The Power of Emotion to Drive Purchase Intent

Two seemingly unrelated articles I ran across recently carried a single theme – convey emotion if you want your message heard and products purchased.

The first focused on research that revealed images of women shared by brands on Facebook get more “likes,” while images of men get more “shares.”

That made no sense until the author interpreted the results. He said most brand images of women show them wearing the product. Images of men, on the other hand, are cast in a different context that evoked feelings of sympathy, nostalgia, and compassion among other emotions.

The second discussed Petco’s creation of a new tagline – “The Power of Together” – which is meant to highlight the emotional bond that exists between people and their pets.

What lessons can be learned from these disparate examples? Three come to mind.

  1. Context matters. Simply posting an image on Facebook, Pinterest, or another social network is not enough to evoke a depth of emotion that results in a desire to share. Framing the image within the context of a bigger story is what’s needed.
  2. Authenticity matters. People share content that inspires them and represents values to which they aspire. Therefore, content that has meaning and conveys authentic messages – patriotism, celebration, and self-expression were three mentioned in the Facebook article – result in more shares than product-related images that simply appeal to commercial and superficial desires.
  3. Emotions matter. In his best-selling book, “Leading the Starbucks Way,” author Joseph Michelli listed seven objectives that Starbucks leaders identified to revitalize the brand. Two of those – engage and inspire partners, and ignite the emotional attachment with customers – speak directly to the importance human emotion plays in driving purchase intent.

“If we honestly peel below our intellectual justifications and determine the factors that truly drive our purchase intent – emotions rise to the surface,” said Michelli in reference to the book. “In essence, we buy because a product or the person selling that product or service sparks something inside of us and ignites a passion or emotional response.”

Social Media as a Conduit for Emotion

The ability to relate to people in a way that is human and that elicits genuine emotion is one of the key reasons why I believe social media is (or can be) a valuable marketing channel. Such media enable brands to pull back the veil and reveal their humanity.

The best companies put people at the forefront casting them as brand representatives. Think Frank Eliason, who was for many years the face of Comcast on Twitter, or Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, who placed himself at the forefront on social media channels.

The inimitable Gary Vaynerchuk is yet another. Gary’s foray into social media caused his Wine Library brand to grow exponentially, from $2 million to $60 million in just a few years.

Even better are brands that turn loyal customers into ambassadors and advocates. Fiskars’ Fiskateers program is one example. Walmart’s classic ElevenMoms is yet another.


I believe we’ve come to an era when authenticity and transparency are the order of the day. Slick, product-oriented messaging may have worked in the past, but, today, people desire something that feels “real” and they relate to brands that understand the need to be human.

If, to Michelli’s point, emotion is the trigger that drives purchase intent, what are you doing to build passion for your products? How are you leveraging the power that exists when you make a human connection?

Image on home page via Shutterstock.

Related reading