Heart sketch

Speak heart to heart

To break through to everyone in your audience, use Message Maps to simplify your message.

Your messages are most powerful when you speak heart to heart. That’s because people make most decisions emotionally – including buying decisions – whether or not they recognize that.

Serving up facts and reasons alone won’t change people’s minds. Marketing messages must provoke emotional responses from your audience.

Your main message should always be audience centric. Answer people’s first question first, What’s in it for me? Your answer to that question is your main message, the center of your Message Map – the one thing you want to be known for.

Recent research makes clear that the best way to answer What’s in it for me? is to provide an emotional answer. When your main message triggers emotion, it leads to your audience to take action.

In 2024 we’re evolving our Message Map template to put emotion even more clearly at the center of every message.

Past Message Maps started at the center with home or home base. Future Message Maps start at the center with the heart of your message. Here’s how that evolution looks:

Our Message Map template is evolving. The center of a message will be called heart, rather than home.

The elements of the Message Map remain the same, but what we called home will be called heart. Why? Because we want you to always remember to build heart into your message, to move people to action with emotion.

Emotional messages build bonds

Human brains process emotions faster than rational thoughts. That’s true even when your audience consists of the most educated, sophisticated industry experts.

“For communication the first thing to do is to play into the emotional brain rather than the rational brain. That’s the fundamental premise when it comes to neuroscience and communication,” says Baba Shiv, a Stanford marketing professor.

“Something like 90 to 95% of our decisions and behaviors are constantly being shaped non-consciously by the emotional brain system.”

In Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking Fast and Slow, he names two ways of thinking — System 1 and System 2. People make 95% of decisions by intuition and instinct, using System 1, he found. Only about 5% of decisions result from rational System 2 thinking.

People make 95% of their decisions based on intuition, instinct and emotional impulse. Your message needs to appeal to intuitive System 1 thinking.

Yet business-to-business marketing messages often lead with rationales, facts and figures. No wonder they often fail to persuade.

People make most decisions intuitively, by instinct, emotionally rather than logically.

Putting emotions first helps humans think, says Frances X. Frei of Harvard Business School. “Emotions are underused,” she says. “Emotion is like sanding we can paint on top of.”

That’s why we’re evolving Message Maps to focus first on the heart of your message.

Connect people with heart

Messages succeed when they connect with people’s emotions. The stickiest messages evoke emotional responses – by creating curiosity, provoking fear, injecting a surprise or inspiring awe.

When we invented Message Maps back in the 1980s, Tripp Frohlichstein and I had one job to do: to prepare company spokespersons for news interviews. We needed spokespersons to get one point across in 7 seconds or 23 words, the average length of a news sound bite.

Message Maps were inspired by airline route maps. On an airline map, you can find your way home, even when you need a connecting flight. With Message Maps, we trained spokespersons to find their way back to the main message – which we called home base.

In the 1990s Message Maps evolved to fit the needs of other disciplines across marketing and communications. We also started doing more work with clients in other countries. Since people outside the U.S. don’t know that home base refers to baseball, we simplified home base to home.

Now, when we help marketers map a message, we see more and more need to remind them that marketing messages must evoke emotion rather than state facts. That’s why we’re evolving the central message in a Message Map from a home to a heart.

Everything we have said about home base and home remains true for the heart of your message. As Tripp said, “Make sure there’s an emotional impact … We all make decisions based on emotions.”

To persuade, touch hearts

Even in the most specialized technical fields and B2B businesses, the facts don’t speak for themselves. The numbers never tell the whole story.

The hard truth about humans is: facts and reasons don’t change people’s minds.

That’s because human brains take a shortcut called confirmation bias. People tend to support what they already know and reject information that contradicts their existing beliefs. This bias is one of the reasons that it’s so hard to change people’s minds.

Emotions and stories work around confirmation bias, to trigger a customer’s change of heart.

While facts and reasons can lead people to rational conclusions, stories and emotions drive people to act. Ultimately, action is what your marketing message needs to deliver.

We believe that your message with heart will get you much farther than any set of brainy facts. That’s why we encourage you to build emotion into the heart of your message. Follow your heart, and your message will break through.