The blog

How to Build an Emotional Funnel

Daniel Glickman

We know that whether customers are seeking to purchase the most relaxing luxury vacation package ever, or the smartest new software to lighten their work load—whether their purchase is thrilling or mundane—they should sense none of the magic being done behind the scenes.

Customers know their data is being collected and that there will often be an upsell; they trust an invite to chat will pop up and that the act of online purchasing is secure, but they expect none of these factors or actions to get in their way of quickly and effortlessly buying or doing what they want.

Customers should be moving as mindlessly through your website and your funnel as they would move through the security line at the airport. They should know the drill—remove shoes, belt, mini-sized toiletries from carry-on—and should think and feel nothing of the drill itself.

But your customers must feel things, and they must feel things at the right time. My idea of building an emotional funnel starts with my thoughts on getting customers not to think, but to feel—and it is based in science.

Most of us have always believed that when we eat our favorite ice cream, the “Mmm, that’s tasty” feeling comes first and the thought about the yumminess comes second, but that’s not true. What science shows is that in a nanosecond or less, the brain tells us what to feel.

CMO Confessions - The emotional funnel

They are totally feeling the funnel

As marketers, we can leverage this miniscule space between thought and feeling. We can create experiences along the customer journey that make customers feel what we want them to feel so that they’ll value what we want them to value, seek what we want them to seek, do what we want them to do, and appreciate what we want them to appreciate.

When you are in the market for sturdy new hiking boots, you can go to any shoe store; but walk into an REI store and you immediately feel like the outdoors type. REI is an experience: the salespeople are outdoorsy and they have hiking (or climbing, or fishing, or triathlon) expertise. Wearing their green vests, they talk to you about the last ten-mile loop they trekked and ask you to walk up and down a mini-slope to make sure your big toes don’t hit the front of your new boots. Inside that store, toes happy, you feel ready to hit the trails. You grab a water bottle on the way to the checkout line.

The advertising agencies of old, with their Don Drapers and expansive fancy office suites, worked with print ads to evoke this REI-master-level emotional response, and the same holds true for those of us in charge of creating digital experiences today. A few years back, online marketing and the resulting customer experience was fairly cut and dry, if not stale; but now customers expect a juicy personalized immersive experience online, and we marketers can create that for them.

Feeling the funnel - CMO Confessions

Feeling the outdoorsy type at the REI register

The personalized immersive experience is the current holy grail of marketing, and the question “What do we want to make customers feel?” lies at the heart of our quest. (The question of “how” to make our customers feel what we want them to feel is harder, and I’ll attempt to answer that one another day, on another blog post.)

For now, I say we can answer the “what to feel” question by starting with the customer journey and the marketing funnel. By mapping out every step in the customer journey and naming the associated desired outcome, we can gain insight into what the customer must have—what must be in place inside the funnel—for the desired goal to be achieved. Then, we must ask: What is the emotion that supports and leads to each goal-oriented action in a series of actions?

Do we want to elicit excitement and adventure, satisfaction and achievement, or reassurance and security? Is the customer on an information-seeking mission, or on the payment page? When a customer visits REI, her initial browse through spring running gear should elicit a different emotion than her visit to customer stories and testimonials, and these emotions should differ from those she experiences when being asked to enter her credit card information.

The Emotional Funnel

You got him thinking about widgets but is he excited about widgets?


When we map out our funnels with the above in mind, we give our marketing team a framework: This is what the customer should be feeling at this stage, and that is what the customer should be feeling at that stage; so, when working on a specific webpage or email or content XYZ, everything should be crafted with the aim of evoking THIS or THAT emotion, there and then.

If your customer ever has to step outside the traditional and intended journey, for example, when they have to embark on the dreaded fraud journey, have you designed a funnel that guarantees your customer will feel they are in good hands? You better hope so. You better hope you started with the question: What do I want customers who are dealing with a lost or stolen credit card to feel?—and that you answered that question long before the fraud alert bell sounded.

In the unfortunate case of the fraud journey, we want the customer to feel:
Safe and confident—check!

And now how will you train your customer support team to speak to customers, so that when they share their fraud story with others (“You’ll never believe it: Someone tried to charge $5,000 worth of jeans with my credit card. Who spends $5,000 on jeans?”), they will also share how well your customer support team related to them?

Emotional funnels lead customers through and to the right place, reinforcing along the way each decision the customer has made—setting the customer up to succeed and feel good, no matter what.

Think of Toyota’s feel-good slogan: “Thinking of Buying a Toyota? Don’t Ask Us, Ask A Friend Who Owns One.”

In the digital world, where the product is part of the journey itself, we want to promote stories that create community; we want the customers to feel invested in the betterment of themselves and of those that surround them. Even at the Log In stage, the customer wants to feel at ease, understood or known, and secure. With this in mind, web designers and content writers might add a simple CAPTCHA or a counter, even though neither is technically necessary, to promote an even greater sense of security.

Patagonia's emotional plea for leads

Not your same old lead capture form: patagonia is not shy when it comes to evoking an emotional response

The point is, different features, design elements, or content can promote different feelings and can be as subtle as the gently moving leaves in the background of patagonia’s webpages or as obvious as its landing page and lead capture. Consider too, Amazon’s “Only 2 left in stock – Buy now” alert. Are there really only 2 left in stock?

The emotional funnel should be designed to give customers either an “Ahhhh!” or an “Aha!” moment, which of course is the opposite of making them feel dumb. (We know this, Rule #1: Never make the customer feel stupid.)

“Aha! It will be super easy to make fifty videos a day with this brand, and even better, it will be super easy to share the videos I make. Ahhhhh! I feel good…”

The customer does think it all through, of course, but remember, good thoughts breed good feelings, and although the difference between thinking and feeling is subtle and usually imperceptible, your brand will not succeed on brain alone.

To build an emotional funnel, your brand needs nuance. You can get to nuance, ironically, by hammering away at feelings and by:

  • breaking those feelings down into user experience elements.
  • thinking of each user experience element separately and as a whole.
  • asking how feeling flows throughout your funnel.
  • noticing where feeling is blocked and bringing in the therapist (aka your marketing team!).

Feeling depends on what the selling proposition is. If you are launching a product that allows users to make videos, are your engineers working frantically to reduce download time, when in fact, users are looking first and foremost for their ability to share those videos across multiple social media at the click of a button, without the need for a third-party video platform? Talk to your engineers—remember, they have feelings too, or they will, eventually.

Listen, I know—feelings are often considered “elusive.” Feelings are the white whale of marketing. We marketers still feel the need to study magic. But we live on the other side of the marketing table too and we understand—we know and we feel—how some brands just nail it, they just do it.

The most successful brands make us feel outdoorsy, strong, smart, sexy, wild, and good. We can instantly recognize the sleaze and snub it; we know when we are being duped. And today, it isn’t just marketers who are onto marketers: Millennials are wise to our ways, and they’ve told Mom and Grandmom.

millennials and the emotional funnel - CMO Confessions

He’s a millennial – he gets it

Bottom line: Emotion is only good when it is authentic, and as hesitant as many marketing CMOs feel about diving into the emotions pool, dive we must. I hear all the time from other CMOs in my circle: “But emotion is impossible to quantify. How do I appraise and measure it? Won’t I come out of the deep end looking like a freak?”

Sure, and I feel like a freak for telling them, “Focus on the funnel. Discuss with every department what emotion they would associate with each stage of that funnel, then link an emotion (or two or three) to each stage. Start there. Get every department to sign on to the emotional game, but avoid sleaze. Avoid bright colors, bells, and whistles. Stay authentic. You know good emotional draw when you see it. If you fall short of earning the emotional response you want the first time, return to your funnel…

… Think outside of the box—yeah, yeah, yeah. But more importantly, feel inside that damn funnel!”

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