The Importance of Emotion in Content Marketing
Content Marketing

The Importance of Emotion in Content Marketing

26th July 2016

Many content calendars, funnels and persona documents will cover important elements such as a user’s desires, goals, needs and background. While identifying these points is key to creating successful content, I believe content marketers are often missing an important element. How do you want your user to feel when engaging with your content?

Brexit Regret
Search trends for the term ‘regret’ in the UK, in the days following the Brexit vote.

In a previous blog post I discussed the incredible amount of time and money that is wasted because of content that is created out without a strategy. And while content is undeniably crucial for SEO, it’s blatantly obvious that too much is created without the target persona in mind.

In that blog, one of my takeaways was this:

Get to know your target personas and produce content that resonates with them.

But how do you create content that resonates?

The Science of Emotion and Sharing

To create powerful content that resonates with the user, it’s crucial to understand how emotion plays a part in how people engage with and share content. The three following studies highlight the power of emotion and why it’s integral to content marketing success.

Social Transmission, Emotion, and the Virality of Online Content

This study carried out by the Wharton Business School, looks at if the virality of content can be predicted. Over a 3 month period they identified which articles from the New York Times were shared the most via email. In order to explore the effect of emotion in the act of sharing, they looked at if the article was positive or negative, and what specific emotion (anger, sadness, joy etc.) it evoked.

The Results

They found a strong correlation between emotion and virality. Strongly emotive articles (positive or negative) were more likely to be in the list of articles that were most shared.

Overall, they found that positive content was most likely to be shared. However they also uncovered some interesting points about the relationship between positive and negative content:

  • Awe-inspiring, surprising and humorous content was more likely to be shared
  • Sad content was least viral
  • Content that evokes negative emotions such as anxiety and anger was actually the most likely to be shared.

Read the Full Study.

The Psychology of Sharing

This study was carried out by the New York Times customer insight group, and looked to find out why people share. The study involved 3 phases which involved quantitative and qualitative assessment:

  • In-person interviews
  • One-week sharing panel
  • Quantitative survey of 2,500 online sharers

The Results

The study puts forward the argument that ‘Sharing is all about relationships’ and uncovered 5 main reasons people share content:

  • To bring valuable and entertaining content to others
  • To define ourselves to others
  • To grow and nourish our relationships
  • Self-fulfilment
  • To get the word out about causes or brands

As the study involved qualitative data gathering through interviews, they also found some interesting statistics such as:

  • 73% say they process information more deeply, thoroughly and thoughtfully when they share it
  • 49% say sharing allows them to inform others of products they care about and potentially change opinions or encourage action
  • 73% share information because it helps them connect with others who share their interests

Read the Full Study.

Creating Buzz: The Neural Correlates of Effective Message Propagation

Carried out by UCLA, this study looked to understand how ideas spread and if virality can be predicted. It used brain imaging to understand what happens on a physiological level when we share content.

While undergoing fMRI scanning, students watched fictitious TV pilot episodes. They were told to imagine that they were TV studio interns and made video recordings of their reviews of each pilot show. Another group of students then watched these reviews and made their own ratings about the pilots, based on the video assessments of the interns.

The researchers were then hoping to learn which areas of the brain were activated when the interns were first watching the content that they would then pass on in their reviews.

The Results


It turned out that the interns who were successful in persuading the producers, showed significantly increased brain activity in the temporoparietal junction (pictured above) when they first watched the pilot episodes that they would later pass on.

What the study has managed to highlight is that something happens on a physiological level when we share content.

An interesting point from the professor of psychology at UCLA, Matthew Lieberman:

“We always seem to be on the lookout for who else will find this helpful, amusing or interesting, and our brain data are showing evidence of that. At the first encounter with information, people are already using the brain network involved in thinking about how this can be interesting to other people. We’re wired to want to share information with other people.”

Read the Full Study.

That’s cool. What does it mean for my content marketing?

These studies show how emotion plays an essential part in successful content marketing. If you are a content marketer, think about how your content can provoke emotion that is likely to resonate with people.

Can you:

Surprise – Ask a provocative question, share new ideas, state a surprising fact.

Make People Happy – Positive and happy stories surrounding your services, product or target personas.

Address Fear & Anger – Is this something you want people to feel? If there is something which may make people angry then can you provide a solution to that problem?

The results from these studies can also be considered in your overall strategy. The same area of the brain that identified as active when sharing content, is also active in a process called mentalising. As I am not a scientist, I rely on Wikipedia to tell you why this is important for content marketers:

Mentalising is a form of imaginative mental activity about others or oneself, namely, perceiving and interpreting human behaviour in terms of intentional mental state (e.g. needs, desires, feelings, beliefs, goals, purposes, and reasons).

These mental states can be addressed in your content persona:

Persona TPJ

Also look to think about these mental states in your content funnel:

Content Funnel TPJ

When people are in a highly emotional state, they often turn to search engines and social networks to engage in content that either validates or alleviates these emotions. If you have content that resonates with these emotions, then it is much more likely to be engaged with and shared.

As content marketers have identified the importance of emotion in content marketing, some great tools such as Toneapi have been built. This tool analyses your content and allows you to score your content for emotion intent.

If you’re still hungry for some more content tips then why not have a look at these great articles or check out the State of Digital Content Marketing course?


Written By
Paul Hunter is a Digital Account Coordinator and Marketing Manager at Liberty, a Digital Marketing Agency based in Cardiff. He responsible for analysing and creating bespoke digital marketing strategies for a number of Liberty’s biggest clients and managing the overall marketing strategy for the company.
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