How to Use Strategic Communications to Drive Emotions and Increase Sales

When many sales professionals develop their marketing messages, they make the mistake of assuming that all purchases are rational. If they can learn about the customer’s needs and explain how the product fulfills that need, they assume they’ll convert a buyer. However, if your company’s strategic communications strategy doesn’t account for emotion, you’re missing out on a vital way to connect with your customer base.

drive emotions and sales

You may not know which emotion customers would most readily associate with your product. The top graduate programs for public relations professionals, which offer graduate degrees in strategic communications, can teach you techniques for A-B testing, multivariate testing and other forms of analysis. The key is to examine customer behavior, identify the emotion they want to feel and to associate your product with a great state of mind. Empowering your customers to be heard through a community digital story telling app can be helpful if you want to connect with them.

Not All Purchases Are Practical

In a book entitled, “The Power of Habit,” New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg discusses how Proctor & Gamble used emotion to transformtheir odor-eliminating spray, Febreze, from a dud into a diamond.One of P&G’s first Febreze commercials starred two women complaining about a restaurant’s smoking section made their jackets reek of cigarette smoke. The women discovered Febreze, spritzed the jackets and exclaimed over how lovely the fabric smelled. The marketers thought they both had identified a rational need for odor elimination and had shown consumers how Febreze solved odor problems. However, the ad campaign bombed, and Febreze looked like a failure.


The marketers behind Febreze started visiting consumer homes. During their visits, they realized most people have limited awareness of the scents in their environment, even when those scents are strong and unpleasant to others. As a results, few customers perceived a need for Febreze in their homes. The marketing team realized they had constructed their campaign around the wrong customer motivation, so they began to search for new ways to market Febreze.As they continued their visits, they met a customer who told them she used Febreze when she finished cleaning a room. She told the marketers spraying Febreze after cleaning a room felt like a mini-celebration.

The marketing team calculated that a “mini-celebration” consumer could finish a can of Febreze about every other week. They released new ads showing consumers cleaning a room, spritzing Febreze when they finished and looking joyfully at the camera. Suffice it to say, the new ads worked. Today, a product that initially looked like a failure generates more than $1 billion per year for P&G. The turnaround happened because the marketing team understood customers wanted to associate Febreze with a feeling, not a need.

emotions and habit loop

Emotions and the Habit Loop

Customers may have no rational use for a product. Instead, they may buy it because they want to feel something after they use it. The feeling becomes part of the reward cycle at the end of what Duhigg calls “the habit loop.”

The habit loop consists of three steps:

  • The cue. Cues are starting points make people begin certain routines. A cue can be a time of day, a state of mind, a place, a person or a completed action. For example, a person may start a cleaning routine on cue at 9 a.m. on Thursday.
  • The routine. The routine is what the person does after the cue. For the Febreze customer, this routine involved cleaning her bedroom, making the bed, fluffing the pillows and spritzing the fabric with Febreze.
  • The reward. The reward is where understanding emotion becomes critical. P&G marketers learned to associate a concrete action—spritzing Febreze—with a reward. The reward was the feeling of accomplishment or happiness after cleaning a room.

The Lesson

You don’t have to work in strategic communications for a company like P&G to learn from the case of Febreze. Identify what emotion your customers want to feel after using your product, accepting your service or completing a desired action. Then, focus your communications strategy on helping the customer to associate your product, service or action with an emotion. Place the emotion at the reward portion of the habit loop, or use the emotion as a cue for starting a routine. Look less at why a customer would rationally choose your brand, and focus more on how your brand can make your customers feel amazing.

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