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How Emotional Marketing in B2B Drives Customers (Even If You Think It Doesn't)

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In the world of marketing, there's a misperception that B2B marketing is serious and logical and that B2C marketing is fun and creative.

Though B2B marketers may need a deeper understanding of technology and they may have more limits placed on their creativity, the role emotions play in both B2B and B2C marketing is strikingly similar.

As neuroanatomist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor puts it, "Most of us think of ourselves as thinking creatures that feel, but we are actually feeling creatures that think”.

To gain a clearer understanding of the concept, I interviewed Jonathan Kahn, co-founder and creative marketing hacker at creative agency JM Consulting, and Michal Zarankin, head of digital marketing at in-app engagement platform Insert (recently acquired by Pendo), to learn their thoughts on the role of emotions in B2B marketing.

Here are a few of the insights they shared with me.


1. Overall, the role of emotions in both B2C and B2B marketing is the same

It all boils down to the idea that in both, the end-user is a human being, and in the end all human beings are emotionally driven, whether they're a CEO, marketing assistant, or developer (yes, they have emotions too!).

As Jonathan explained it: "It's funny that I have to prove this to people. It's very simple when you think about it. If we didn't do anything via emotion, if we did everything just based on logic—if for whatever reason, we all had the same amount of logic—we wouldn't be living, we wouldn't get married, we wouldn't have kids, because what's the point of all of that? It's a risk. Logic proves that. But all the things that we admire are all done by people who ignored logic and went with their gut, went with their emotions. B2B is the same. In the end, an organization is run by people. Both right and wrong decisions are based on emotion."

Michal agreed. "I think that the strategies and tactics to make an impact on people's decisions lay in the same places for B2C and B2B. B2B marketers should use emotional marketing if it makes sense for their entire strategy." At the same time, however, she believes that emotions and logic work in parallel. "Using data, brands can test and analyze how different messages are received by users. They can use this data to make more informed decisions about which message drives their business forward."

2. Brands should evoke different emotions at different points of the customer journey

B2B brands may seem to focus only on messaging that is inclined toward logic, but according to Jonathan emotion is what pulls the audience in the first place: "When you're talking about getting people interested in learning more about your solution, you're really going for emotional marketing, because logic changes from person to person, but your emotions, for the most part, are pretty much the same. I mean there are still people who want to go out and kill people, that's true, but if I prick you, you feel pain, if you see a child laughing it makes you happy and you'll smile. These actions or images will evoke specific feelings.

"After I pull you in, then I'm going to give you the information that you need—to know that what you're getting is the right thing. That's the logical or data-oriented part: This product delivers X, Y, and Z and this is why you use it. But no one is going to be pulled in that way, especially with the amount of people [your competitors] doing the same thing all over the market."

Michal puts in another way: "Of course, it depends on the end-user, the solution, and the company's culture. These all influence the buying cycle, the message you choose, and the exact point to push it forwards. I wouldn't say there's a specific point where one type of messaging is preferred over another. In the B2B world, however, for top-of-funnel content we might create an emotional messaging around a known pain. Later, down in the funnel, we would need to differentiate the product and use thought leadership for a more logical approach."

3. You may think you know the emotions you want to provoke in your audience, but double-check

Similar to what happens when a writer publishes a novel or an artist composes a song, once a product is released to the public, the original perception of a product versus how users perceive it might be completely different.

"Once you create something and let the world have access to it, they now define what it is, not you. It's the same thing here; You release a product, thought the major value proposition was X, you speak to your users, and you find out it's Y," said Jonathan.

He gave an example that many should be familiar with: Slack, a collaboration tool for organizations: "It's not a fun aspect to manage other people; it's hard work. Everyone does things their way; you need to micromanage and not micromanage—that's the hardest part. The best part about managing the project is when you finish; it's the feeling of success—'I accomplished X.' Slack did a better job with their marketing not when they focused on 'working with the team' but when they focused on 'accomplishing your goals.'"

Michal cautioned that users can easily be confused. "The timing and setting of a marketing campaign and its message also influences how people digest a message. In today's modern world, we are constantly being pushed explicitly and inexplicitly with messages asking us to take an action both in our private and professional lives. The state of mind we approach these messages with has a huge influence on how they make us feel and which action we decide, if at all, to take. I would carefully consider where and when to choose each type of approach."

She offered tips for how marketers can prevent confusion: "Unfortunately, many brands construct messaging which is unclear. Unclear messaging requires a lot more effort to decipher. In the best-case scenario, when messaging is unclear the user can't understand the business value of the product. In a worst-case scenario, the user will think it's bad marketing."

4. Negative marketing is lazy marketing; it can almost always be positive instead

Some technologies, such as fraud detection or cyber security, lend themselves more easily to messaging that instills fear in users, but both Jonathan and Michal warned against that approach.

"Evoking negative emotions may be successful in driving urgency, but it does not necessarily take you any further than creating a need [does]," said Michal. "You want users who are in it for the long haul and who associate your technology with a good feeling rather than fear."

"It sometimes seems easiest to jump to the negative, but you should always aim to be positive," said Jonathan. "Especially since B2B is a long-term relationship, who wants to deal with repercussions of fear?"

Emotions are the key to building a brand

When creating marketing materials to influence their customers, B2B brands must remember that B2B marketing takes place between people—human beings, who feel their way to reason, as Douglas Van Paraet explains in his book Unconscious Branding: How Neuroscience Can Empower (and Inspire) Marketing.

Even brands with a technological edge must find the right emotion to pull customers in, just as Slack did. Emotion is the foundation for building a powerful brand that gives you an edge over your competition.


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Tamar Weiss increases awareness and growth for B2B companies through customer-focused content. She is a consultant at a range of startups and large international companies. Previously, she was the content marketing specialist at retention-automation company Optimove and at Insightera, a Marketo company.

LinkedIn: Tamar Weiss

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  • by William Carrier Wed Jan 31, 2018 via web

    Tamar, good points but your example of Slack is limiting. There are far fewer B2B services examples than product examples. From a branding perspective, their is a much bigger elephant in the room. Brands in the B2B product space have blown-up whatever brand equity they have built as a result of selling their products on Amazon.

    Distributors like Grainger have talked about the problem of "price transparency". What that means is that customers are going to Amazon with a brand name and part number and finding much lower prices. Great for customers to be sure. Not good for traditional brands.

    So what are the consequences to brands and why does it matter?

    Distributors like Grainger, MSC, Fastenal, and Staples are ALL aggressively moving to private label goods that are difficult to "shop" for price. On top of that, Grainger is increasingly removing the brand names from products on their website over the last year and labeling them "Grainger Approved Vendor".

    Brands are now being forced to justify the price premium for their products. This isn't new to manufacturers but now their is a robust ecosystem of private label products in every category. Frankly, the quality I've seen of many of the private label items is equal to or better than the quality of national brands like Rubbermaid, 3M, Stanley, etc. Mobile shopping led to price transparency which intern is leading to "Brand Opacity".

    This is the biggest threat to brands in the B2B marketing today. Customers going to Amazon have shown the elasticity of demand relative to pricing. Now more than ever, B2B brands need to justify the price premium for their product lines or face declining market share and margin erosion.

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