Emotional engagement is often associated with consumer (B2C) campaigns - those advertisements that tug at our heartstrings, tap into our deepest desires, and leave a lasting impact that drives sales. However, it's essential for B2B companies to recognise that emotional engagement is just as vital for their brand growth, if not more so, as so few brands employ it.
In the report "Marketing in the Era of Accountability,"* arguably the most definitive study of advertising effectiveness, Les Binet and Peter Field found that emotional campaigns outperform rational campaigns in terms of increasing penetration, sales, and market share in the long term.
*Based on 880 case studies drawn from the IPA databank
Well, the reality is that you don't sell to businesses; you sell to people. While the B2B environment often assumes a more factual and serious language it's important to remember that it's the people within a company who ultimately decide whether or not to buy a product. When a person walks into an office, they don't shed their basic desires and fears. In fact, in the professional environment, the desire for security and fear about one's own existence can actually increase.
When a person walks into an office, they don't shed their basic desires and fears.
B2B and B2C marketing have traditionally been seen as quite different. After all, the purchasing dynamic in B2B involves multiple stakeholders rather than focusing solely on the individual. Decisions are made over time, with careful evaluation and input from finance, procurement, operations, and the executive team. Competing providers' features, benefits, and pricing are meticulously assessed, and trade-offs are made to determine the ultimate decision.
All of this suggests that B2B purchasing is more rational than B2C. However, Gerard Zaltman of Harvard Business School has shown that 95% of our decision-making takes place in the subconscious mind. So, we aren't as logical as we like to think. When we purchase any product or service, it's usually emotion that drives our decision, with rational thought following behind.
In fact, research from Google and CEB found that B2B customers are significantly more emotionally connected with their vendors and service providers than consumers. And this makes sense. B2B purchases are typically complex, expensive, and risky—not just from a business perspective, but also from a personal standpoint. Making the wrong choice could put someone's job at risk—an anxiety encapsulated by the saying, "Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM."
Research from Google and CEB found that B2B customers are more emotionally connected with their vendors than consumers."
Seal the Deal
That phrase worked because it made an emotional connection with the B2B buyer. However, today’s B2B marketing loses the connection because it tends to focus on products and features, assuming that these aspects impress procurement teams the most. Yet, this approach is unlikely to create relative differentiation or build an emotional bond.
The reality is that even in complex sectors, the features, benefits, and pricing of competing vendors are often very similar. Your customers will usually have several comparable choices, so highlighting minor benefits or cost savings compared to competitors is unlikely to be a winning marketing strategy. It's the emotional connection with your brand that could be the deciding factor—even if your buyers believe they are making a purely rational decision.
Emotion Amplifies Performance
So what are the stats for brands?
• 2.2x more likely to be remembered
• 2.7x higher rating for better products
• 20% more trusted as brands
• 2x more likely to be considered
• 5.3x more likely to be the first choice
• 16% more likely to be recommended
(Source: Wunderman Thompson’s Global Inspire Study)
A growing number of B2B players are now investing their marketing dollars like B2C players. Squarespace, ClickUp, Intuit, and Salesforce made waves at Super Bowl LVI when they reportedly purchased ads selling for $6 million and more.
"Historically, B2B marketing has been rational, serious, and even unemotional. In other words, business has been all business," says Kevin Frank, Executive Creative Director at LinkedIn. "But businesspeople are people. And it's time for people to see B2B for everything it can be—creative, bold, imaginative, and memorable. B2B brands power much of the world's economy, and creativity is an economic multiplier."
"B2B brands power much of the world's economy, and creativity is an economic multiplier."
Kevin Frank, Executive Creative Director at LinkedIn
The numbers support this perspective: According to LinkedIn's latest data, over two-thirds (69%) of B2B marketers see B2B purchasing decisions as emotionally driven, similar to B2C decisions. Furthermore, 39% of these marketers say they are increasingly focused on tapping into the emotions and humour that make traditional B2C campaigns successful.
So how can companies connect emotionally with their audiences?
1. Remember that your audience is made up of people, not just decision-makers. Senior executives are not robots; they are individuals with hopes, aspirations, dreams, and fears. Content that demonstrates an appreciation for these emotions is much more likely to resonate with them than abstract discussions about business and management trends. EY's DNA of the CFO is a great example of this. Instead of focusing solely on the issues affecting the finance function, it emphasizes the evolving role of the finance leader and how individuals can continue to develop personally and achieve success in a fast-changing business environment.
2. Appeal to their sense of pride Making a B2B purchase entails risks. Buyers want to know that there are rewards to balance it. Simply stating that your product will generate cost savings, integrate seamlessly with other systems, or comply with regulations is not inspiring. Instead, focus on how a relationship with your business will enhance their careers, instil personal pride, and ultimately transform their own businesses, the entire industry, or even society at large.
3. Focus on emotional priming. Thought leadership is a powerful tool for building emotional connections with potential buyers long before they consider the features and benefits of your product. By demonstrating a deep understanding of the broader business context and the challenges faced by B2B buyers, you can lay the groundwork for a meaningful connection. When they eventually choose a potential vendor, they will already have positive feelings towards your brand.
Remember, in the world of B2B marketing, logic and reason alone are not enough. Emotions are the catalysts that drive decisions and create lasting connections. By embracing emotional engagement, B2B brands can unlock new levels of success and stand out in a crowded marketplace.