Robert McLeod

Opinion: The arrival of emotive B2B marketing

Posted on 11th July 2018 by Robert McLeod

"B2B marketing is changing, and to get buyer preference, you need to appeal emotionally and win hearts as well as minds."


We’re calling it. After decades of assumptions that B2B marketing is short for Boring 2 Boring, with feature and benefit led campaigns being the go-to approach, and with traditional, rational decision making the basis of communications campaigns – it’s clear that emotive marketing is not just in vogue – it’s a vital approach to ensuring buyer choice.

The end of noise in B2B

In some ways, it was the arrival of martech that changed everything. At first, it was simply a tool to push out your core messages and propositions more easily and to a more targeted audience. But what these platforms showed for the first time, and at scale, was that everyone was saying the same thing.

Companies got better at delivering email or social media programmes with better open rates or at improved cost efficiency, but as tech evolved and market entry into all markets became easier, the marketing landscape simply got noisier.

What this really exposes is that everyone has been thinking in the same way. That worked when there were a few key suppliers for any given service need, but now all verticals contain agile challenger brands, and large technology incumbents are now encroaching into all sectors from Legal services to Data, whoever wins hearts in an industry will win.

Business to Consumer and back to Business

The lines between what is a ’Business’ brand and a ‘Consumer’ brand have become blurred. Take Linkedin for instance. What is it for? You can use it for business development, sure, but if you don’t treat your influencers like individual people, they will not engage with you, and if you don’t use it to build your personal brand authentically, no one will listen.

An individual in a professional or personal context does not view your advances in a binary kind of way. You can’t expect that come 5:30, someone viewing an ad or content online will flip a switch into hometime-mode. And even if they do, they’ll remember where they were and how they were feeling when they return to a professional environment.

That isn’t actually as confusing as it sounds. In reality, all it means is an individual will have a single view of you and your brand. They’ll form one perspective, and carry it everywhere with them, whether eating their lunch with colleagues, or reading an article on the train home – they’ll form a single overall opinion. And people are good at forming opinions – whether you think they’re right or wrong – about your company.

Making decisions emotively in B2B

Considering someone’s perspective is a mish-mash of the contexts they know you in, pieced together by their various experiences and interactions, you need to carefully manage the marriage of these viewpoints. So how do you unify these historically opposed, perspectives?

Emotive approaches have long been a feature of B2C marketing campaigning – appealing to someone based on how you want them to feel about something. Aspirational. Fun. Exciting. And the opposite. Conservative. Fearful. Practical.

This is a wholly new prospect for B2B brands. It’s not in the nature of a business law firm to contact their clients to redesign their customer data collection frameworks ‘before it’s too late.’ Nor is it common for tech companies to look beyond the product benefits their sales teams demand their collateral focuses on, to talk about the peace of mind a cloud solution can bring to system security. But why not? Their consumer arms do.

Be Brave. Inspire. Stand Out.

It’s not counter intuitive. Your customers are making a professional decision to buy your services, but the success of it will affect their personal careers. A failure in buyer choice could cause significant personal reputation issues, or worse.

But that should be used to show why your services stand out and are exciting, and that you can deliver for them because that’s just what you do. They need to inspire their customers so their campaigns are a success – what better way to do that than to show how exciting, ground-breaking, and thought-leading your company is to work with?

The human brain is reactive, not proactive. It makes decisions based on previous experience not because it is too dumb, but because every situation it finds itself in is infinitely complicated. So it makes decisions, and assesses it post-cognitively. If it waited until it was in full possession of the facts, it would never make a decision because its environment is constantly in flux. So you act on instinct first.

Ever booked a last-minute holiday and wondered if the hotel facilities will be out of order when you arrive, or whether it will be too far from the beach? Ever bought an automation tool and wondered whether your team will have the training they need, and if it will return the ROI you told your CEO it would? Are these different cognitive processes, or the same?

Creating true buyer appeal

You have to focus on marketing strategies that are going to make you stand out and get your leads and sales into the pipeline. You won’t do this by saying the same things everyone else is. You need to do two things;

  1. Define who you are and why you do what you do. Discover your corporate purpose by going back to the start and understanding why you came to exist and why your customers chose you in the first place. Take a long hard look in the mirror – even if your competitors choose to look in that same mirror, they’re different companies, so they won’t see the same thing.
  2. Find a way of communicating your purpose in a way your competitors won’t. Stand out from your competitors by appealing to the hearts of your customers and prospects. They need your help, and by being brave you will lose the risk of being lost in the noise your competitors are making.

Marketing people the world over have been spending the past decade tailoring and optimising complicated digital techniques without a good campaign idea that talks to their customers in a way they really care about. By gaining personal interest, they will invest emotionally in your brand. That’s harder to forget than features and benefits.

B2B marketers need to be brave. Businesses cannot isolate themselves from consumer judgement and evaluation. Their personas are converging, and whoever adapts first will win.

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