Maya Angelou was truly an amazing person. I respect and admire every word that ever came out of her mouth or her pen.

These words of hers have become quite famous:

I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. (Maya Angelou)

I imagine Maya Angelou didn’t think about marketing when she wrote these words, but they perfectly summarize what marketing is all about.

At its core, marketing isn't about product features, product benefits, a strong call to action or an irresistible offer. 

Marketing starts and ends with how we make people feel.

That’s what your customers will never forget, and that’s what will help them keep staying in love with your brand. They won’t remember the durability, shininess or speed of the products they see.

The only thing that they’ll remember is a feeling: how they felt. 

That's why you always want to ask yourself this question with every message you create, be it a marketing email, your website, a product description, a store layout, or anything else:

How does this message make my customers feel? 

I’m so glad that Maya Angelou explained it better than anyone else.

Now, why is marketing about a feeling?

People will never forget how your marketing made them feel because they “think” emotionally, not rationally.

We’ve all been taught in school how to be rational, how to use facts to make a decision and how to use our analytical skills to dissect a problem. And maybe for a while some of us believed that we are indeed rational beings. Maybe some of us still do.

But the truth is that we’re not. We’re emotional creatures, and we make decisions based on the emotions that we feel, not based on the facts we have in front of us. 

In fact, people who lack emotions due to brain injuries have difficulty making any decisions at all, based on Antonio Damasio’s research. He suggests that our emotional memories of past decisions drive our choices in life.

So when we can’t “think” in emotional terms, it’s hard for us to make a decision at all.

Emotion is a vital element to the make-up of an idea that “sticks”, or that’s shared with others, according to "Made to Stick" by Chip and Dan Heath.

When there’s emotion attached to an idea, not only will we remember it more, but we'll also deem it as more important than other ideas. 

People will still look for rational facts to justify their emotional decisions, but facts alone won’t hold their attention for long.

So, to make great marketing (that also generates sales), lead with feelings, then talk about facts.

Two Examples

A classic example that illustrates this concept is Steve Jobs’ campaign “Think Different” from the 90’s. In the BuildUp Lab training program I mention his words, because he explains this concept better than anyone:

“To me, marketing is about values. This is a very complicated world, it’s a very noisy world. We’re not going to get a chance to get people to remember much about us. No company is. So we have to be really clear on what we want them to know about us. (…) The way to do that is not to talk about speeds and fees, it’s not to talk about bits and mega hertz, it’s not to talk about why we’re better than Windows. What we’re about isn’t making boxes for people to get their jobs done, although we do that well. We do that better than anybody in some cases. Apple is about something more than that. Apple, at its core value, is that we believe that people with passion can change the world for the better. And that those people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who actually do.”

He understood that talking about product features and benefits won’t give Apple the turnaround that it needed.

So in the Think Different campaign, he focused on creating a feeling: the feeling that comes with standing up for what you believe, with thinking differently and with wanting to change the world. 

But marketing is not just about ads, it’s also about what you put on your website, your emails, your social media and everything in between. You can focus on feelings even on these channels, even if you do it in more subtle ways.

For example, take a look at United by Blue. What this brand stands for more than their products, is a Blue Movement: for every product sold, United by Blue removes one pound of trash from oceans and waterways. They stand for protecting our planet and fixing some of the errors we’ve all done when it comes to waste.

It’s a unifying factor across all their products and because this business leads its communication with a belief that brings about powerful feelings, and not with product features or benefits, it can sell disparate products like mugs and sweaters under the same roof.

This idea comes across in their entire website presentation: their copy, colors, fonts, product images that use natural light (as opposed to the usual studio light you find with most clothing product shots) and much more. United by Blue's marketing creates lasting feelings in their customers' hearts.

But there's one pre-requisite.

Not everyone will feel something that’ll stick with them when they come into contact with your marketing.

And that’s a good thing. We’re all different human beings, and to strike a cord in everyone would mean that you’re really not striking a cord in anyone.

The most important pre-requisite for making a customer feel something is to make sure that your target customer wants to feel that feeling.

What does this mean? I’ll sum it up in one sentence: people have already decided they want to feel a certain way before your message reaches them, so they’ll only pay attention to things that make them feel that way and filter out everything else. 

Maybe you want to feel healthy. Then you’ll most likely think about the things that make you feel that way, like meditating, eating a plant based diet, working out, or sleeping more. When a company comes your way with a message that makes you feel healthy, you’ll pay attention. 

When you see a well-crafted message from a company like Thrive Market, you’ll probably pay attention. If, on the other hand, you don't care much about feeling healthy, their message won’t stand a chance to resonate with you.

So, to get people to remember your brand you want to make them feel something, and then you want to make sure that the people you target want to achieve that feeling.