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What role does emotion play in B2B marketing?

Posted by Scott Christopher on Tue, Jun 9, 2015 @ 10:06 AM

Why do people do the things they do? Rational thought? Emotions? Incentives? These are great questions for any marketer to ask. It seems like a natural conclusion that emotions affect people's decisions the most in the business-to-consumer (B2C) space - but what about business-to-business (B2B)? I've often said in B2B marketing it is important to remember that you're still trying to reach human beings, that think and feel just like everyone else. But given the business environment they are in, should they be marketed to in a different way?

To answer all these questions it is best to not depend on your intuition, but rather do some good ol' fashioned research. Luckily, a study like this was recently done by Google and CEB's Marketing Leadership Council, and I came across it the other day. The whitepaper "From Promotion to Emotion - Connection B2B Customers to Brands" delves into how and why B2B customers make the decisions they do - and the results are surprising. Emotional connection with a brand plays a huge role.

screen emotion resized 600

The research shows that this is true because the stakes are much higher for B2B purchases rather than B2C. Think about it: in the consumer world, if you make the wrong purchase the worst thing that could happen is you get a bad meal, or a shirt you won't ever wear. But in the B2B world, making the wrong decision could waste your time, cost you credibility with the higher ups and, in some cases, even your job. B2C purchases tend to effect only you, but that's not the case in B2B.

To show how critical emotion is in the buying process, the study used the analogy of a rider on an elephant. In the analogy, the rider is conscious, rational thought that tries to steer the elephant; but the elephant is the intuitive, below-the-surface emotional mind that has a larger sway in decision making. Knowing this, B2B marketers should reverse course and appeal more to the elephant, not the rider.


To make this emotional connection with purchasers, the study recommends making several adjustments to how a company presents its brand*. It suggests first doing firsthand research to discover the "unarticulated personal values" that stakeholders have, then crafting the messaging within advertising and branding efforts to resonate with those stakeholders using the same language that they use. The study also recommends framing the decision in terms of emotional cost - personal gain or pain if brand is not chosen - to motivate action.  

Another excellent point the researchers make was in the realm of content marketing. We all know this has exploded over the last few years in B2B, and it makes sense as decision makers seek to educate themselves prior to purchase. But just adding content only adds to the noise. The content must differentiate the supplier by disrupting the customers thinking, providing critical insight that helps them see that status quo is very costly. "Only by changing buyers' current beliefs can Marketing change buyer behavior." Again, using insight developed in research, marketers should craft content to reveal something new about the purchasers' business and then showcase the supplier's unique value.

NextGear Capital logo

Finally, NextGear Capital, one of our B2B clients, is doing this very well. This is an inventory finance company that provides lines of credit for car dealers to purchase new and used inventory. Their core audience is independent dealers. Their recent "What Matters Most" campaign makes an emotional appeal to that core audience whose primary concern is not selling more cars, but really making an impact on the community around them. The cornerstone of the campaign is an online video (another great idea as that channel is only growing only) featuring a current NGC customer that is transforming their community by providing cars to single mothers through the charity they started called "Wheels from the Heart."

NextGear Capital video

The video does an effective job of tugging at the hearts of all watchers, and in so doing positioning the NextGear Capital brand as not just providing financial solutions for its customers, but empowering them to change their communities.  It declares that NextGear is not "just revolutionizing the industry; we're improving the places where we live and work..."

What B2B brands have you seen doing this in an effective way? Leave a comment and share it with us!

*Yes - we know. Most of this falls in the branding space that our creative friends play in. But we like to dabble in it - and it does affect the media strategy decisions we make. Plus understanding all of these realities makes us better marketers.

Topics: B2B advertising, Cox Automotive, B2B media planning, B2B marketing strategy, B-to-B marketing

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