Emotion in B2B buying: the evidence

From the pages of Sophisticated Marketer Quarterly, the latest insight on the role of emotion in B2B buying decisions

January 2, 2019

Emotion in B2B buying: the evidence

Emotion is a much-misunderstood concept in marketing – and especially in B2B marketing. That’s because it’s very easy to confuse the influence of emotion with the state of feeling emotional.

We know that emotion is in play when we’re moved to tears or laughter, or feel the hairs on the back of our necks stand on end. When a piece of content or brand advertising produces such effects, we know that it’s generating intense and influential memories that could dispose the person feeling those emotions to buy the brand in question.

Emotion though, can exert an equally strong influence without breaking the surface. Trust, confidence, concern and suspicion are all emotional responses – they are just less consciously emotional responses that often produce less immediate effects. However, they are no less influential for that – especially when it comes to B2B.

Emotion isn’t just for impulse purchases

We most naturally associate emotional brand positionings with impulsive purchase decisions: buying choices that people either make quickly, or make on the basis of few facts, with little conscious consideration. That’s why emotion-tugging brands are typically associated with B2C marketing – appealing to people who are empowered to make decisions as individuals, and don’t have to consider those decisions for any longer than they want to.

It’s a mistake though, to assume that longer periods of consideration push emotion out of buying choices. If anything, they can give deeper emotions more opportunity to work their influence. The more we weigh up our options for a decision with major consequences, the more we need our emotions, our instincts and our memories to help us to make a choice. That’s the reality that research into the role of emotions in B2B buying increasingly suggests.

The most recent major study into the role of emotion in B2B buying was carried out by Google, Gartner and Motista in 2013 and involved surveying 3,000 B2B buyers across multiple industries. Most striking among the findings was the fact that B2B buyers are more emotionally connected to the brands they purchase than consumers – not less. The average B2C brand has an emotional connection with between 10% and 40% of consumers; in the study seven out of nine B2B brands had emotional connections with more than 50% of their customers.

Could emotion trump business value as a B2B differentiator?

That research provides valuable insight as to why emotion is so significant in B2B. At the end of the day, B2B purchase decisions are made by human beings who see the impact of those decisions in personal terms – not just professional ones. They care about the outcome for their business – but they care even more intensely about what that outcome means for them. B2B purchasers are almost 50% more likely to buy a product when they see personal value for them in the form of confidence in their choice – or a positive impact on their career. They’re also 8x more likely to pay a premium for that product.

This is because it’s emotional factors such as trust, confidence and reassurance that are the most powerful differentiators for B2B brands. Most B2B marketing focuses on the value that a solution provides to the business – but the Motista study shows that B2B buyers actually struggle to differentiate between potential suppliers on this basis. They assume that all have roughly equivalent value to add. The real differentiator is the emotional benefit they personally feel from making a particular choice.

With longer B2B buying cycles and large, diverse buying committees, the ability to produce the right emotional response at scale becomes significant. That should lead B2B marketers to put more emphasis on emotive brand-building. Such brands won’t typically involve nostalgia, sadness or humour. These emotions may affect us powerfully on an individual level – but they are less motivating when it comes to our aspiration to secure the future we want and the confidence that we’re capable of doing so. A recent global study from B2B agency Gyro and The Financial Times confirmed the role of emotion in B2B buying – and identified confidence, optimism and the potential to trust them a supplier-partner, as the most influential forms of emotional capital for B2B brands to invest in. Now’s a great time to do so.