5 Emotional Marketing Triggers for Educational Events and Programs

The target audiences for your educational programs and events are overwhelmed with marketing messages in their inboxes, on their social platforms, and in their media streams. How do you capture their attention amidst all this competition? 

Science says our brains make purchasing decisions based on emotions, not logic. I know, I thought I was smarter than that too, but this is human nature. When planning a marketing campaign for an educational program or event, figure out what emotional marketing triggers will push someone’s buttons—in a nice way, of course. 

5 emotional marketing triggers for your association’s education programs and events

The inspiration for this post came from a list of event registration levers published by Julius Solaris of Boldpush. Besides his fascinating LinkedIn posts, Julius has an excellent newsletter too. 

You can use his emotional levers and the emotional triggers below for all audiences and programs: 

•    In-person and virtual events
•    Onetime commitments like webinars and lengthy commitments like online courses and cohort programs
•    Free programs like Ask Me Anythings and expensive programs like annual conferences

#1: Social proof and identity

When someone sees a group of people doing something, they’re more likely to follow—that’s the logic behind social proof. It’s why most people trust recommendations or advice from peers and influencers.

Another behavioral science concept to keep in mind when writing marketing messages is social identity. That’s when someone thinks, “People like me (or people whom I admire) participate in programs like this.” FOMO (fear of missing out) is effective because of the social identify principle. 

Put social proof to work by displaying a list of registered attendees. Even more persuasive: share video testimonials from program alumni, past attendees, and people who have registered for your program. 

Two-thirds of consumers are more likely to buy something after watching a testimonial video. User-generated video consultants Gather Voices said, “The best messenger to tell your audience about value are their peers. People no longer trust marketing content and so you need to lift up the voices of your attendees, sponsors, and speakers.”

Ask video creators or guests to talk about the value they’ve gained in the past or hope to gain, how the experience made them feel, and why they’re excited to attend. Encourage them to talk about connecting with others and developing relationships—the biggest reason people join associations and attend events. 

Gather Voices said, “Having attendees talk about why they are attending… will have much more impact on your audience than anything your marketing team could write up.”

#2: Belonging

Everyone wants to belong to a community, even Albert Einstein. He said, “Although I am a typical loner in my daily life, my awareness of belonging to the invisible community of those who strive for truth, beauty, and justice has prevented me from feelings of isolation.” 

Communities are good for mental health—something to remember when developing marketing messages for membership and programs. We have a deep human need for belonging, especially when traditional structures, like civic and religious organizations, are no longer of interest for many. Remote work exacerbates this feeling of lack. Maybe this is why political affiliation has become so important for many. 

Seth Godin wrote an entire book about the need to find our tribe. Humans are tribal in nature. We need to feel like we're part of a community. When we do, we feel safer. 

Associations are natural facilitators of communities. Some people in your audience reconnect with their community at your events. Others hope to find a community. Be careful that your marketing messages don’t assume everyone already feels like part of a community. Segment first-timers and inactive members so they receive appropriate messaging.

Focus on the opportunity to meet other people: to connect and reconnect, form and deepen relationships, find your tribe, and feel like part of something bigger.

Stoke the desire for community with pre-event virtual meetups for event registrants. Encourage people who have participated in online cohort programs, synchronous courses, or webinar chat rooms to take advantage of the opportunity to meet fellow attendees again or in real life.

Offer event elements that cater to the desire for connection and belonging:

•    Structured networking sessions
•    Virtual chat rooms, breakout rooms, and lounges
•    Conference buddies
•    Individual member matching—many event apps have this feature
•    Group mentoring or coaching
•    “Birds of a feather” meal and snack tables

emotional marketing triggers at work with a man staring intently at his computer screen


WIIFM (or What’s In It For Me) is not just fun to say, it’s the first thing to think about when developing marketing copy. Although emotions reign, the logical mind is still churning away in the background. Always connect emotional messages to a valuable outcome for your targeted audience.

How can they benefit from belonging and community? They know how it makes them feel, but how can it benefit them professionally and personally?

In your marketing, talk about career goals and aspirations. Describe how the program:

•    Enhances personal growth
•    Improves their reputation and personal branding
•    Gives them a chance to meet potential mentors (or employers) and learn about new opportunities
•    Exposes them to different perspectives and ideas

Participants can share their expertise or ideas in structured networking settings, where they can have their opinions and knowledge validated, make a difference, and get a chance to “be someone.”

Personalize emails so the ROI you promise is relevant. You can only do that if you understand the typical aspirations of member and market segments. How? Ask them. Schedule random individual calls and emails, focus groups, and virtual lunch and coffee chats. 

#4: Fun

At a chapter committee meeting, I heard a member ask, “Instead of always scheduling education programs, why can’t we have fun events like we used to, where we just hang out and have a good time?” 

In our desire to always provide value, we forget that people also want fun. Build in time during events for fun beyond the typical reception with bar. Schedule time for field trips during the day. Include them in the registration fee. Make sure young professionals can afford to participate—or ask sponsors to subsidize them. Give attendees a chance to be social, have fun, and explore a new city.

Fun events can trigger FOMO if people don’t want to miss out on a unique experience with peers. Since it’s a onetime thing, play up the exclusivity.

Offer affordable spouse or guest rates for social events. When people get to know each other’s loved ones, it ties them even tighter to their association relationships.

Arrange with the hotel to extend the block rate to dates around the event. Work with the CVB to encourage longer stays and discounts so the trip is worth the flight.

#5: Scarcity and urgency

Recent research validates what you’ve been noticing: people are registering much later for events than they used to. Find out who’s taking advantage of early bird rates. Many associations are finding that people who would register no matter what are the ones who pay early bird rates. Offer early bird registrants an exclusive experience that later registrants can’t access. Some organizations experiment with countdown clocks and rising rates as the event approaches.  

Pushing the FOMO button could help persuade people to attend. What happens at this event or during this program that people can’t get anywhere or anytime else? What exclusive outcome do you promise? 

Emotional marketing appeals to your audience’s ego and desire to feel (and look) connected and smarter. Appeal to their self-esteem with messages that let them know, as Seth Godin says, “People like us do things like this.” 

behavioral science
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