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The Role of Emotion in B2B Marketing

– Posted in: Emotional Connections

Brain SwitchThe role of emotion in B2C buying is well-established. People actually make purchase decisions based on deep psychological needs. Then their logical mind kicks in and finds a way to make the purchase seem rational. This happens largely without the customer being aware. Marketers, however, know how to connect their product to these deep-felt desires.

For years, the presumption was that B2B was different. Business buying was based on specific needs the company had, the reasoning went, and so a logical process would be used to identify a company’s problems, find products that solved them, and choose the result by the rational consideration of a group. There’s no room in the equation for emotion.

The falsehood of this presumption should be obvious. Companies don’t buy things; people at companies do. You don’t take away emotion by having a committee make a decision; you probably escalate it as you multiply egos and personal issues. Emotion might not be acknowledged, but it’s there.

Studies in recent years have borne this out. A 2013 white paper by CEB Marketing Leadership Council™ in partnership with Google found that emotion actually plays a big role in B2B marketing. They actually found that B2B customers are more connected to their vendors than B2C customers are.

Part of the reason for this is risk. Business purchases often involve significant amounts of money, so the financial cost of a bad decision is much higher than almost any B2C purchase. But money is not the only risk. The entire business operation may rest on the choice of a software system, a network, a telecommunications set-up, or a data infrastructure. If the selection or implementation is wrong, it could be horribly wrong.

Because of this risk, the B2B buyer needs a strong connection with the vendor for reassurance.

Business buyers don’t always see a real value difference between one vendor over another, and even if they do, they won’t necessarily pay more for it. They do, however, put a premium on vendors they trust and feel connected to.

Marketers, therefore, need to focus on building their brand and company reputation, rather than relying on product differences to propel them ahead of their competitors.

In addition to building the brand, they need to make sure their marketing materials do connect on the emotional level.

People who are in the position of influencing purchase decisions tend to be in positions of responsibility.  These people deeply identify with their careers, and they are highly conscious of risk and reward. A bad decision could cost them a promotion, end their job, or even damage their professional reputation. They need to feel confident that their choice will not harm them. The marketer that provides that assurance will be a step ahead.

It works the other way, of course. Making the right decision makes the person look like a hero. They may get accolades, bonuses, and promotions. Again, an appeal to the desire to shine can encourage buyers to act.

One way to provide emotional connection without it being contrived is through stories. People relate to people in stories, and can make powerful connections. Consider, for example, a case study that explains how worried Jane was about the network upgrade going wrong, and what it would mean to the business if it did. But Jane selected your system, and used your staff to implement the changes. It went so well that Jane got a promotion.

This may have the same implication as other marketing material—choose our product and you’ll be a hero at your company—but it can come across stronger and more directly through the story.

Just as in B2C, buyers do need to provide logical reasons for their selection. Actually, the more the decision is based on emotion, the stronger the rationalization needs to be (again, often without the person being aware). It won’t work for the department head to tell the CEO that they should buy a particular software product because it’s the best one to make the department head look good. He’ll still need to have good data points to make his case.

The wise marketer, then, will build a brand that encourages trust and confidence. Marketing materials will strive to make the prospect aware of the benefits of the product, both the tangible ones and the intangible.

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1 comment… add one
Chris Marlow January 31, 2016, 7:26 am

Great article! It’s also interesting that the only person in the marketing chain who is responsible for using emotion and really understanding the psychology of the prospect is the copywriter!

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