Everything we read makes us think.
Some of what we read also makes us feel.
Those pieces go by many names—features, human interest stories, profiles, even exposés. They’re stories favoring people, their struggles and their triumphs. Stories to which we can easily relate.
I call ‘em “touchy-feelies.” They’re among my favorite pieces to write.
But we don’t write them that often in industrial B2B marketing. They violate a cardinal doctrine in our niche that emphasizes empirical results and a tangible return on investment.
After all, the technically expert engineers and executives we advise are charged with engaging buyers who value accurate, clear, concise information. That leaves little room for touchy-feelies. There is usually no compelling business case to invest time and resources in them.
And yet, they’re a vital part of making and strengthening an emotional bond between you and your audience.
You might be asking:
“Who the hell cares about emotional bonds? Why should it be a part of my content mix? Every touchy-feely we publish is a strategy-driven asset we don’t. It makes no business sense, so why would I do it?”
That’s what I’ll cover first.
Then, we’ll talk about when emotional content should be created. Spoiler: Don’t overthink it.
I’ll wrap it up by scolding the marketing-sales-industrial complex for its chronic misappropriation of emotional content—but I do it because I care!
Why you should produce emotional content
Let’s tackle those questions you might have asked above. You ask them because you know your buyers.
And in this niche, those buyers don’t rely on emotions to make purchasing decisions. They’re rational actors—at least during business hours. So you must meet them where they are, providing straightforward, useful, relevant information that aids their decision making.
But the joy of hearing others’ stories and the urge to tell stories of our own is innate to humanity. Even hyper-rational people seek meaning, and they do it whether they’re on the clock or not.
Emotional content delivers that meaning.
The chore for a nothing-but-the-facts manufacturing executive is to accept that the result of that delivery is different than the result of a strategic asset meant to elicit a response that is visible, measurable and actionable.
I’ll share an example. I wrote this profile of Dan Scott, a longtime construction supervisor, this spring. The Korte Company wanted to highlight Dan and a handful of former employees who were instrumental in shaping the company’s character.
Now, our mandate as marketing strategy consultants is to develop and execute plans that generate and then nurture leads with the intent that they become customers.
So how does Dan Scott’s profile serve that purpose?
What it does do—I hope—is widen the audience’s field of view and add depth and color to whatever flickers in their mind when they think of this company.
Some strategists assert that there are strategic benefits to emotional content, and I agree. Humanizing the inhuman is a constant thrust of message-making in our world. Touchy-feelies are a great way to do this.
But as far as I see it, there ought not to be any additional motive beyond that.
I challenge any reader to identify what John Deere is trying to sell in this feature on hemp farming.
The article doesn’t even mention agricultural implements, let alone namecheck the company that made them.
So is Deere wasting an opportunity?
No. Deere uses The Furrow to tell stories for their own sake.
It doesn’t drive more traffic, generate leads or spur revenue growth. It trades in a different currency, one you can’t see or measure but you know it when you feel it.
When you should write emotional content
Any time you want.
Excessive strategic calculation isn’t necessary.
Granted, companies like to share emotional content on “occasions” such as important company milestones or holidays or when founders die. Those are worthy circumstances indeed, but then there’s never a bad time to tell a good story.
Because if it’s a genuinely good story, it will stay good regardless of the effort you put into deciding the timing, venue or manner of publication. Put all the thought into it that you want, but I don’t think it moves the needle that much.
In fact, thinking or planning too hard introduces the risk that you’ll place the burden of added expectations on a story that it should not be expected to bear.
Ready? I’m going to roast my industry in the next section.
Emotional content must be free to breathe for it to hit the mark
Let’s get back to motive. What do we want to happen?
To drive search traffic, we produce content with relevant keywords and phrases.
To educate buyers, we produce well-researched content that addresses known problems and offers pathways to solve them.
But what about the touchy-feelies? What do you want that content to do? How much weight should it be expected to carry?
Consider this through the lens of the red ink someone in the C-suite might splash all over a first draft.
“You never mention our company’s name,” they may say. Or, “Where’s the call to action?” Or maybe, “How does this connect with our product/service?” Or, this one’s my favorite: “I’m not seeing a strong enough connection to our brand here.”
Those are examples of the added expectations I mentioned. It’s like when you’re stopped at a red light and someone in a ski mask hops into the passenger seat, jams a Glock into your ribcage and tells you to drive.
It’s a hijacking, plain and simple.
Why do we attach sales-y riders to content like this? If we’re going to produce what I argue is a work of art, why pollute it with business? When we treat touchy-feelies like drug mules, readers are right to be appalled.
We owe more to the subject of an emotional content piece than to cheapen it in this way. And we owe more to our readers than to invade their sacred emotional territory with ulterior motives.
All right, that was the rant.
Here’s the bottom line:
You should produce emotional content. You should do it any time you want to. Good stories should be told on their own merits. They won’t juice your KPIs, but they will have a profound impact…
…as long as you honor these stories and the people who will read them.