'Tell me how you really feel'

Why emotion is a winning strategy for B2B brands

Cold. Rational. Data-driven.

That’s the conventional approach to B2B. It’s a world where marketers are encouraged to “stick to the facts” (repeating those features & benefits like a Catholic reciting the Rosary) and “keep emotion out of it” (leaving the ‘soft stuff’ stuff to those teary-eyed B2C folk).

But the rules of B2B are changing. The playbook is being rewritten. The cold, hard truth of the matter? B2B brands that are winning are those that look, sound and feel a lot like their B2C counterparts.

Before things get too warm and fuzzy, here’s a rational argument for why B2B brands should be getting more emotional:

B2B buyers are more emotionally invested
A recent study by Google and the CEB Marketing Leadership Council found that “B2B customers are significantly more emotionally connected to their vendors and service providers than consumers”

Emotional messaging is more effective
According to a wide-ranging study by the LinkedIn B2B Institute
, emotive messaging is whooping 7 x more effective than rational messaging in driving responses from B2B buyers

B2B marketers are pivoting to emotion
According to a recent survey of 500+ B2B marketers
, 37% are looking to reset their brand strategy and proposition to strengthen emotional connection with their audience

Add to this the rise of B2B brands talking about purpose, values, sustainability and social impact (another B2C trend to cross the divide), and a clear picture emerges.

As Dorothy puts it: We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.

But how should B2B marketers navigate this brave new world? How can brand leaders who give a damn use emotion to win over their audience?

Here are the three questions to ask yourself when it comes to emotion and your B2B brand…

1)    Should emotion be a strategy or tactic?

The answer to this depends entirely on your brand positioning. If your positioning is inherently emotive (i.e. ‘We are the caregivers in a cold sector’), then emotion is going to be pretty strategic! But if your positioning is more rational (i.e. ‘We are the coverage leaders’) or nuanced (‘We are the challenger of the status quo’), you will need to work out how best to bring emotion into the execution of the brand.

2)    What sort of emotions are right for our brand?

Let’s be honest, your B2B brand is unlikely to induce uncontrolled weeping or fits of laughter (though you never know). Chances are, you are looking at tapping into subtler, beneath-the-surface emotions – such as Trust, Surprise, Empathy, Anticipation. The Plutchick Wheel of Emotions is a good starting point: Which of these emotions are relevant to your audience and authentic to your product/service?

3)    When exactly should we use emotion?

According to marketing gurus Peter Field & Les Binet, there are two types of marketing activity: brand building (top of funnel, creates awareness &demand) and sales activation (bottom of the funnel, converts demand). But where are emotions most effective?

The answer, according to the deep research of Field & Binet, is brand building. Put simply, this is the stage when your audience cares the least about the specifics of your product/service – as they aren’t yet ready to buy. Serve them rational messages here, and chances are they will either be quickly forgotten or ignored altogether.

But serve them an engaging advert or piece of content that creates an emotional connection, and the evidence is clear – they’re more likely to remember you when they’re ready to buy.

Leaving ‘corporate Kansas’ behind

The evidence is compelling, the trends are clear…and yet most B2B brands remain rational and corporate. Why?

Well, just like no one ever got fired for buying IBM, few marketers will get the heave-ho for sticking with convention. And convention in B2B still says: ‘Play it safe, keep it rational’.

But there’s a new wave of B2B marketers challenging the status quo. They’ve seen the evidence, they’ve know there is heart and soul in the business, and they are finding ways of putting emotion to work for their brand.

We’ve seen the impact of emotional messaging on the fortunes of B2B brands first hand – whether it’s a financial services company championing the cause of vulnerable customers, a furniture provider focusing on care for the planet, or a leadership training brand talking bout love in the workplace.

Maybe it’s time your brand showed the world how it really felt – and let your audience feel something deeper and more memorable than simply the facts.

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