Three Reasons Why Marketing “Triggers” Are So Effective in Today’s Digital World

By Kimball Wallace, Partner & Chief Strategist, Wallace & Washburn LLC

The confluence of the Internet, “time famine” and message bombardment has forced consumer and B2B marketers to find new ways to stand out and be noticed. Our experience is that marketing triggers, when pre-tested, offer a major opportunity, especially when embedded with emotion. Tuft’s Cognitive Neuroscientists offer some interesting new insight into a new brain function.

1. Our “Internet Brains” Now Scan for “Eye Bites”

We’ve all heard of the “sound bite,” “a short clip of speech or music extracted from a longer piece of audio, often used to promote or exemplify the full length piece,” per Wikipedia. Are you ready for the “eye bite?” It’s the next big thing in digital communications, according to Tufts University Cognitive Neuroscientists. It’s happening because we’re spending so much time with digital devices. To facilitate this behavior our brains have developed a new capacity for scanning data (including distinct words and graphics). As the chart below shows, digital behavior is up 30% in just three years. One result is it’s becoming more difficult to sit down and read a novel. The brain wants to skim it. This creates major challenges for marketers to create effective communications.

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Before the Internet was around only 80% of readers bothered to read body copy. Now it’s even worse due to skimming. Marketers need “grabber” headlines and graphics that resonate instantly whether its advertising, social media, digital assets, whatever. We first started seeing the value of triggers words in consumer marketing over 10 years ago.

2. Triggers Telegraph Messaging

Trigger words and trigger visuals work well because they can telegraph messages that resonate instantly. Here’s an example of our work helping PUR Water Filter’s agency successfully launch the brand. One glance at the “Leaded Unleaded” ad below (right) and you immediately get the message.

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We employ a three step process (DecisionSCAN) at Wallace & Washburn to uncover emotional triggers. As shown below, analysis of PUR verbatim comments revealed that “lead” was the enemy because people feared lead in their drinking water. This was the key emotional issue which would motivate current water filter users to switch, and prospects to buy. Once they knew this, the agency did a brilliant job of capturing this in award winning style. The “Leaded Unleaded” ad won kudos at advertising shows, and even more importantly, at the cash register.

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T PUR Trigger

Despite a premium price, PUR captured a 50% drug store market share in less than 12 months and was purchase by P&G. Now we’re using the same trigger process in B2B.

In educational branding it works equally well. Northeastern University has jumped to #3 nationally on applications since our research two decades ago helped them carve out a unique emotional brand position for their co-op program, “Education That Works.” Now, many schools include job internships as part of their programs.

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3. Emotional Triggers Work in B2B Too

Working with Bob Johnson, VP of Research at IDG Connect we’ve been evaluating the potential of emotional triggers in B2B for nearly two years. We’ve partnered with Bob in conducting research among over 1,000 B2B buying team members in the US and UK. ( In addition, IDG has supplemented this with over 5,000 IDG Sales Sonar surveys in twelve countries including Brazil, Switzerland, Germany, France and Qatar.

We’re discovering that emotion-based issues are extremely influential among buying team members. In fact, emotion-based goals represent up to 52% of the B2B buyer’s decision. It’s not that buyers are motivated to tears, but emotion is quite influential when considering which vendors are their pre-favorites, before the team meets, and that’s the name of the game. (

In our Cloud Security research, some of the emotional issues which concerned buying team members include: missing the implementation date, negative pushback from employees, impractical or difficult to use, fear that team members might get blamed if it doesn’t work as promised, hassles with integration, lack of sufficient vendor support, potential loss of control, unfair distribution of rewards, damage to reputations, and so forth.

Shown below are the emotional trigger words, phrases and value proposition which are considered most important among cloud security buyers, which leads to an emotionally charged value proposition.

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T Cloud Trigger

It’s not difficult for an agency to embed a few key triggers into digital assets and enhance the core messaging they’ve worked so hard to develop. For example, Bob and I applied emotional trigger word identification and use to the category of Cloud Security. Buyer pre-favorites included IBM, McAfee, Amazon Web Services, Barracuda Networks, AVG Technologies, CipherCloud, Verizon, Rackspace, Panda Security, SafeNet, CA Technologies, CloudPassage, Websense, WatchGuard, CipherCloud, FireHost, BlueHat.

A few vendors, including Barracuda Cloud (below), mentioned easy-to-use, but not in the context of emotional impact. As you can see, adding a few trigger words (red) gives “easy to use” an added, positive, emotional punch. If you would like to add punch to your communications, you might want to embed some emotion in your messaging.

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Kimball “Kim” Wallace,

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