Why Getting to the Heart of Your Reader’s Core Emotion Matters Most

Writer sitting on the couch with laptop

It was a confession that startled me, and I certainly didn’t expect to hear it from my friend.

But in hindsight, it all made sense.

My friend, I’ll call her T, owns a vacation home on a popular stretch of beach in North Carolina.

And we’ve been going there almost every summer for the past five years, staying at least a week to ten days at a time.

She likes hanging out at the shoreline, soaking up the sun. I don’t mind doing that but not all-day long as she likes to do.

I like to get in the water, cool down, and swim. But she never sets a toe in the ocean.

Don’t get me wrong. She likes to swim. When she is not at the beach, she’s floating around in the pool.

After several times of traveling to her beach home, I finally asked why never swims in the ocean.

“I am afraid of sharks.”

Her fear of sharks came about after watching the movie, Jaws. Released in 1975, and directed by Steve Spielberg, it went on to become a box office sensation, racking up $475 million in ticket sales.

That single movie set the ground for what would become known as Hollywood summer blockbusters.

Yet it also did something else … it made thousands of people (like my friend T), afraid of the ocean. Until then, not much thought was given to sharks lurking near the shoreline.

My friend’s fear is irrational. Because just by asking a few questions, you realize her fear is more fantasy than reality.

For instance, if I asked her about all the times we’ve traveled to the beach, had there ever been an incident with a shark? The answer is NO.

And in her entire life, from childhood to adulthood, has she ever encountered a shark? The answer is NO.

The waters are clear enough that if a shark were to approach you would see it, has there ever been a shark seen in the area? The answer is NO.

You can take this same type of approach when writing a sales letter too. All prospects have surface-level emotions, but when you dig deeper, you actually find the core emotion.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. In the financial newsletter publishing industry, it’s often common to use “doom and gloom” in a promotion. Take Stansberry Research’s The End of America sales letter written by Mike Palmer in 2011.

For the company it was a huge success … in fact a breakthrough, bringing in thousands of new subscribers and millions in sales.

The promotion painted a grim picture of the financial future of the United States and forecasted the end of America’s global economic dominance. It also made several predictions of what America might look like if this were to happen and also offered readers actions to take to protect their wealth.

But how did Mike tap into this core emotion and summarize it in four words?

At the time he knew prospects were concerned about rising inflation, similar to what we’re experiencing now. He also knew readers were worried about America having a huge deficit.

But what do these concerns really tell us about the prospect?

If the reader is concerned about inflation, then he understood what they’re really worried about is not having enough money to make ends meet. An out-of-control deficit could impact the stock market, which means the reader is worried the money they’ve put aside for retirement will be wiped out.

The core emotion is losing everything the reader has worked hard to create, hence The End of America.

How do you tap into a reader’s core emotions? It’s asking questions that help you drill down deeper … questions such as “what’s really going on here?” or “so what?”

Let me show you what I’m talking about.

Let’s imagine you’re selling a car with a high amount of horsepower, say a Jaguar with 575 hp and fully loaded, including a ton of safety features.

But if we ask, “so what?” about the 575 hp, what we’re really saying is the car will accelerate faster on take-off.

And if we ask, “so what?” again, then we what we’re really saying is the car gets you to where you want to be quicker and safer.

Asked a third time, and the answer might be, you’re making a responsible decision when buying this car.

Now we’ve drilled down to a core emotion.

This drilling down matters because we don’t want to focus our copy on superficial feelings, like my friend T’s irrational fear of sharks.

We’re aiming for those deeper feelings, such as gratitude, vitality, joy, excitement, sadness, or fear of losing out.

These core emotions are the catalysts that cause change. And in sales copy, that change translates into the prospect hitting the buy button.

Going back to Mike’s The End of America promotion, not only did he vividly paint a picture of what the future might look like, but he did something equally important … he provided a sense of hope. He offered the reader investment recommendations that would protect their wealth.

And that’s exactly what the reader needed to hear … there was a solution to an upcoming economic problem.

This is exactly what copywriters are trained to do … get prospects to act. We couldn’t help with building a client’s businesses if the reaction we stir up is similar to that of Jaws … thousands of people vowing to never set foot in the water again.

Nope, we want prospects to make a purchase and feel good doing it. Because if they do, they’ll likely purchase again and again.

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Published: April 25, 2024

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