Finding the Right Emotional Language Can Be Taxing

April 15 marks the culmination of tax season. And while dreams of substantial returns bring smiles to the faces of some, the nightmare of coughing up hefty payments can bring others to tears. Automative persuasive language generator Persado analyzed how tax industry marketers conveyed these emotions through language and whether their efforts delivered a profitable return this season.

To conduct the research, Persado reviewed email subject lines and display ads that TurboTax, TaxACT, and H&R Block generated in February and March of this year. Using its platform, Persado analyzed the language that tax software providers used to persuade consumers to take a particular action (such as click through, open, or convert). The company then looked at which of its 19 categories of emotion the language fell into.

The results? Let’s just hope that these marketers got more back on their own returns.

“What we found is that none of our top-performing emotions for financial services types of brands were included in any of the promotions that were analyzed from these three companies,” says Julia Spano, Persado’s director of marketing. “Exclusivity is an emotion that’s actually one of our highest performing emotional values relating to the financial services industry and that was obviously missing from all of the promotions that were used for both the display and subject lines. Anxiety and gratitude are other ones that typically perform very well in the financial services sector. Because we saw other ones, such as urgency, being prominent it just goes to show that not only are these other companies not aware of the categorization, but they’re also not aware of the actual impact using the right emotions [can have] on the engagement of their company.”

So, which emotional categories did tax industry marketers choose to invest in this year? Celebration and encouragement were two emotions that TaxACT used this tax season—its display ads featured messages such as “Celebrate Free! Totally free federal returns” and “Mama says, ‘You got this.’” According to Persado, both of these emotions ranked in the bottom three out of 19 plausible emotions TaxACT marketers could have used to drive click-throughs or conversions.

TaxACT’s email subject lines were also a flop, according to Persado. The brand used urgency in its messaging, such as by creating a “Time Is Running Out…” subject line; however, this tactic ranked 5% under the industry average in terms of opens and clicks.

TurboTax’s engagement wasn’t much better. In addition to using encouragement and urgency, TurboTax incorporated gratification in its display ads, such as in the following example: “Get your biggest refund fast. Don’t wait! You can start today.” But overall, TurboTax used emotions that ranked among the bottom 10, according to Persado.

But it was H&R Block that had the most profitable tax season. The company leveraged gratitude in its subject line “Thanks for starting your taxes with…” Although, using gratitude-based messaging only produced a 0.09% lift above industry average for subject lines designed to drive opens and clicks, according to Persado. 

Even though it may be too late for these tax software providers to change their emotional language strategies this season, marketers in other sectors can learn from their mistakes. For instance, Spano says that it’s important for marketers to vary their emotional language and try to  come up with different ways to convey a message.

“By limiting yourself to specific types of emotions in your campaign, you’re actually limiting the impact that you have and the effect that you have on customer engagement,” she says. 

But the biggest mistake that marketers make when it comes to emotional language is not even thinking about it in the first place, argues David Atlas, Persado’s CMO. And no financial services organizations seems to lack this emotional luster more than the IRS—producing messages like “File Your Return,” “Get Your Refund Status,” “Pay Your Tax Bill.”

“It is basically as dry as possible,” he says.

Atlas encourages marketers to be thoughtful when it comes their messages, test out different variants, and let the response rates do the talking. “Obviously, the key thing is to recognize that the act of copywriting need not be random and it need not be something [where] you can swap an A and a B based on a guess,” he says. 

File that under advice to keep in mind for next year. 

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