As a CMO, I firmly believe that the emotional side of storytelling – “pathos” – is incredibly important for connecting with audiences on a human level. 

Even back in elementary school, you probably noticed that the kids who got the best grades weren't necessarily the ones that studied the most, but the ones who were most persuasive in their speech. It's not always the content that we pay attention to; it's the way that it's delivered and the emotions that are conveyed through any message.

In today's society, emotional advertising has become increasingly popular and expected. People want to feel emotionally engaged with our brand messaging and content. To evoke those feelings, I advise balancing pathos with logos – the rational, logical side of your argument.

For me, storytelling doesn't just mean emotions. Storytelling means persuasion, but in order to be persuasive, you need to have a solid argument – logos – and that starts with making sure that your argument doesn't have any holes in it. In other words, if you're promising something, your product needs to deliver it.

Consider the case of Theranos – they did an incredible job with emotional storytelling around saving the world with just a drop of blood. However, from a logical standpoint, the product didn't deliver, so it was destined to fail. 

The emotional and the rational need to go in parallel.

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Building customer trust through Ethos

Beyond pathos and logos, ethos – the moral philosophy and credibility behind your brand – is critical for building audience trust. I emphasize that overpromising and underdelivering is one of the fastest ways to destroy a brand's ethos.

You don't want to be the next Theranos. You don't want to be the next FTX. All those cases are related to brands that didn't look into the rational foundation of what they were promising.

Ethos extends beyond just words into action and behavior. Brands must ensure their values align with their habits and decisions across the entire organization.

Ethos is all about making sure that your brand personality has clear moral values and, most importantly, making sure that set of values is communicated through your habits, attitude, and behavior. It's not just about words; it's about what you do.

Avoiding performative activism

One key area where brands often struggle with ethos is around social and political issues like LGBTQ+ rights or racial equality. I warn against "performative" support that’s shallow or misaligned with a brand's actual practices.

A lot of brands get this wrong. You see it all the time during Black History Month and Pride Month. Many brands do performative support during those moments, but it's not going to get them very far. People spot it very quickly when that support is purely performative and there's no real commitment to standing for those values.

A recent example was brands sponsoring the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, despite Qatar's human rights violations against the LGBTQ+ community. Especially now with social media, it's easy for audiences to see any disconnect between a brand's words and actions.

Cathartic storytelling payoff

Finally, I emphasize the importance of providing a satisfying catharsis – an emotional payoff or resolution – at the climax of your brand storytelling.

Catharsis is important because in most brand communications you're using emotions to connect with your audience. You need to know how to relieve that; otherwise, it can become too intense. People can go through sadness and happiness, but at some point, they need that moment of relief to go back to their everyday lives.

Without that emotional release, audiences can be left feeling unsatisfied, frustrated, or disconnected from the story. Crafting a cathartic ending is key to leaving a lasting emotional impact. No one watches a movie that has a bad ending twice. Endings are how you create an emotional connection with a film. When you're walking out of the theater, you talk about how amazing the ending was.

By balancing pathos, ethos, logos, and catharsis, brands can tell resonant, emotionally engaging stories that build real audience connections. As I advise, great creativity always tries to break some rules, but don't break all of them at once because that's going to make it very hard for people to understand what you're doing.

What’s an example of emotional brand storytelling?

One excellent example of emotional storytelling is the Spotify ad from Valentine's Day 2016 that said "Dear person who played 'Sorry' 42 times on Valentine's Day, what did you do?" This ad brilliantly conveys emotion through implication and connects with the audience by allowing them to fill in the gaps.

The ad doesn't explicitly state what happened, but it paints a vivid picture through the subtle emotional cue of someone listening to the song "Sorry" repeatedly on Valentine's Day. We can infer that this person likely did something to upset their partner. However, Spotify leaves the details to the viewer's imagination, engaging them in the storytelling process.

The genius is in the execution – by only providing the emotional conclusion "Sorry" without the full premises, Spotify makes the viewer feel smart for connecting the dots themselves. As Aristotle taught, persuasion is most powerful when you state the conclusion and let the audience infer the argument. This taps into the emotional pathos by letting people empathize with the situation in their own personal way.

Yet the ad still has a solid logical foundation (logos) by being based on actual listening data trends Spotify observed. So it balances emotional resonance with rational credibility. This ability to marry pathos and logos through ingenious implication is masterful emotional storytelling that any brand could learn from.

What are the benefits of emotional marketing?

A: The benefits of leaning into emotional storytelling and marketing are numerous from my perspective as a CMO. Fundamentally, human beings are emotional creatures – we don't just process information in a purely rational way. Emotions play a pivotal role in how we perceive messages and make decisions.

While logical arguments and facts certainly have their place, emotional resonance allows you to truly captivate your audience on a deeper, more visceral level. As Aristotle taught, persuasion requires a balance of logos (logic) and pathos (emotion). Overly functional, dispassionate advertising is dry and forgettable. But marketing that artfully wields pathos connects with people's feelings in a way that rational messaging alone cannot.

I often see the strongest impact when emotional beats harmonize with and reinforce a solid rational foundation. The logic makes the message credible – "this makes sense." But the emotional pathos is what makes it resonate – "I feel this on a gut level." Used judiciously, emotion exponentially heightens the persuasive power of your communications.

There are also larger cultural forces at play here, particularly in Western markets. Emotional advertising that fosters human connections has become much more prominent and expected by modern consumers. They now anticipate being emotionally engaged by brand narratives and content. Fail to tap into those emotional drivers, and you risk appearing soulless and disconnected from your audience.

Of course, emotion for emotion's sake is the path to bathos – overblown melodrama that becomes cringeworthy or unintentionally funny. The feelings must stem from an authentic truth about your brand's role and values. When executed with authenticity and balance, however, emotional storytelling allows you to create far richer, stickier connections that transcend transactions.

So in summary, the benefits of emotional marketing are: Heightened persuasive impact, deeper audience resonance, meeting modern expectations, and forging more meaningful bonds with customers. Just take care to counterbalance rational logic and truth – because pathos without logos quickly devolves into pathetic pandering.

How do you actually make a marketing story emotional?

The key to infusing emotion into your marketing storytelling is tapping into the human element – creating narratives that resonate with people's visceral feelings and life experiences. As Aristotle taught, persuasion requires pathos alongside logos. Dry, purely rational messaging fails to captivate on an emotional level.

One impactful technique is to leverage powerful sensory details and emotional cues that allow your audience to immerse themselves in the story beats through their own lenses. Don't spoon-feed the entire emotional arc – provide evocative premises that prompt people to fill in the rest using their imaginations and personal contexts. When they connect those dots themselves, there's a deeper sense of investment.

The Spotify "Sorry" ad is a brilliant example of this. By implying an emotional scenario through subtle details like the repeated song choice, Spotify hooked viewers into vividly imagining the real human story behind it through their own eyes. That's far more powerful than bluntly stating the event details.

You can layer in emotional punches through subtle symbolism, character actions, visual metaphors – all manner of showing rather than telling. But it must always stem from an authentic human truth about your brand's role and ethos. Random melodrama for its own sake just comes across as pandering or pathetic.

Like any compelling narrative, there needs to be an underlying logical argument grounding the emotional resonance – Aristotle's logos balancing the pathos. The emotions provoke engagement, but the rationale lends credibility. Fashion a persuasive through-line of emotional beats that harmonize with your brand's real substance and values.

Most importantly, build towards an emotional catharsis or release for the audience. Arouse feelings scene by scene, then resolve them in a culminating way that leaves people feeling cleansed and satisfied, even if tinged with lingering sentiments. An abrupt non-ending is deeply unsatisfying. Emotional storytelling is a journey, not a jump-scare.

In essence, tap into the universal human experiences we all intuitively understand. Spark imagination through smart implication and authentic emotional truth. Then take your audience on a rhythmic, multi-sensory journey that earns its cathartic payoff. That's the recipe for storytelling that forges true heart connections.

Learning from Storytelling Masters

To improve as storytellers, I recommend reading masterful works of fiction that showcase expert use of these storytelling techniques. A few books I love are:

Into The Woods by John Yorke, a screenwriter, has some of the most useful advice I've read on storytelling structure and techniques.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez is an amazing example of balancing logos and pathos through magical realism. The story goes to weird, fantastical places, but always remains grounded and believable.

Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar, my favorite Argentine author, is defined as "the anti-novel." It plays with and breaks conventions around sequential reading and narrative structure in brilliant ways.

Reading great fiction is the best way for marketers to understand on a gut level how brilliant storytelling works. We can learn so much from the masters about creating emotional connections through our brand stories.

Looking for other ways to enhance your storytelling abilities? Our Storytelling Certified: Masters course is the perfect place to start.

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