Making Marketing Appeal to Reason, Emotion and Senses

Brain, heart, stomach

Because we’re such busy creatures, humans do a lot of things based on memory, bias and instinct. It saves time to make unconscious decisions.

No one makes decisions solely with reason but, as businesses, we try to sell with reason.

Yes, reason makes an appearance in consumer habits. But there are also the very important and less conscious factors of emotions and senses.

Making marketing appeal to reason, emotion and senses covers all your audience’s decision-making bases.

Making marketing appeal to reason

Generally, we don’t act after a long period of consideration with all the facts laid out on a table in front of us.

Often, our reasoning for buying something is only actualised if someone asks us why – and it becomes far more about how we want to be perceived than how we perceive the product.

This is why self-reporting is so difficult to work with when you’re assessing consumer habits. Quantitative surveys have their place and focus groups are excellent for getting anecdotal reactions – but both have to be taken with a pinch of the self-reporting salt.

Your techniques for appealing to reason:

1. Stats

They can be very convincing but even stats are tricky, psychologically. A stat that says lots of young people smoke weed and then drive may just tell teenagers that it’s normal and most people get away with it.

Use data carefully and sparingly so people don’t go number-blind.

2. Product features

They say you should sell with benefits and not features but people do need to know what they’re buying. Make sure your features are presented in your marketing messages alongside your lovely benefits.

Even if someone is 90% sold on the emotional reaction they have to your lifestyle pitch (you’ll save so much time, you’ll look so beautiful you’ll be snogging constantly), the product features need to back up that promise to get a sale.

Making marketing appeal to emotion

Below reason on a scale from conscious to unconscious, we have emotion. We may still be aware of it, but less so.

We react emotionally a thousand times a day and it makes us act in ways we might not if we gave our decision a bit more thought.

Your techniques for appealing to emotion:

1. Storytelling

Painting scenarios that bring your product or service to life lets your audience see the movie of their life if they’d only buy from you. I particularly love verisimilitude, the introduction of a sense of place.

Making your marketing appeal to someone in a way that feels real but is really a play on their emotions – very powerful.


“We’re not going to nag you every time you take that sharp corner by Sainsbury’s a bit fast.”

That life-like example, which we can all imagine, puts the reader into that scenario so they connect with it more…viscerally.

2. Imagery

A picture’s worth a thousand words, right? If no one reads your marketing messages, they probably can’t resist their eyes being drawn to an excellent bit of imagery.

Studies have shown that we’re attracted to other human faces so alongside regular product pictures, feature the humans that actually use your product or service. Just don’t go down the stock images route…it could have the opposite of the desired effect.

Read about why you need to focus on product pictures more than ever.

Making marketing appeal to the senses

Last on the scale are the senses. The unconscious, instinctive stuff that guides our decisions without us even realising.

You’re familiar with the senses and how they relate to a physical business (see: supermarkets piping in both muzak AND ‘baking’ smells). But what about more digital businesses?

Your techniques for appealing to the senses:

1. Words

Always words. Words like velvety, crisp, glowing and fresh.

There are few things more miraculous than the human ability to take black lines on a page and cross-reference them with memories to create a thought one can almost feel.

Lush sensory description isn’t always relevant for a business because we ain’t all Nigella but that doesn’t mean your words don’t have a role to play in kick-starting your audience’s senses.


“If summer in your home means a pervasive pong from the drains, it’s time to get a professional involved.”

Pong is a fairly unusual word but we all know what it means. Because it’s unusual, it stands out and makes your brain process it more slowly. It’s effective because it’s so often found in comics like the Beano – and we accompany it with a subconscious memory of hovering flies or stinky dogs.

That sensory assault is persuasive. No, I definitely do NOT want a pervasive pong in my house for one minute longer, so it certainly is time to get this professional involved. When can you get here?!

2. Print choices

If you produce reports or send mailers, consider the tactile quality of your prints. Splash out on the thicker paper, the special finish. It MATTERS.

One of the best ways to complement your digital activity is a physical treat. For small businesses, that could be as little as a really lovely thank you slip in orders. Your presentation of the product can really help post-purchase satisfaction. There’s a reason unboxing videos are a thing.

3. Sensory visuals

Try to use varied layers and textures in your digital design. Even with flat design, which has been fashionable for quite a while now (due for a fall?), texture still has a role to play.

You can also use imagery that invokes a sensation, like hands around a hot cup of coffee. Get people smelling, feeling, testing. A subconscious sensory attack is a perfect complement to your play on emotions and reason.

Find out more about appealing to your audience’s cognitive biases.