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More Than a Feeling: Evidence-Backed Emotion in Business Marketing

March 08, 2024

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We've all probably seen countless thought pieces on why emotional connection is vital in B2B marketing. Many of these articles build an argument through speculation, or personal perspectives. We believe in hard evidence, so let's start by diving right into some of the research in this field.

For instance, a Forrester survey found 84 percent of B2B buyers base their decisions on emotion. Corporate strategy experts, C-suite, discovered that 6 in 10 buyers rely on "gut feel" for decision-making. Emotion-based B2B strategies were found to be seven times more effective at driving long-term sales by Binet and Field, renowned authors of "The Long and Short of It," in a study with the B2B Institute.

Not surprising perhaps, when according to a report from a few years ago by Google and CEB's Marketing Leadership Council, they found that not only are B2B customers emotionally engaged but are more emotionally invested in the brands they use than average consumers. The study also showed that B2B purchasers are almost 50 percent more likely to buy a product or service when they see a personal value to it, such as professional advancement or pride and confidence in their choices.

Given the higher stakes and deeper relationships intrinsic to B2B dynamics, emotions are often seen as the bedrock for overcoming perceived risks. This isn't just an abstract concept, but something that's been examined, measured, and validated through numerous studies. Emotion's potent influence is a driving force, not only in shaping global consumer brands but also in scaling B2B giants.

The argument for emotions in B2B becomes even more compelling when viewed through a biological lens — our limbic system. Regardless of the complex logical arguments we craft, our decisions are deeply, and often instinctively, influenced by emotions. This reality is eloquently portrayed by Daniel Kahneman in his bestseller, Thinking Fast and Slow, which showed that most of our thinking is instinctive and fast, driven by our emotive System 1 brain. This swift decision-making is then post-rationalized by our slower, more cognitive, System 2 brain. Against this backdrop, to presume that B2B decisions are devoid of emotion is simply nonsense.

We all make emotive decisions, all the time. To believe B2B purchase decisions are distinctively different is a case of exceptionalism, itself an emotional bias. It logically defies how we are biologically wired, assuming that we would operate differently in this specific context. B2B purchases may have distinct characteristics - multiple stakeholders, lengthy deliberations, and tangible needs - but they do not negate the role of emotion.

As long as our target is human and not purely machine, emotions will continue to have their sway. This holds true even when dealing with AI, considering the emotional factors inherent in its programming or learning.

The importance of emotions is clear from the studies we've cited. But an additional cost of overlooking emotions in B2B is a lack of distinction leading to ineffective marketing. With similar messaging and focus points, brands blend into the market noise, requiring higher spend to maintain awareness.

Taking into consideration Byron Sharp's principle of mental availability, which shows that successful brands are readily invoked in the mind as relevant buying situations arise, emotions can become even more essential. Distinctive brands, that benefit from an emotional competitive advantage, we believe are more likely to generate and maintain a lasting position in individuals' memories to secure this mental availability advantage. This is particularly crucial in the B2B space, where on average only 5 percent of buyers are active at any given time.

As the B2B buying journey evolves, the need for emotionally charged, distinctive messaging is even more pertinent. Brands that resonate emotionally are more likely to be amplified through social platforms, a key influence channel and means of increasing a brand's reach. This amplification drives further marketing effect and return.

Neglecting emotional branding in favor of bottom-of-the-funnel tactics can be a costly mistake. An emotive brand, having built fame, admiration, and belief over time, will more likely secure the buyers confidence than a 'stranger' with an abrupt sales pitch.

Considering all this evidence and arguments, the question isn't whether emotions play a role in B2B marketing, but rather what can we do to leverage their transformative power more effectively?

Many B2B brands, though intrigued by consumer marketing insights, regularly question the relevance of emotions within their sphere. The crux of these discussions isn't rooted in a lack of understanding but rather misconceptions about how emotions are expressed and felt in the B2B landscape.

There is a common, yet misguided belief that emotions are confined to "feel-good" sentiments, such as love. While love can indeed drive consumer brands like Nike or Apple, the emotional spectrum is far more expansive. It includes elements of trust, security, surprise, fear, and excitement. These instincts and emotions are deeply embedded in B2B relationships, subtly steering the decision-making process.

While practical considerations are vital in B2B purchases – you wouldn't buy an IT system with flimsy security or hire a security firm with a questionable track record – the choice isn't simply a binary one between rationality and emotion. It's about combining the two, presenting the tangible benefits of your brand in a way that also elicits an emotional response to drive mental market share and greater impact.

This goes beyond crafting a brand personality and tone; it involves creating a holistic brand experience that resonates emotionally. Every interaction a customer has with your brand, from marketing communications to customer service, plays a role in shaping their emotional connection. It's the experience, paired with practical benefits, that allows your brand to stand out and resonate deeply.

The role of emotions in consumer marketing is undeniable, and the same holds true for B2B. In fact, the opportunity to utilize emotions in B2B may be even greater due to the nature of the buyer-brand relationships, and the competitive landscape which often sees competitors relying on uninspiring, fact-driven messages. By embedding emotion into all aspects of your B2B marketing, and nurturing fame, admiration, and belief, you can drive market share growth.

In conclusion, emotions are not only relevant and hold the key to unlocking growth but also provide competitive advantage. With the recognition of this fact, we can all drive our brands to achieve more - unlocking market success and maximizing marketing efficiency. Are you ready to embrace the power of emotion in your B2B strategy? Go on. Dare you.

Steve Cheliotis

Stephen holds the role of Global Brand Insight Director at Gravity Global.

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