Power of Emotion in Marketing

Volume 37 Number 6

Kristin Merikangas is a member of the ABA's Law Practice Management Section. She is a client relations manager at Perkins Coie LLP in Denver, Colorado, and is a past president of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Legal Marketing Association. Kristin is on the planning committee for the ABA Law Firm Marketing Strategies Conference, November 8-9, 2011 at the Four Seasons Hotel in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

A chance reading of an article in “American Demographics” about breakthroughs in brain science that concluded people are primarily emotional decision makers—95% of their thought activity is not fully conscious—led Dan Hill to start his company, Sensory Logic. Hill has become a recognized expert on the role of emotions in consumer and employee behavior. That we respond to marketing initiatives in ways we don’t even recognize ourselves fascinated and made perfect sense to Hill. To find out what the power of emotion in marketing can mean for Law Practice readers, Kristin Merikangas interviewed Hill, who spoke on this topic at the November ABA Law Firm Marketing Strategies Conference.

Law Practice (LP): What does emotion management mean?  And what do you mean when you say trust is the emotion of business? 

Dan Hill: Well, I probably should explain facial coding to get to that answer, because facial coding is based on Charles Darwin’s seminal work. He came to realize that even a person born blind emotes in the same way as you or I. And facial coding was in Malcolm Gladwell’s bestseller, “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking,” where [I read that facial coding] is being used in marriage counseling. They found out with merely 15 minutes of videotape they had a 90% accuracy rate as to whether or not the couple would stay married. And the emotion that was most indicative of the marriage failing was contempt. 

Contempt as an emotion means, I simply don’t trust you, I don’t respect you, and I find you beneath me. So, if contempt is the emotion of divorce … the alternative is to establish trust. [Trust] has long been said to be the emotion of business, because you pay for services often before you receive them. You are trying to count on the legal counsel or anything else you receive in life [being] valuable to you, and it does mean taking a risk. And therefore, one wants more trust, and one wants less contempt.

LP: So, how can lawyers use facial coding?

Dan Hill: Certainly facial coding can apply to how one reads a jury, how one looks at videotaped depositions, how one conducts the examination and cross-examination of witnesses. Focusing on marketing, I would say that facial coding has its greatest applicability in terms of the visuals we might use in depicting people. 

In probably far too much of the legal advertising I’ve seen, visuals are woefully under leveraged, and when they do appear it’s typically the stock video or photograph of people across a conference table shaking hands. For anyone who knows facial coding, there’s a difference between true smiles and social smiles: A true smile means the muscle around the eye relaxes, that’s why you get the twinkle in the eye. Almost no one can fake it. Unfortunately, a lot of stock photography—grip-and-grin type of photographs—tends to have the social smile. And I think truthfully we’re all naturally facial coders, and we know it’s not authentic. And if it’s not authentic, then you’re back to that problem about trust versus contempt.

LP: How would that work online? 

Dan Hill: You still have photographs. People also respond to word choices …  The more obscure you are, the more emotionally opaque and lack of connection you’re going to make. So I think it’s about how you get oriented to people. How accessible you are for them. How much of a personality you establish. 

LP: What about in a business development situation of a pitch or a presentation? What are your thoughts on mirroring behaviors in a meeting? 

Dan Hill: I think mirroring is legitimate. Human beings have mirror neurons. It’s how we learn to imitate others. It’s why we have such tremendous empathy when watching a character in a movie, for instance. So I think when you’re mirroring, you’re showing respect to the other party. You’re noticing what they do. You’re developing a bridge of similarity—and hopefully, familiarity—which lets people feel more comfortable with you. If they feel more comfortable, they’re more likely to take in your counsel and messaging.

LP: If lawyers are trying to leverage their emotions to manage relationships and their reputations, and securing new clients and referral sources, where does truth fall into all of this? 

Dan Hill: I think truth is absolutely fundamental. … When people are looking for truth, as you’d call it, I think they’re looking for consistency, for one thing. That which isn’t consistent makes us wonder which piece of the story is true. That’s a problem. I also think we tend to trust people who are not so obviously self-interested. I think that the person who seems generous, who seems to have empathy for understanding other people’s stories and circumstances [is] someone that people tend to trust more.

LP: How can a lawyer gauge a client’s reaction to a presentation that they’re giving, or to the marketing materials that they’re presenting?  Or even gauge if they’re connecting? 

Dan Hill: One is literally, to use your term, engagement. Do you turn them on?  Do they emote? Motivation and emotion have the same root word, emovere, to move, to make something happen.  You’ll know if the line of argumentation and the way you’re laying out the case to a client or a prospect is hitting home: If it’s relevant to them, they should be emoting. They should show something on their face; it may be subtle, but they should show something that shows you’re hitting the motivational bonds that are going to matter to them. So that’s the first part of the process. 

I think beyond what you need to look for what are called micro-expressions, really quick expressions that can flit across the face … moments where people will, in a split instance show a sign of a negative emotion. It could be anger, fear, buyer’s regret, sadness … and yes, it could be contempt. Could be any one of those you saw, you’d better pay a lot of attention. It probably meant you just made a misstep. 

LP: What would you say to a new attorney who is just beginning to market himself or develop business? 

Dan Hill: I think it’s a tremendous opportunity. The world’s changed, and there is a need to establish a brand and persona. Not everything can be done always through your Rolodex, that can be an arduous, long-term process. If you’re a new lawyer, you can and should make those efforts, but augment them with some decent marketing. We live in a video age. YouTube: make use of it. I see very little indication that lawyers have gone beyond a stock photograph, let alone into video. So if you can establish some bit of a brand persona, you can have at least even a little bit of fun… [it] makes you more human.  And frankly, from a legal point of view, there are plenty of studies that now show that humor indicates creativity and ability to get to a better solution more quickly, and it is, indeed, a better solution.  I don’t know about you, but I’d like a law firm that’s going to win, and part of why it’s going to win is because it’s creative. So happiness is not an emotion that should be underestimated. 



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