Content Marketing Conversations: Strategist Shira Abel’s Endorphin Hack for Marketers

Christel van der Boom / October 26, 2017

Marketers don’t usually think about neurochemicals. But Shira Abel, CEO of marketing and design firm Hunter & Bard, thinks that’s a missed opportunity: She wants marketers to know more about what dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins trigger in people’s brains.

Why? Tickling the right neurochemicals at the right time is a way to increase engagement.

Abel has studied how the composition of particular messages, and even the tone of one’s voice, can trigger the release of these chemicals. During her presentation at Content Marketing World, Content & Motivation: Understanding Your User, she gave a crash course in what six, fundamental neurochemicals do—and how to trigger them:

  • Serotonin contributes to overall well being. It’s related to status and it’s released when we’re feeling special or proud. Praise someone or make them feel smart, and it’s released. Likewise,, a reward that shows off your knowledge or status—a verification icon on your social media profile, say—creates more loyalty than a monetary reward.
  • Cortisol is a stress hormone. It can interfere with learning and memory and prevents your body from producing serotonin. One way cortisol can get triggered is by a confusing product experience, which is important knowledge for anyone in customer support.
  • Endorphins make you feel happy and can cut off cortisol. They’re what you feel after a workout, or when you’re laughing. In other words: humor can be a powerful tool to put people in the right mindset for your message.
  • Norepinephrine is the chemical for tension; it’s what you feel when you’re nervous. To get someone’s attention it can be useful to trigger this chemical, especially if you follow it up with an action that releases endorphins.
  • Dopamine is what you get from achievement, as well as unpredictable rewards. An email you weren’t expecting, or a “like” on social media, can trigger it. It’s also activated by phone notifications, which helps feed people’s addiction to mobile devices.
  • Oxytocin is also known as the “mommy chemical,” or the “cuddle chemical.” It’s what you experience when you feel a sense of belonging, and it creates trust. Oxytocin explains why we see so many puppies and other cute animals in ads, and why companies invest in corporate social responsibility programs.

Abel used her own insights about the impact of chemicals on our bodies to be more effective during her presentation. She started by having everyone in the audience raise their arms for two minutes—to get them to pay attention. Why did that work?

The request itself was a little annoying to most people, which means that norepinephrine was released into their bodies. Raising one’s arms for two minutes is a small workout that produces endorphins (unless you’re a trained athlete and two minutes is not enough to get a burn). The combination of norepinephrine and endorphin was a potent cocktail that got the audience’s attention.

Abel participated in the exercise herself to help her calm her nerves. Before her talk she was nervous, which means cortisol was in her body—that was offset by the endorphins created by the workout.

Our Head of Curation, Mia Quagliarello, sat down with Abel for an interview on the Flipboard red couch about chemicals, hormones and brain hacks that can make marketers more effective. You can watch it here.

~Christel van der Boom is reading Emotional Intelligence