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7 Min Read

Emotional Rescue


  • Engagement drives people to advocate for your cause, and go the extra mile.
  • Engaged communications fulfill an emotional need and are key to improving relationships.
  • Identifying the emotional need your brand meets allows you to move your audience.

The Heart of Brand Relationships

Emotion drives decisions. It dictates how likely people are to recommend a brand or share a story. Emotions are what drive employees and volunteers to deliver an extraordinary brand experience. Understanding the importance of emotional appeal in these relationships allows us to deepen them.

It’s likely you have your own anecdotal evidence to support this. It should come as little surprise that your hunch is echoed by others.

In a recent article in Nonprofit Quarterly, consultant Simone Joyaux articulates what is likely a familiar refrain: “It’s not the asking that fatigues me. I’m tired of insufficient love from you.”[1]

The nonprofits she describes are making some tactical mistakes, but she clearly places more emphasis on the emotional component of her relationship with the organizations.

The Secret Ingredient

Let’s look back at Simone Joyaux not feeling “love.” By telling us what she isn’t getting, she’s revealing an emotional need – one not currently being met.

[pullquote1 align=”center” variation=”deepblue”]In the fulfillment of [an] emotional need… brands and organizations find the essence of their relationship with the people they’re trying to reach.[/pullquote1]

What drives people to advocate for your cause and share your story? What makes a person do or give more, both in amount and frequency? What makes employees go the extra mile?

The answer, in all three cases, is Engagement.

Engagement is something we all want more of. However, for most of us, it remains either too broad or too narrow, and that prevents us from achieving the outcomes described above.

Most of us in communications hear the word “Engagement” and think of its dictionary definition – a nebulous state of being where people are somehow involved or occupied by a particular activity or idea. In this sense, Engagement becomes difficult to measure, which, in turn, makes it nearly impossible to scale strategically.

Another challenge with the traditional meanings of the word “Engagement” is that they tend to focus on the result, not the cause.

Here’s an example: a donation is evidence of an engaged donor, but not everyone who gives your organization money is engaged with your brand. If you equate donations with Engagement, you may not be on course to discover what causes Engagement. Again, your efforts to demonstrably increase Engagement may face challenges.


We need a better way to think about Engagement, one more directly tied to the fulfillment of an individual’s emotional need.

Why Is Redefining Engagement so Important?

Gallup recently released a study called The State of the American Consumer (you can download it for free here). A key finding of this study is that Fully Engaged [audience members], that is, those who report the highest level of emotional connection to a brand… [are] far more likely to advocate on behalf of that brand [2].

Engagement – the fulfillment of an emotional need – is the key to improving relationships with every audience your organization has, both internal and external.

Another benefit of looking at Engagement in this way is that it allows us to see that an individual’s Engagement level falls along a continuum, which provides a basis for improving Engagement with your organization.

The Engagement Spectrum

The Gallup Study, while focused on the consumer segment, raises some interesting and useful points that can apply to all audiences your organization serves – from donors, to volunteers, to employees. One such insight is that no matter what the industry, no matter what size the company or organization, people fall into one of three categories: Negatively Engaged (or Actively Disengaged), Neutrally Engaged, and Fully Engaged.

Someone who is Negatively Engaged, be they a donor or employee, more or less resents their relationship with a brand. While this isn’t the audience you want to cultivate, you shouldn’t ignore them. Negatively Engaged consumers, for example, will tell an average of 22 people about their experience (compared to the 9 people someone who had a positive experience will share with).[3]

[pullquote1 align=”center” variation=”deepblue”]Fully Engaged consumers are loyal, valuable, and eager to share your story with friends, family, and even strangers.[/pullquote1]

If you’re listening, Negatively Engaged people can be an excellent source of feedback on the experience you’re providing. You might not win them over, but you can learn from them.

Fully Engaged customers, on the other hand, have a strong emotional attachment to a brand, organization, product, or cause. This is the group for whom a brand’s promise (i.e., it’s “answer” to a consumer’s emotional need) is being delivered most completely and most consistently. They do more. And Fully Engaged customers are also the primary source of word-of-mouth promotion – they advocate for the brands they love. Fully Engaged consumers are loyal, valuable, and eager to share your story with friends, family, and even strangers. They’re the ones who wear the t-shirt.

The final group, Neutrally Engaged, represents the bulk of consumers. These are the people a brand has gotten in the door with through inbound marketing efforts. They’ve converted by making an initial purchase (or donation), but have yet to establish a strong emotional bond with the brand. The result: they’re still looking, even if passively, for something that does fulfill their emotional need.

Your Greatest Engagement Opportunity

Whether you work in the social sector or at a car manufacturer, most of the people you interact with fall into the Neutrally Engaged group. These are people who already have some affinity for your brand, but for whom you have yet to solidify the relationship.

Grouping people according to their level of Engagement allows you to pinpoint what your Fully Engaged constituents have in common. You can identify the emotional need your brand is meeting for them. Then you can turn your attention to providing that same experience to anyone who is Neutrally Engaged, moving them along the Engagement spectrum.

In this way you can find more of your best (i.e., Fully Engaged) evangelists, donors, employees, and volunteers by showing some “love” to the people who already like you. The Rolling Stones get it. It’s called their fan club.

Edward Baldwin is a Co-Founder and Strategist at Recurve Services. Follow him on Twitter @EdwardBBaldwin


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