Cognitive science acknowledges the powerful role that emotions play in shaping our understanding, our ways of thinking, the decisions we make, and the habits we adopt. In fact, if logic and emotion are at odds, most people act on their feelings when making a decision. Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio proved how critical emotions are to decision making several years ago in a groundbreaking study. He found that all of the subjects in his study — people who had damage in the amygdala, the area of the brain where emotions are generated — shared an inability to make decisions, even simple everyday ones.
Despite this fact, event marketers have spent years trying to convince prospects to make the decision to attend their events by inundating them with logic. We have a natural tendency to deluge our prospects with facts and figures — the number of square feet an exhibition covers, the number of sessions being offered at the conference, the number of different countries attendees traveled from, etc.
Savvy business-to-business marketers, however, are starting to pivot, understanding that they aren’t marketing to businesses at all — they’re marketing to people. These marketers are performing more qualitative research, including persona development, to understand the underlying motivations that drive behavior. By identifying key emotional triggers — from a fear of missing out, to a genuine passion for a profession, to a desire to be a part of a community — event marketers can make a more compelling case for participation.
This process all starts with empathy. Essentially, empathy is characterized by recognizing other people’s feelings and demonstrating that you understand what they are going through and why. Furthermore, it involves offering an appropriate next step in reaction to the emotion.
As an example, think about an industry that is in the midst of significant transformation because of consolidation, changing consumer trends, increased regulatory pressures, rapid technological innovation, or any other disrupting factor. Empathize with what the professionals within that industry could be feeling — fear, uncertainty, a strong desire to adapt and stay relevant — and how an event could address those concerns by facilitating connections, showcasing relevant solutions, and providing timely information. Finally, consider how a messaging strategy could be built around what you learn from this process of empathizing — and ditch (or at least de-emphasize) the laundry list of metrics by which event organizers measure their own success.
Event professionals can apply basic principles of EQ not only to build a promotional messaging strategy, but also in their interactions with a variety of stakeholders over myriad media channels every day. For example, let’s say an exhibitor is unhappy with the number of leads acquired at your event. Instead of fixating on their unreasonable expectations, you compassionately listen and learn that they are a mom-and-pop operation that spent their personal savings to finance their presence at your event.
With this perspective, it’s likely that you can better exercise diplomacy and conflict-resolution skills. The same holds true for how you react on social media. Are you quick to delete negative comments or offer a contradictory retort? If so, try adapting your approach to be a better listener and communicate in a way that will build trust, goodwill, and positive sentiments with existing and future attendees. Good social media requires EQ to execute.
Just as EQ can be applied to marketing communications, it can — and should — be applied to the management of a marketing team as well as colleagues working with that team. Much like the hypothetical industry mentioned above, today’s marketing landscape is constantly evolving and disrupting itself. As such, we must create an environment in which our team members feel comfortable being uncomfortable. They have to feel safe so that they ask for help or mentorship when they need it, take risks, fail on occasion, and admit when they don’t know how to do something.
If they see a leadership team with an aversion to risk or driven by a fear of failure, it’s likely that they will stop trying to innovate and experiment with new ways of doing things. On the other hand, emotionally intelligent leaders will build a space in which employees feel trusted and motivated to venture into unknown territory to build their skillset. In short, EQ requires us to be mindful of the effect we have on others.
The more we understand what’s happening in our industries, with our team members, and in the hearts and minds of our target audiences, the better marketers we will be.