Make sure you consider their emotional level, and meet them at least halfway there.

Long ago (but not so far away) I worked at a mental hospital while I was finishing college. And I loved it – the job was incredibly interesting and challenging. Endless variety every day, and a lifetime of great stories.

Of course, I learned a lot of things doing that job that I still use today, one being the concept of “emotional levels.”

The core idea is very simple: if someone’s emotions are very strong (they’re very upset, frightened, or even deliriously happy) then it’s very difficult for them to pay any attention to weaker emotions.

Makes sense in theory, right? In practice, it’s a little more difficult.

For example, if someone is shouting and cursing angrily, the “normal” response is to speak very quietly and calmly, with very quiet body language. There are times that’s useful, but if quiet isn’t getting through, you may have to turn up the emotional level just so they can hear you.

Person-to-person, you might speak almost as loudly, use “loud” body language, and maybe even similar language. (“Holy %$#@ Bob, that really stinks! No wonder you’re %$#@!ed off. Let’s go talk about this…”). Then you have their attention and you can start to lead them back down to a lower level. It’s a little counter-intuitive, and can be startling to see in action, but it can work wonders.

The same technique applies to any form of communication, including writing marketing copy.

If you want to get attention and persuade anyone to do anything, make sure you consider their emotional level, and meet them at least halfway there.

For example, if someone is buying a new car, they’re at a pretty high emotional level — it’s a lot of money and there are some frustrations, but choosing and driving a new car is also a lot of fun. If you’re marketing car loans, an web banner or email with a giant rate is just plain boring. Amp it up with bright colors, humor, interesting imagery, or a bold statement.

Figure out why your target audience might be happy, angry, anxious, or bursting with pride, and escalate to their emotional level.

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