Create Strong Emotional Drivers to Engage Readers

A Brief Story About a Dog …

One of my team members has an old chocolate lab named Jed (whose name was inspired by the awkward Jed Clampett from The Beverly Hillbillies).

If you’ve ever owned a dog well into his late years, you know all too well the details my team member uses to describe this poor old pooch:

“He’s arthritic which causes him to fall over constantly, he’s overweight as a result of the arthritis, he smells like wet dog meets garbage, and every month is prone to more and more ‘accidents’ in the house. All this and that (censored language) dog still manages to eat a cupcake left unattended on a counter that’s at least 42″ high.”

So when the time came for the team member to take a vacation, it came down to this: Finding a dog sitter for Jed.

She called in every favor possible: “Please, I’m going on vacation. Would you watch Jed?”
She tried playing Jed up: “Even in his old age, Jed loves to play and he’s really friendly.”
She tried downplaying Jed: “He’s an old dog, so he’s more calm than younger, friskier dogs.”
She even attempted baiting with compensation: “I’ll pay you to dog sit!”

All to no avail. Everyone loves dogs! What’s the deal? These were dog people – they cried while watching Old Yeller and bawled at the end of Where the Red Fern Grows.

Then my team member realized her problem. She wasn’t going to sell that stinky, mangy ol’ lovable dog by promoting Jed “the dog.” She had to appeal to her audience’s emotions to get them to act.

“I know watching Jed is a lot of work, but you’re the only one who he trusts. You just have a way with him.”

Sold: “I’d love to watch Jed!”

Creating Strong Emotional Drivers

In the case of Jed, no one wants to watch a mangy old dog, but they do want to feel good about themselves. By appealing to the emotional “bond” the audience had with Jed, the team member was able to convince her audience that they wanted to watch Jed. She did this by breaking her audience’s emotional barriers and perceptions (“I know he’s a lot of work, but-“) as well as push that emotional hot button (“-you’re the only one he trusts”) and bring it home (“You just have a way with him”).

First, finding those emotional barriers, hot buttons, and more depends on your audience. The team member knew her first step was to find dog people (not cat people). By understanding the dynamics of your audience and their intent, you will have a greater handle on piquing their interest in the title.

Once you have the reader hooked on your title, you have to maintain their interest with compelling original and informative content. Think of articles like living, breathing conduits of information and the key to move that information is emotion.

7 Emotional Hot Buttons

The stronger the feeling, the more likely your audience will act and share your content. Target these 7 emotional hot buttons:

  • Positive emotion: Amusement, interest, surprise, happiness, delight, pleasure, joy, hope, affection, excitement, awe – powerful positive content is known to be more viral than negative content.
  • Contrast emotions: Should negative emotions be present, such as anger or anxiety, contrast them with positive emotions or empathy.
  • Personal emotion: Help your readers see themselves in the content rather than merely feeling empathetic.
  • Stacking emotions: Each point escalates to a new emotional level.
  • Belonging emotion: Insider content that makes the reader feel as though they are in the know – such as nostalgia.
  • Altruistic emotion: Content that makes the reader believe they’re doing good (by virtue) and it makes them feel good.
  • Identity emotion: Content the reader feels represents them or reaffirms their identity – “This is who I am.”

Even if you have a “stellar” product or service that’s better than Jed the dog, use emotional drivers to create compelling content that prompts action. They may be consuming data faster than you can blink, but readers are humans with incredible needs and powerful wants. Connecting with them on an emotional level may be what your writing is missing.

Questions? Comments? Let us know in the comments section below – we’d love to hear from you!


davidinnotts writes:

Thanks for this. Using emotional language is not my best point and I can use all the tips I can get.

At least I have my wife to critique me – her Toastmaster speeches often grab the audience so strongly that they win Best Speech of the evening. (And, by the way, a Toastmaster 7-minute speech is the verbal equivalent of an EzineArticles piece, and needs just the same level of careful crafting.)

By the way, do you HAVE to show Jed’s baby picture? Isn’t he loveable enough now?

Comment provided May 16, 2013 at 9:54 AM


Delva Rebin writes:

Thanks for this Vanessa. We find that one of the most difficult concepts for inexperienced writers to ‘get’ is that of emotion/mood, etc. Your article really makes it clear and also gives us good tips for actually putting your points into practice.

Comment provided May 16, 2013 at 11:35 AM


Russell Cormier writes:

That was good! It’s hard to engage readers…or a lot of the time you get away from it when you are doing multiple tasks within your business. That whole story about Jed just engaged me, I have been in a similar situation with my dog. This was refreshing and maybe the missing link to my article writing!


Comment provided May 16, 2013 at 3:30 PM


Randall Magwood writes:

Great story. Alot of these tips point to copywriting issues. When you hit a “hot button” in someone’s mind or emotions… you will get a positive response more often than not.

Comment provided May 16, 2013 at 6:01 PM


Durwood Walker writes:

The part about balancing the negative with a positive is timely for me, as I’m writing an article now that begin with some negative content.

Now I feel it just might have more value than I thought if I can effectively bring in the positive.

Great points.

Comment provided May 16, 2013 at 7:12 PM



Excellent piece of information. It is extremely helpful for copywriters to present the existing story with an innovative touch. One striking thing about the blog posts is that you write the post in the same way as you are talking about in your blog post. That’s is really helpful.

Comment provided May 16, 2013 at 11:56 PM


Anupam Khurana writes:

Keeping readers engaged is the major challenge. Though I am not a professional article writer, but I do pen a few technical articles here and there. How would you suggest emotional drivers where the content is technical in nature ?? An article on that lines will be interesting.

Comment provided May 17, 2013 at 7:35 AM


davidinnotts writes:

Anupam, people who read technical articles do place an emphasis on factual content. But they hold their own views about technical issues with deep passion! Maybe I’m not the best person to say how, but I do know that you engage people like this best by engaging their emotions on the technical issue you’re writing about.

So use the templates available on this website and find one which whips up these emotions. A challenge, maybe, or a question which engages opposed views, or a paean about some aspect of the topic – the possibilities are endless! Just think about the issue before you write, and include something (mentioned in the title) which, say, engineers get hot under the collar about when they’re talking shop. That’ll do it!


Gracious Store writes:

Thank you very much for this insight on how to engage readers by appealing to their emotions. I have never made conscious attempt to catch my readers’ attention using this tactics. I”ll apply this tactics in my future writings.

Comment provided May 20, 2013 at 8:53 PM


Liz writes:

Thank you Vanessa. I was curious to know more about a “hot button” and you explained it so nicely in the article. I am also a senior dog owner. There is no way that somebody else can look after him. He will have to come with us on holiday wherever we go. Fortunately he is a Jack Russel that will fit into all little holes.

Comment provided November 12, 2014 at 4:43 AM


RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

Please read our comment policy before commenting.