Why Emotion is Critical for B2B Marketing
Written by: Jay Gronlund
In this series of articles on what B2B marketers can learn from B2C, another subtle yet crucial lesson involves adding emotion to a company's marketing and sales approach. My other articles in this series suggested various ways of enhancing the perceived value of B2B offers, but how to incorporate a relevant emotional dynamic may be the most challenging for many traditional B2B marketers.
There are many noteworthy differences between B2B and B2C marketing that help explain why the B2B approach is traditionally more rational - longer sales cycles, more complex, fewer buyers, price variations for different buyers or situations, prospects conducting more research, more people involved in the decision process, personal interactions being more important, and greater influence by third parties. The typical B2B process starts with an explanation of what the product or service offers, then how it works and finally why it makes sense for the prospect and his/her company. It is the classic what-how-why approach, with the hope that ultimately this process will engender a sense of trust with the buyer. The emphasis is always on a rational, formulaic evaluation, with little or no emotion included, even though building one-to-one personal relationships is more common and pronounced in B2B.
Meanwhile the intense competitive nature and the sophistication of branding in the B2C world has elevated marketing beyond the rational to depend more on emotional involvement. Brand marketing is all about building a trustful relationship with a customer. Much of B2C advertising is impulse or experience oriented, frequently designed to convince customers to "want" something, rather than pandering to a "need" for a product which is more likely in B2B. Apple is a great example. No one "needed" an iPad or iPhone until Apple created a contagious, passionate desire for these new products, based primarily on the customer's ubiquitous emotional love for Apple cultivated over time.
Emotions and Human Behavior
Studies by neuroscientists have shed new light on the causes of behavior, especially how purchase decisions are made. For example, John Caine, a famous neurologist, concluded in 2000 that "the essential difference between emotion and reason is that emotion leads to action while reason leads to conclusions". Also professor Demasio stated in 1999 that "over 80% of the thought, emotions and learning occur in the unconscious mind".
Paul MacLean studied in the 1960's how the human brain has evolved. His "triune brain model" has become the paradigm for most psychologists and neuroscientists, which suggests that we actually have three brains layered on top of each other:
- The Old Brain - known as the "reptilian" brain, unconsciously controls instincts and survival (e.g. breathing, heart beats, digestion, etc.).
- The Mid Brain - the limbic system is the seat of emotions, memories and attention, and while also unconscious, is incredibly efficient - estimates indicate that our 5 senses absorb 11 million pieces of information every second.
- The New Brain - or the neocortex, is the logical part of the brain that involves rational thinking, language and speech processing (this processes only 40 pieces of information each second).
This unconscious part of our brain (limbic), where all emotions are stored, controls human decision making. Whether it involves B2B or B2C situations, adding emotions will strengthen the "why" part of the marketing or selling process, especially when you are explaining what you believe in, which will breed a sense of trust and confidence in the buyer.
How To Add Emotions to B2B Marketing
The opportunity to make the "why" argument so much more convincing with relevant emotions is compelling. In B2B, human relationships are more personally interactive and important, and so emotions like trust, confidence, fear avoidance, and faith are powerful ingredients for cultivating a stronger relationship. For example, Lee Waite from Billington Cartmell cites Salesforce.com as an example of a B2B brand that complemented its rational benefit of efficiency with a successful emotional message on a YouTube video clip showing how using its products equaled more time on the golf course.
Here are some specific steps that can enhance the value of a B2B proposition:
- Customer Research - more diligent research on the client and his/her main purchase drivers, including emotional motivations, will provide insights on new ways to connect and nurture more trust (see my article on building customer loyalty).
- Company Brand - in B2B, the individual product or service brands are not nearly as important as the corporate brand equity, so this must contain relevant, emotional promises. While practical purchase criteria usually drive product selection (e.g. performance, capabilities, price), the ultimate value of the parent brand perceived by buyers will complete the purchase decision - can I believe in this company?, can I trust them?, will they deliver on their promises?.
- Storytelling - perhaps the most powerful tool for building confidence and a loyal relationship is to tell a personal story that reiterates key values and emotional benefits which are also an integral part of the corporate brand (e.g. to be used in websites, advertising, promotional material, sales pitches, etc.), ideally reflecting insights identified in customer research to ensure they are relevant to the buyer as well.
- Social Media - peer feedback and recommendations with these new interactive media options are having a greater impact on purchase decisions today. It also offers an ideal way for vendors to build their one-to-one customer relationships, assuming the emotional promises are aligned with the corporate brand.
What role do you believe emotions play in the sales-related behaviors for your business? We would be happy to discuss new ways to incorporate such powerful emotions into your value proposition and marketing/sales practices. For further insights and ideas, see the ebook I wrote last year on "5 Essential Steps for a Successful Ideation" and our "Marketing Effectiveness" programs.
image credits: Will Lion, emma.kate, and Zillafag