How to Achieve a Return on Conversation with Emotional Marketing

By Brooke Ballard, {grow} Community Member
I’m going to unveil the secret to breaking through the noise on Facebook right here in this post. But for you to understand where I’m coming from, I need to tell you something about myself first. Here it is:

emotional marketing

Excited about that? I wouldn’t blame you if you’re not. That kind of overused quote or meme tells you nothing about me, my beliefs or what kind of a person I am. There is no connection.

Let’s start again.

brooke BallardMy name is Jennifer Brooke Ballard, but I’ve gone by Brooke since birth. I lived in Texas for 29 years and now call Wall Street my home. I don’t think New Yorkers are as neurotic as they’re made out to be, or that Texans are dumb just because they talk slowly.

I believe in energy, in karma. My happiness is based on the happiness of those who support and surround me.

I hate that we can’t be a more open-minded society, but love that we have the freedom to decide what we want to believe and whom we want to love.

I can listen to Frank Sinatra and Deadmaus5 in one subway ride and feel exhilarated and invigorated by both.

At this point you’re probably leaning one way or another when it comes to trusting and liking me. By going beyond cliché information, I’ve helped you to get to know and understand me.

Cliché disclosures mean nothing, while facts, opinions and beliefs – or psychographics – mean everything to building trust and relationships. This is what I learned from my time at Penn State University, where I did an undergraduate honors thesis about successful connection strategies on social media.

Do You Trust Me? Do You Like Me?

The crux of my work looked at the Onion Theory (also known as the Social Penetration Theory). This theory states that we build relationships through different levels of communication, which range from shallow and cliché talk, to more personal and intimate conversations.

If we want to develop closeness with someone, we disclose personal information to them in hopes they will accept us and that our admission resonates with them.

Disclosures happens on four levels:

  1. Clichés
  2. Facts
  3. Opinions
  4. Feelings

When we start to move past the surface and the fluff of cliché-type conversation, we become vulnerable. By being vulnerable, we hope that the other person or persons will become vulnerable and open up to us, thus creating trust.

And it’s trust, as we all well know, which forms the foundation of any relationship.

Return on Conversation

My thesis posed this simple question: Can this type of deeper interaction and relationship building happen online (specifically on Facebook), between brands and consumers?

My research answered “yes.” (Details about the methodology can be found at the end of the post).

And even though it was somewhat early in the social game (2009-10), the really savvy brands had moved past asking their online communities what they were having for lunch, and were instead engaging by tugging on the proverbial emotional strings.

Demographics suddenly became “old school” and psychographics – or emotional marketing – emerged as the new goal of their conversations.

What’s your belief on …?
What do you think about …?
How does … make you feel?
Do you value …? 

The return on this deeper conversation is amazing. Consumers are conditioned to open up about their preferences. As the conversation moves deeper, you can almost reach out and touch the trust forming between would-be clients and brands.

Not only can brands build trust, they can garner information they’ve previously had to pay for through focus groups or market research.

If you’re trying to use social media to gain sales, brand awareness, or loyalty, you must think more deeply about the conversations you’re having.

  • If everything you share is cliché, your results will be cliché.
  • If you only talk in facts, you may only receive factual information in return.
  • If you tout opinions and ask for feelings, you may receive opinions, feelings and other psychographics from your community.

The Onion In Action

Let’s look at examples of each stage of disclosure (clichés, facts, opinions, feelings), and what happens when brands use them to garner conversation online. Brands not performing well have their names and logos blurred – we’re here to learn, not to criticize.


This is a smaller page (nearly 1,000 fans) that posted a cliché-type post. There was no interaction (no one liked, shared, or commented on the post).emotional marketing

This is an exception to the results most brands see with cliché posts. I think the reason these posts work for Amy Porterfield is not because she has nearly 65,000 fans, but because she works hard to build trust with other deeper-disclosure posts (as shown below).


emotional marketing
Jay Baer’s Convince and Convert page (nearly 8600 fans) shares mostly fact-type content. Educational posts work really well for teaching, but don’t do as much when it comes to building relationships and trust. Facts can solicit opinions from time-to-time, but rarely result in the deepest disclosure, feelings.


emotional marketing
I love this post from R & R Web Design LLC. Not only does the brand cleverly ask for specific opinions from its 3,000+ fan page followers here, but they also take the opportunity to better serve an existing client by using User Generated Content (UGC).

emotional marketing

Amy’s Facebook Page is littered with opinion-seeking posts. I think this is part of the reason why she does so well, and why her cliché posts can also garner a lot of traction.


emotional marketingIt was much harder to find brands (big or small) using feelings to solicit feelings, but this post is a PRIME example of a brand doing it right. Notice how Subaru (1.7 million Facebook fans) uses a feeling word (love) both in text and visually. Then look at how a fan gives a full feeling disclosure back to the brand regarding their product (“I Love my Subaru”). Even the happy face denotes a feeling: “happy.”

How To Make The Onion Theory Work For Your Brand

Though the above posts may seem like small gestures in a vast online world, the brands truly building loyal communities use emotional marketing in their conversations.

My thesis and this post were focused on Facebook, but the theory can be used on any platform where conversation takes place.

My tips for emotional marketing success:

  • Dump the clichés (memes and quotes don’t do anything to reinforce your brand messaging or build relationships/trust)
  • Find other ways to let your brand’s personality shine
  • Use facts to educate, but focus more on the opinions and feelings of your target audience
  • Use the information and psychographics you glean from responses to better market to your consumers
  • Remember to share your own opinions and feelings; transparency is key, or the relationship will be one-sided and won’t last

What are your thoughts about this research? Better yet, what are your feelings about it? : )

brooke_ballardBrooke Ballard  is a Digital Marketer and Chief Social Strategist and Founder of New York-based B Squared Media.

Notes on methodology:
I followed three NPOs (Special Olympics, Cystic Fibrosis Fibrosis Foundation, and Philabundance) for two weeks on Facebook and “labeled” every post as well as every comment (conversation) for depth of disclosures.

Qualitative and quantitative data were collected by reviewing the statistics collected on each nonprofit over two weeks and was then used to lend support to, or discredit, findings regarding the research objectives.

By conducting preliminary research on the Facebook pages of each nonprofit, the researcher was able to contrive several types of messages each nonprofit posted to their page. From there, a coding scheme was created to label each message into one of eight specific categories: News; Events: Past Events, Present Events, or Future Events; Fundraising or Soliciting Volunteers; Issues; Soliciting Stories or Narratives; or Miscellaneous. It was also decided that a message could only be coded as one type of message (i.e.: news, not news and event).

Secondly, the researcher explored the responses to messages sent out by each nonprofit to create a coding scheme for supporter responses. The responses were labeled into six specific categories: Accolades, Praise, and Thanks; References; Outreach or Support; Story or Narrative; General Response or Statement; or Miscellaneous. The process for coding was refined as the first week of coding began, and the researcher was able to make additions to include all of the types of categories needed to successfully label each message from the nonprofit, as well as each message from the supporters.

Additional information was collected, such as the number of entries the nonprofits posted to Facebook each day, the number of responses the messages received in a day, the number of responses to posts (or “sub posts”) each day, the number of “likes” each post and sub post received, and how many friends or fans each nonprofit had on each day of the coding week.

All posts

  • Charles

    Fascinating! Thanks for sharing the methodology. I have a question, though. When coding the responses with:
    References; Outreach or Support; Story or Narrative; General Response or Statement; or Miscellaneous.
    Could you explain what a “Reference” is? Maybe an example?
    What about a General Response or Statement?
    Whenever I have a “miscellaneous” category when I’m sorting stuff, it tends to get very full as a catch-all; how did you avoid letting too many responses fall into the “general response” or “miscellaneous” categories? (maybe you didn’t have the same problem I usually do, so I was just curious).
    Thanks for the great post!

  • Brooke Ballard

    Hi Charles! Thank you for your kind words. If you click on the link above (undergraduate honors thesis) it will open the entire works – not that you want to read it all! It can be boring. I think the grids (Appendix A, B, C) may interest you.

    1.References indicated any supporter response that encouraged the organization or their supporters to seek information elsewhere – such as away from the organization’s Facebook page (i.e.: curated content, not original content). There’s also an example given from the Special Olympics on a shared piece about the “r” word. Very interesting!

    2. A general response/statement was something that simply answered a question stated by the organization, but did not tell a story or have basis for any other codes. (Yes, No, thank you, etc.)

    3. Miscellaneous responses did not fit into any of the above categories and did not seem to have valid or pertinent information to the subject at hand. An example of a Miscellaneous posts took place on the Special Olympics page on January 19th, 2011 when
    a response read: “Jennifer did you see this are [or] am I late as usually?”

    There weren’t as many general or misc. responses as you’d think! But then again, two of my subjects weren’t really using Facebook to their advantage (at the time).

    Feel free to reach out if you want any more info … i’m a total nerd and would be happy to chat about it. 🙂

  • Lisa

    I loved this article, Brooke! I am disappointed your personal link to your Twitter page is not here…or have I not had enough coffee for three hours of sleep to find it? 🙂
    I am a total nerd about Marketing in all forms, but especially the social media realm.
    Have a great day.

  • Brooke Ballard

    Hi, Lisa! You’re right (though I’m in need of come coffee myself!). The link goes to our business page. You may connect with my personally at @madSMscientist on Twitter. I’ve LOVE (see what I did there 😉 ) to connect with you and talking nerdy marketing anytime.

  • Dorien Morin-van Dam

    I love, love this this type of posts; digging way deeper than most and really getting to the ‘core’ of social. I am glad to call you friend. A lot of what you theorize, marketers like me do on ‘faith and feelings’ I often get this gut feeling about a post and whether it will work or not. What this post did for me: made me realize some of my own written content might need to include more facts, data and background info. For the last 3 years, I have written for the small business owner who mostly is a diy social media manager. If I want to move up and get bigger and better clients, this type of data will be invaluable. I am looking to make a strategic move in business this year and THIS is something I really needed to hear today! Wahoo. Thank you, Brooke.

  • Brooke Ballard

    Butterflies. That’s what I’M FEELING after reading your comment! Wow. Just WOW.

    Thank you – I’m also very lucky to have you as a friend.

    I get that “gut” feeling, too. Sometimes I’m right … with Facebook it’s been a little more “miss” lately.

    I think we all need the reminder. Myself included. I’m always worrying about being valuable and giving great tips … It would do me good to be a little more “fun” and human from time-to-time. It’s not easy being a digital marketer today … but that’s also what makes our job SO rewarding. 🙂

  • Lisa

    Lol, Thanks!

  • Very, very good stuff! Taking it with me to see how I can use it in my small world. 🙂

  • Brooke Ballard

    Thank you, Pauline! I think it can be used in any world … no matter how big or small, how personal or professional, etc. (but that’s just me). 😉

  • You are the first person I have heard that says to drop the quotes! I always hear how sharable they are, but you are right I skip over most of them in my own feed. I love the idea of emotional marketing. I am not very good at it but I am going to keep trying, so that I can connect more deeply with my audience.
    Thanks for such a great post, probably the best I have read in a while!

  • Brooke Ballard

    Quotes can certainly be inspiring, Blake! I do love me some Robert Frost. 🙂 I just don’t feel that repeating what someone else says helps me understand who YOU are and what YOUR beliefs are. I know some peeps have great success sharing quotes. I just don’t think it’s a platform to stand on … you know, not the main corse but a yummy treat you allow yourself to indulge in every once and a while.

    I think it’s especially hard for professionals and businesses to get behind emotional marketing. It seems like “fluff” when really those memes and insta-quotes are. Trust and emotional disclosures should be a goal of any brand looking to be taken seriously online (or offline). Our basic human need is to feel loved; to connect; to be heard. Anytime you start to use that strategically, I think you’re on the right track.

    THANK YOU for the compliment! And very happy to have connected with you on Twitter!

  • Jenny Brennan

    Love love love this post. I had a client for 121 Facebook training today and I was explaining how she can use the stories of her customers and experiences that they have in her store to get across how great she is. We have so much going on in our daily work life that can be used to evoke an emotion and connect with people. I was in a large car dealership today and the owner said he loved what I did on Facebook and that’s why he contacted me 🙂 I love that I have also met the best marketers in the world and consider them as friends thanks to social media 🙂 keep up the good work Brooke and thanks for all the support in the last couple months … PS will you come on my podcast?

  • Brooke Ballard

    I am LOVING all the LOVE (feelings disclosures). I mean that’s exactly what I’m aiming for … how you FEEL about me/this post/emotional marketing. I’m a giddy school girl. HAHA.

    Evoking emotion is a great tool for conversation. And it doesn’t always have to be “happy go lucky.” If you read my thesis you’ll see that the Special Olympics asked people how they felt about the “r” word. And you’d be surprised to read the answers! While it was hurtful to some, others said that it made them stronger. It was such a HUGE way to spark conversation … AND a feeling of love/trust for the Special Olympics team. They were having REAL conversations about REAL issues special needs people face. It’s riveting.

    You’re welcome for the support! Always looking out for my digital friends. AND YES! Would love to speak on your podcast.

  • Robin Strohmaier

    Excellent article, Brooke! I love your tips for emotional marketing success. Over the years, you have been a shining example to me, and I have learned a great deal from you. I’m feeling… inspired to dig deeper in my articles and focus more on the opinions and feelings of our target audience. I’m also feeling very grateful that you would include our “opinion” post in your article. Thank you, Brooke!

  • Brooke Ballard

    You’re most welcome Robin, it’s well deserved.

    I’m glad we inspire each other! That’s one of the perks that comes along with surrounding yourself with inspiring brands and people. I love lending a hand to my friends – especially when they’re such shining examples of how to do things the RIGHT way.

  • I love this article ~thank you. Just this week I shared 3 personal stories from my customers and I did see a higher reach and likes ~I was pleasantly surprised. I also shared what I was doing this past week and the reach was right up there. After struggling with my news feed reach dropping for the past week or so since the FB changes ~ I am now realizing I need to show more of my personal side to my business to get that reach back up there. Cheers 🙂

  • Pingback: The Top 11 Traits of Great Content()

  • I absolutely love this, @brooke_ballard:disqus . you truly show your strengths in such an inspiring, fun way. your ability to discuss not only why – but how – to transcend the status quo of cliches really shines. linking to this in my latest. well-done!

  • Yeah it’s great to connect with you! I think it is of course easier to use quotes than to put yourself out there and that is probably why many people, including myself, have a hard time with it.
    I have a hard time knowing what to share about my life but I think I am getting better about it!

  • Pingback: How to Achieve a Return on Conversation with Em...()

  • Brooke Ballard

    Thank YOU, Cindy! I need to be more personable as well – it’s not always easy to show that side or to remember to be “human” in business, but I definitely think it makes a difference.

    Thanks so much for taking the time to share your stories with us.

  • Brooke Ballard

    Thank you, Jessica – I’m so glad to hear that! I’m always excited to receive compliments from esteemed bloggers like yourself.

    Can’t wait to see your next piece!

  • Brooke Ballard

    We’re all a work in progress, Blake! If it were easy, we’d all be social media gurus (eek!) making millions for our clients and ourselves. 😉

  • That’s the truth!

  • Pingback: How to Achieve a Return on Conversation with Em...()

  • Pingback: How to Achieve a Return on Conversation with Em...()

  • Pingback: Weekend Edition – A Place to Write plus Writing Tips and Good Reads | Live to Write - Write to Live()

  • Great post, Brooke. This was one of those posts that really gave me a couple great takeaways that I can apply to my job today. You are very inspiring. Thank you.

  • Pingback: SEO and content writing tips: Week ending April 15, 2014 » SEO Copywriting()

  • paulhasselsmonning

    So true, Brooke. In the era of content overload, brand need to better balance inbound marketing & sales with customer psychology. I have coined this [email protected] marketing (alas my book is in dutch only I’m afraid).

  • Pingback: TRENDAFRiCA | DAiLY TRENDS: 16 April()

  • Brooke Ballard

    Thank you so much for saying so, Angie! I’m so very glad to have inspired something. 🙂

  • Brooke Ballard

    Darn, Paul! That’s a great term and I bet it’s an even better book. If only I could read Dutch … 😉

  • Pingback: Show Me Your Human Side (In Business)()

  • Barry

    Great post @brooke_ballard:disqus – concise and to the point as opposed to the 10 easy steps (that I never remember) articles that we see everywhere. This is more of a core philosophy around which everything revolves – because it means more, it sticks more. Thanks

  • Pingback: Why Your Blog Needs a Shot of Vulnerability From Time to Time()

  • Pingback: Why Your Blog Needs a Shot of Vulnerability From Time to Time |()

  • Brooke Ballard

    Thank you so much for saying so, Barry! I really appreciate it. I think you’re hitting the nail on the head … this is BEFORE the steps or whatever. It’s the foundation of what we should all build upon.

  • Pingback: 31 Social Media-Tipps im Mai()

  • Pingback: 31 Social Media-Tipps()

  • Pingback: How to Transform your Social Media Campaign into a Conversation()

  • Pingback: Switching Up Broadcast News Marketing: Tap into Emotions()

  • Pingback: Shonali Burke Consulting, Inc. | Monday Roundup: Conversations - Shonali Burke Consulting, Inc.()

  • Pingback: Here's How Much Time You've Wasted On Social Media()

  • Pingback: Here’s How Much Time You’ve Wasted On Social Media | Internet Marketing()

  • Pingback: Choosing A Social Strategy That’s Not Obvious To You()

  • Pingback: Why You Should Think Conversation, Not Campaign - B Squared Media // B² Blog()

  • Pingback: What's Your Content Cadence? - Schaefer Marketing Solutions: We Help Businesses {grow} - Schaefer Marketing Solutions: We Help Businesses {grow}()

  • Pingback: SMM For The Small Guy: Choosing A Social Strategy That's Not Obvious - B Squared Media – Social Media Management()

  • Pingback: Why You Should Think Conversation, Not Campaign - B Squared Media – Social Media Management()

  • Pingback: How One Little Conversation Led To Being Named One Of 70 Rising Social Media Stars - B Squared Media – Social Media Management()

  • Pingback: Emotional Marketing: What's LOVE Got To Do With It? - B Squared Media – Social Media Management()

  • Pingback: Facebook Marketers need to take a hint from Wonder Woman - Schaefer Marketing Solutions: We Help Businesses {grow}()

  • Pingback: 31 Social Media-Tipps - Pulpmedia Online Marketing Agentur()

The Marketing Companion Podcast

Why not tune into the world’s most entertaining marketing podcast that I co-host with Tom Webster.

View details

Let's plot a strategy together

Want to solve big marketing problems for a little bit of money? Sign up for an hour of Mark’s time and put your business on the fast-track.

View details


Send this to a friend