My friend Gina is not a “car chick.” Her head doesn’t turn for an Audi, Porsche or Mercedes S-class. She’s been driving the same mom-van for more than a decade.

For her, cars are just a way to get from one place to another.

Then last week, she floored me with this comment, “I really want a Tesla. I’m going to buy one when I get my bonus this year.”


The funny thing is, I’ve found out that Gina is not alone in her Tesla-mania. Business Insider reported on a study of Tesla owners:

“What we can glean from this is that Tesla is indeed special — so special that buyers are willing to pay substantially more for the privilege of Tesla ownership than to park a traditional car in the driveway.”

“On average, owners were willing to pay 60% more for a Tesla…” [Yahoo News]

Why would a woman who doesn’t care about cars suddenly long for a particular model vehicle?

And, um, pay 60% more?!

Aren’t we all practical, rational humans who buy the best product at the best price?

I’ve got three words for you: emotional hot buttons. 

What are emotional hot buttons?

Those factors that hit us right in the feels (whether we admit it or not.) They make us die to have one thing, and totally abhor another.

There are certain emotional hot buttons that when triggered will force people to take some kind of action. Hot buttons make us buy, listen to, read, or follow certain things and people, but not others.

When your hot buttons are hit, the response you feel is pure emotion.

Logic goes out the window (no matter what you tell yourself!)

Do I buy that darling Kate Spade New York Cherie Three-Quarter-Sleeve Coat because I’m cold?

No. A stuffed Hefty sack would solve that practical problem.

I buy it because emotionally, I think it will make me chic, sparkling, vibrant and a little madcap.

Me in that coat = Audrey Hepburn in Charade.

Connect to their emotional hot buttons

Your audience – whether it’s a group of professionals listening to you speak, the staff you lead at the office or your kids’ hockey team – is driven by desire, too.

And when you can connect your message to their emotional hot buttons, you’ll motivate them to listen to you, follow you and join your

Exactly which hot buttons hook you the most varies from person to person, but there are some generally universal triggers.

Author and marketer Barry Feig has identified 16 hot buttons in Hot Button Marketing: Push the Emotional Buttons That Get People to Buy:

  • desire for control
  • I’m better than you
  • excitement of discovery
  • revaluing
  • family values
  • desire to belong
  • fun is its own reward
  • poverty of time
  • desire to get the best
  • self-achievement
  • sex/love/romance
  • nurturing response
  • reinventing oneself
  • make me smarter
  • power/dominance/influence
  • wish fulfillment

I’ll add a few variations that I’ve seen from my clients:

  • desire to be known for something
  • to leave a legacy
  • to effect change

As Barry says, “Consumers buy from emotions they’re not even aware of…. Hot buttons are the keys to the psyches of your customers.”

For my friend Gina, the idea of owning a Tesla is 100% emotional hot button driven.

But what does this have to do with you?

When you’re selling something, don’t just rely on the old standbys to motivate. Making more money, saving money, or having the most features can be powerful for rational decisions, but hitting an emotional hot button or two will ignite desire, which overrides rationality.

Emotional drivers

Let’s say you’re a coach or consultant to small business owners. You could focus your appeal on how you can help small business owners make more money. (And that’s what most coach-sultants do.)

But if you pay attention to your prospective client’s hot buttons, you might find out that one of his major emotional drivers is Desire for Control.

Here’s what that looks like:

He started his business to have more control than in his corporate job, but instead he spends his days in reaction mode, his mood and self-esteem battered by the latest high or low in his business.

His staff gets along one day, and squabbles the next.

Orders are up (yay!) Orders are down (arghh!)

If you, the small business coach, can show him how working with you will create the control he’s after, he’ll be hooked.

Do people have just one emotional hot button?

Nope, people can have multiple hot buttons that motivate them to buy something or take action.

Let’s say you look around our small business owner’s office and see picture after picture of his wife, kids and extended family.

You notice a toddler seat in his car.

A clearly “handcrafted” clay pencil holder on the desk.

Clearly, a strong candidate for the Family Values hot button.

During your conversation, you can paint a picture of the psychic rewards of family togetherness that he’ll enjoy once he starts working with you.

Gotta team? Hit ‘em in the hot buttons

If you manage a team, you can retain your best employees by combining both external rewards, like public kudos, bonuses and raises, with internal rewards like new challenges. (Boom! I’m Better than You and Self-Achievement hot buttons.)

Become an emotional hot button detective

Ask your audience (whether it’s your staff, a prospect, or an actual audience) questions to uncover some of their emotional hot buttons. Notice when their eyes light up and when they glaze over.

Weave some emotional hot buttons into your marketing.

Sprinkle them into your conversations with your team, for motivation.

Spark those desires in your presentations or talks.

Your fame boosting assignment

This week, hone your emotional hot button-finding skills.

There’s one dead-simple way to do this. When you find yourself in a selling situation – whether it’s selling an idea, a message, a service or a next step – try to uncover at least one emotional hot button.

Whip out the easiest, cheapest research tool available:

Asking “why?

Boom! 100% chance of awesome.


  1. Kathy on June 30, 2015 at 8:51 am

    Great article Lori! It’s so interesting to know what makes people tick, we are such emotional and feeling beings whether we are really aware of it or not!

  2. Lilia Lee on June 30, 2015 at 6:35 pm

    Another great article. There are so many things to digest that I am still chewing on the tidbits.

  3. What a great article. The content seems simple, and yet can be so complex and profound. This helps greatly in targeting my message better for my prospective fertility clients, thank you!

  4. Frances Arnold on July 6, 2015 at 10:54 pm

    Great post, Lori. This could be a mini-course that you create and take people through to craft more compelling campaigns. It’s something that would be fun to work together in a group. If you want to create a program on this, let me know! Send me a message when you’re putting your pilot together! =)

  5. Sarah on July 7, 2015 at 6:53 pm

    This is great information, but I love the simplicity of the fame boosting assignment. It’s an easy way to do this in conversation with prospects without feeling pushy or manipulative. Making an emotional connection can be both enjoyable and effective!

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