efforts. This means that your emotionally engaged audience will be more willing to oversee any flaws in functionality, reliability, or usability (note the recent success of the iPhone 5 despite the maps debacle).
  • You have no choice: For the first 15 years, the internet was a place for information and services. However, in the past 5 years the internet has evolved into a place of relationships; first between people and now also between people and brands. Your audience is learning to respond to emotional stimuli from businesses and soon it will start to demand them; if you are not there to deliver, someone else will be.

Elements of emotional design you could adopt

Emotional design will be the manifestation of your strategy to humanise your corporate communications, marketing and ultimately your brand. At a strategic level, humanising your brand is a much more complex topic that deserves its own post. For now, we showcase below some examples of emotional design to hopefully ignite your interest and even turn you into an evangelist.

Show passion for your subject matter

Size does not have to be inversely proportionate to the levels of passion displayed by an organisation. If global brands like Zappos, Red Bull, Google and Virgin can display passion for what they do, so can you. The Milwaukee Police Department has launched this very engaging website that screams commitment, dedication and passion.

Vimeo’s homepage invites the visitor to explore videos loved by the Vimeo team. The message is loud and clear: we love video and so should you. Who can argue against that?

Tumblr brings the passion of its users to the foreground in order to proselytise new members. Below is what non-members see when they land on Tumblr’s homepage. The user story speaks for itself.

Add value to mundane tasks

Time-keeping cloud solution Harvest fills what it would otherwise be empty space with quotes relevant to the services it provides, making time entry a little bit more special.

Task-management cloud service Astrid adds some entertaining encouragement to its reminders turning what would otherwise be an annoying alert into a welcoming interruption.

Personal-finance desktop software YNAB features some fun, intricate and very relevant illustrations on its loading screens.

Make the best out of a bad situation

When Flickr’s services went down a while back, agitated users were served with an engaging competition.

Odeon turned its email unsubscribe page into an emotional appeal using famous quotes from films.

Instead of a generic 404 message, Tripadvisor serves this more engaging message.

Small details make a big difference

Upon login, the Flickr user is served with an international greeting.

Hootsuite acknowledges the user’s inactivity with an entertaining message.

MailChimp uses some fun wording to discourage users from switching off its personality mode.

Turn your sales content and demos into entertaining narratives

Legal services company Anne Braithwaite Mediation demonstrate their services with an illustrated, interactive and very emotionally engaging narrative.

Social content curation service Scoopit use an entertaining animated video to demonstrate both features and benefits.

Case studies used to come as wordy PDFs; then customer video testimonials added credibility to the success claims; realising that credibility alone is not enough, Zendesk has turned a case study into an entertaining story adding emotion to the equation.

Be nice and accommodating

Politeness is a state of mind and there is no reason why you shouldn’t be polite when inviting your users to perform various tasks. Dropbox uses a simple illustration to add a bit of emotion to an otherwise dry registration form.

Personal finance management tool Mint uses emotion to remind browsing users what a great service they will enjoy should they open an account.

How to go about introducing emotion

The challenge with emotional design is not putting in place all the relevant elements in order to elicit the desired responses; this is just a production challenge, easily dealt with. Instead, the challenge for the business is to manage to become the kind of company the emotional design will portray – such a shift is likely to go as deep as the brand values. Any discrepancy between perception and reality might give out signals of dishonesty, duplicity and disrespect – exactly the opposite to what the emotional design is trying to communicate.

So, let’s assume that your strategy is sorted and that the organisation is ready, both commercially and culturally, to open up and engage. The next step is to introduce emotional design in order to build the desired personality. Some key pointers are:

  • A tone of voice that reflects the company’s ethos needs to be created and act as a spirit level, ensuring that everything is aligned.
  • Consistency is key. The same engaging tone of voice must be applied across all digital (and non-digital for that matter) communications such as all websites, the intranet, social media channels, CRM systems, SAAS solutions, demos, training material, mobile apps and the list goes on.
  • All elements of emotional design must come together and work in sync. Elements include copy (descriptions, advice, navigation, instructions, introductions, calls to action, testimonials and factual information), visuals (photography, illustration, symbols, infographics) and interactions.
  • Humour is not necessary. Your audience does not expect you to be funny – just human.
  • Put human beings to front your expertise, thought leadership, content marketing, social interactions, product descriptions, training, etc.
  • Replace (or complement) bulleted lists with narratives.
  • Introduce usability and accessibility principles when designing the user interface of your solutions and make rigorous and continuous user lab testing part of your production process. Your aim is to make interfaces not only usable, but also enjoyable.
  • Put an end to the feature-porn. Amend your solutions’ data sheets, demos and sales collateral to also include good usability and user enjoyment as KPIs.
  • Observe other industries such as retail and travel, learn and apply what is relevant.
  • Think big, but also think very, very small.

Can you stomach it?

To help you decide, here is some food for thought straight from the annals of Coca Cola’s brand and marketing strategy.




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