Why B2B shouldn't fear emotions in marketing

We ask two marketing experts how they balance feelings with facts

July 1, 2020

Why B2B shouldn't fear emotions in marketing

Editorial Note: This episode of Live with Marketers was recorded back in March, before COVID-19 changed the world of work. The conversation and topics are still relevant today, so we wanted to share.

In the B2B world, marketers are sometimes guilty of leaning too heavily on proof-points, with the emotional side taking a back seat. We like to consider ourselves more rational than the average consumer: It’s nothing personal, just business. But the data doesn’t really agree. A purchase decision is personal. It’s the reason why trust in client relationships matters more than anything else in sales.

When you’re in marketing, that relationship is built through your brand. We know that B2B businesses tend to focus on cold, hard facts rather than emotions in marketing. But the problem with this approach is that it’s, well, a bit cold and hard. The B2B Institute has found that the most successful campaigns combine factual messages with making their target audience feel something.

So how do you go about successfully building a brand that customers can relate to? And is there really a difference compared to B2C? Corralled in a single room to answer these questions are Sabrina Rodriguez, head of digital marketing at Dentsu Aegis Network and Emma Rush, CEO at Gyro UK, a B2B specialist agency. Watch this clip from the Live with Marketers episode, or read more below.

Business decisions are more influenced by emotions in marketing

Emma’s agency recently conducted research that found 62% of business decision-makers rely on gut feelings when it comes to their final choice. This is despite (or possibly because) of the abundance of dispassionate data available. When it comes to emotions in marketing, she says: “It’s very similar to the B2C process.”

In fact, The B2B Institute has established that the perceived bias towards rational argument is rather flimsy. While B2C relies on a 60/40 split in favour of emotions in marketing verses rational strategies, their research found a ratio of 46% brand and 54% activation to be most effective for B2B campaigns.

Sabrina argues that in the end, we’re all just marketing to human beings:

“The typical emotions that you would see when you're going through that B2B exchange are the same as what you would experience in B2C: Enthusiasm, optimism, hope, reassurance, accomplishment. These are all human feelings and sentiments that determine how strongly you build a relationship and affinity to a brand, regardless of whether that's a B2C or a B2B.”

Emotions in marketing beat product messages for brand building

While the rational argument might help get a sale over the line, emotive brand awareness campaigns are targeted at people much further towards the top of the funnel. Customers don’t have to be interested in the product to like your brand, and that feeling is remembered for much longer than any single activation message.

This impact on memory is defined by report authors Binet and Field as ‘mental availability,’ which they summarise as the fact that “given a choice between several options, people tend to prefer the one that comes to mind most easily.”

And it doesn’t have to be achieved just by creating a positive affinity for your brand. The authors found that increasing share of voice above a brand’s market share directly correlates to growth of the latter.

Unsurprisingly, they also found that emotion is the key to getting your campaign talked about and shared. It can create the kind of resonance that increase your share of voice exponentially – helping some campaigns to perform ten times better than those that focused solely on rational messaging.

For Sabrina, this isn’t a surprise:

“For some reason, through the 20th and 21st century it's been ingrained in us that it's the rationale side of the brain that makes decisions when that's not the case. We're all complex human beings that are very driven by emotion as well.”

How to make emotion work for your campaign

Sabrina pointed out that the basic emotions are the same regardless of marketing sphere, but it’s how those feelings are elicited that separates consumers from business customers.

When Google looked at emotion in B2B marketing, it found that prospects were actually more emotionally invested in products and services than their consumer counterparts, arguing that anticipation of personal reward is a hugely influential factor:

“B2B purchasers are almost 50% more likely to buy a product or service when they see personal value – such as opportunity for career advancement or confidence and pride in their choice — in their business purchase decision. They are 8x more likely to pay a premium for comparable products and services when personal value is present.”

And this is where it takes some creativity. Relating to enthusiasm, optimism, hope, reassurance and accomplishment in a business environment is not just possible, it’s essential to successfully growing your B2B brand.

That differentiation is achieved by being willing to move away from the relative safety of the messages that your competitors are also sending out. It might sound like a risk, but really it’s an area where we should be learning from B2C.

Sabrina says: "B2B marketing is tarnished with a very dry brush. Whereas actually, it doesn't have to be. You can treat your marketing the same way that you treat marketing for B2C. It can be fun, and it can be sparky." 

How does that make you feel? Watch the full conversation here.