Science shows that the personal attachment style of your target audience affects their response to your marketing messages.

We all know that social media is necessary in marketing. So much so, we believe, that we use social selling as a standard means of finding new customers and influencing the ones we already have and have created an entire culture of digital influencers to help us in that effort. 

Supporting this approach is the underlying belief, by marketers, that people respond to social information and are persuaded by social pressure. But what if, some people didn’t? What if anywhere between a quarter to a third of those you’re targeting are unlikely to respond to your messaging? How would that change your social media marketing strategy? 

To understand how to market more effectively in the digital age we, perversely, need to understand people better. Stripped of the constraints applied by real-life contact and a real-life presence the digital realm amplifies human behavioral traits[1] to the point where everything there happens in a significantly amped fashion. 

The significance of this to your marketing efforts becomes clear when we deconstruct, within broad lines, how people become who they are. 

People Are Built From The Ground Up

Our first experience of the word comes from the caregivers, and he environment, we are exposed to in our first two years of life. They play a key role in the attachment style we develop. Attachment style is how we learn to relate to other people. It is this which then dictates how we behave in order to have our needs met

Attachment theory suggests that the spectrum of human behavior oscillates from a secure attachment on one end to an anxious one at the other. Because our attachment style controls so much of our behavior it affects our ability to regulate our emotions which then directly affects our perception of the information we receive through our senses, from the world around us. 

All of which now brings us to marketing and marketing messages. A social media marketing campaign is intended to persuade people to take the action we want them to take and to achieve that we rely, mostly, on triggering an emotional response that will lead to the outcome we expect. 

Because every decision we make is emotional anything that dumps down that response reduces the effectiveness of our marketing message. 

A new study[2] suggests that people with an avoidant attachment style (which could be up to 30% globally) habitually suppress their emotional response to social stimuli and, therefore, fail to respond to what marketers are telling them. 

The Eyes Tell All

The study used a version of the Voight-Kampff test popularized by the classic sci-fit hit, Bladerunner where a number of emotionally triggering contexts are presented to a subject while measuring pupil response in the eye. (See video below) 

The study’s authors noted that: “contrary to expectations, higher levels of attachment anxiety were not linked to increased pupillary responses to scenes of violence, etc. By contrast, the higher a participant’s level of attachment avoidance, the smaller his or her response to social content in general (with the exception of erotica).”

In other words, people who habitually suppress their emotional response to emotional triggers also fail to respond to marketing messages. Interestingly enough this was only those study participants who exhibited an avoidance attachment style in their behavior and not an anxious attachment style. All of the different styles of attachment studied, exhibited an emotional response to erotica (which is why the “Sex Sells” marketing mantra is not going any time soon despite studies[3] that show the real picture is a lot more nuanced than that and sexually suggestive content in advertising can easily backfire.  

The part of your audience that has an avoidant attachment style will exhibit cognitive bias[4] towards emotional triggers and will require facts and solid data to make a decision. 

Tailor Social Media Campaigns To Match Audience Attachment Styles

What we learn from this is that the trend towards narrative-style advertising and marketing that focuses on feelings over facts may work only on specific products and services and only with two-thirds of the target audience. The rest will require a more data-centric approach even if the storytelling style of marketing is not ditched. The "cover all the bases" marketing strategy then works best provided the right balance is struck and yes, that includes those products that use a sexualized message to catch and hold our attention.  

So, to recap: 

  • Data matters. So do facts. Ignoring them in your marketing messaging may alienate up to a third of your audience.
  • Emotional triggers shouldn’t be over-used. The social web amplifies everything, both the good and the bad as the Bud Light Controversy proves.
  • Sex captures everyone’s attention but doesn’t always sell. A judicious approach that takes into account modern, ever-evolving sensibilities is best.

Research Sources


Go Deeper: 

Intentional book by David Amerland The Sniper Mind by David Amerland
Take Control Of Your Actions.    Make Better Decisions.

You can read a sample of The Sniper Mind chapter here.

Get Intentional on Audible.