Our emotions are powerful drivers in our decision-making. But to fully leverage and harness the power of emotion in our marketing and communications, we need to think beyond the explicit gut reactions customers have with our content. Thanks to behavioral science, it pinpoints more subtle ways that emotions can impact their preference, decisions, and actions and ultimately highlight the steps we need to take to make the most of it.

In this series we will unpack the science and application of how emotions can play a role in helping marketers and communications earn (and keep) their audiences’ attention, influence their understanding and preference, and motivate them to act. To do this, we’ve asked for perspectives from Kathleen Starr, Ph.D (our lead behavioral scientist) and Lisa Westhafer (VP, CX Strategy) who works on frontlines of solving clients’ business challenges by pulling behavioral science through into innovative solutions.


From a behavioral perspective earning attention involves more than getting noticed, it involves setting the audience up to take in and process the valuable information we want to communicate. To do this, it is first critical to understand the key role emotions play in how we process information. Emotions present the rational mind with immediate intel about the world. They are constantly sending subtle nudges, sometimes referred to as signals, like “this is bad and could be potentially dangerous” or “this is nice and could be comforting”.  

Emotions are the basis of those ‘gut’ instincts that we tend to rely on when we try to make sense of information. They are an efficient workaround to our limited bandwidth and play a role in how we remember information.

This helps explain why how we present information is just as important as what we say.At a ‘gut’ level we tend to be drawn in by information or experiences that:

  • Feel natural or intuitive and align to what we are expecting.
  • Are ‘personalized’ and relevant because they signal familiarity and security. These emotions are also why nostalgia easily hooks us.
  • Are simple - they signal that we won’t be frustrated. In contrast, our gut reaction often tells us to avoid the complex because we dread having to think too much.
  • Tell us what’s likely to happen so we can worry less about making wrong decisions.


The most critical time to gain a customer’s attention, is the moment they begin to interact with your brand. And when we think about “disruptive” activation tactics in marketing campaigns, the best way to earn the attention of an audience doesn’t actually “disrupt” them at all.  Instead, they should create experiences that seamlessly integrate into an audience’s life and gently nudge them into new mindsets that support positive changes in behavior while guiding them to content and solutions that are most relevant to them.

One of the best examples of this is around the rise of Conversational AI.  You might know them best as “chatbots”, those helpful virtual assistants that have evolved into an extension of customer service centers and business development representatives.  Through proactive and direct connection to the content most relevant to an audience, Conversational AI naturally creates an experience that feels personalized from the very beginning. This not only initially grabs an audience’s attention by providing immediate access to the information they are looking for, but also helps develop trust over time as they know what to expect and how the assistant can help solve their problems.

A great example of this in the real-world is from Dupixent, a prescription medicine for arthritis. They use their own person virtual assistant “PIXI” to “disrupt” the standard website navigation process and provide direct access to the most important content on the website, while also setting expectations through a Q&A lead decision tree to show what the assistant can do to support the visitor with the option to connect directly to a live customer service agent.  This ensures all audiences feel supported in the way they prefer as soon as they visit the website and simplifies the information-gathering experience through a self-service environment along the way.

Scan the QR code below to meet PIXI:

From a B2B perspective, Conversational AI can act as a Business Development Representative for small field teams by helping to both qualify and warm leads for sales contact.When designed with a customer-centric approach, other platforms like Drift and Intercom can integrate with sales software such as Veeva and Salesforce to help manage the sales process, with everything from links to on-demand content to call scheduling – those crucial initial steps involved to connecting with an audience. This sets the stage for full-funnel lead generation and nurturing through marketing automation to deliver personalized content for an audience’s specific needs which can help to ensure to get their attention and sustain it over time.

About the Author:

Kathleen Starr, PhD, is the Managing Director, Behavioral Science & Insights at Syneos Health.

With a 10 year background in CPG program planning and execution, including 6 years on Unilever as a CX & CRM Center of Excellence lead, Lisa brings advanced digital experience to healthcare. For the past year at GSW, Lisa has worked as a lead engagement strategist to develop groundbreaking innovations for clients, including conversational marketing automation strategies and the launch of the highly successful Edwards LifeSciences Virtual Assistant (Chatbot).