B2C marketing always takes the credit for being emotionally evocative, creative, and envelope-pushing. B2B marketing, on the other hand, has tended to lean in favor of a more rational approach to marketing. With a more stern, business-like attitude, B2B marketers attempt to appeal to buyers based on business value.
Several years ago, Google teamed up with CEB’s Marketing Leadership Council to conduct a survey eliciting feedback from 3,000 purchasers of 36 B2B brands across multiple industries. If you’re not familiar with the survey, the results may surprise you.
In short, B2B buyers are far more emotionally connected to their vendors than are consumers to B2C brands. And why wouldn’t that make sense? Most consumer purchases are a low-risk proposition; a person wants something and they buy it. If it doesn’t meet their needs or they are unhappy, they return it.
But B2B purchases involve a lot of risk—potentially millions of dollars involving multiple parties and people and outcomes are at stake.
Of course B2B buyers are emotionally connected. There’s no purchase without the emotional connection in place to help overcome the risk hurdle.
B2B Marketing: Quick Look at the Numbers
The Google-CEB survey had some titillating findings:
- Most B2C brands haven emotional connections with somewhere between 10% and 40% of customers. On the B2B side? Seven out of nine of the B2B brands had emotional connections with more than 50% of their customers.
- From a buyer’s perspective, B2B buyers are nearly 50% more apt to make a purchase where they can see personal value (e.g., it poses an opportunity for career advancement)
- B2B buyers are eight times more likely to pay a premium where they feel this personal value is present.
- Only 14% of B2B businesses affirmatively answered that they could “see a real difference between suppliers and value the difference enough to pay for it”
So for B2B businesses trying to sell based on business value alone, this should shift your sense of reality.
Factors that Add to Complexity
There are quite a few reasons that the B2B marketing differs from B2C marketing. Most notably, the aim of B2B buyers is to procure solutions that satisfy logic, utility and ROI. Consumers, on the other hand, tend to be drawn to emotionalism, materialism, and a little bit of logic.
Digging deeper into the details, B2B marketing requires understanding and consideration of the following speed bumps on the path to purchase:
- purchasing committees
- third-party buying consultants
- corporate procurement processes
- Long, complex purchase process
- High transaction cost
- Long-term commitment
- Potentially long-term impacts to purchase decisions (reputation, performance, ROI)
- Results and business value are highly prioritized in decision-making
In looking at this list of purchasing motivations and challenges, it’s clear that corporate pressure exists to “get it right” or perhaps more importantly to not get it wrong. And this is absolutely a true sentiment. But it shouldn’t negate a marketing strategy that can evoke the right emotions to get buyers to play ball. In fact, those two ideas aren’t mutually exclusive at all.
Three T’s and a C
I’ve read articles that say that even when trying to elicit emotional responses in B2B, there are certain things that are off-limits. Some say that things like nostalgia or humor will bring about the wrong types of emotional responses or even cause a disconnect between you and your B2B buyers.
We humans are complex, and while it seems logical that we can separate out our emotions one by one, the reality is that it is much more complicated than that. For some people, humor may invoke more feelings of trust than anything else. For another, that may not be the case.
I think where the real focus needs to be is in crafting a meaningful story around your brand, product, and service that presents business value with a healthy dose of humanity in order to inspire what I call the “Three T’s and a C”:
These are the elements that B2B buyers crave when looking for potential vendors: a credible partner that can be trusted to provide a solution in an honest, upfront manner. In order to evoke those feelings, B2B marketers must break the traditional marketing mold and cozy up to the idea that emotional connection can surmount many obstacles on the path to purchase.
Of course, understanding the modern B2B customer path to purchase and aligning your content marketing strategy accordingly is important. But the content you create and distribute as part of that strategy must be geared toward the Three Ts & a C to inspire meaningful action that moves prospects closer to a sale.
How to Inspire Emotional Connection With Your B2B Brand
Forging an emotional connection with B2B buyers requires careful research and consideration. For starters, you better have a solid grasp on your buyer or audience persona. You need to understand who you are creating content for and the main issues and pain points they face. Armed with a problem to solve, you can begin to look at how you frame that up to compel further consideration of your company.
B2B buyers are doing a significant amount of research prior to purchase and sifting through what is likely boring, uninspired content. To stand out, businesses must create content that appeals to humans—not just businesses or titles.
To do this, you must put yourself in your decision maker’s shoes and consider what personal roadblocks or ramifications they face because of the “big picture” pain point. Perhaps it’s aggravation at a process that isn’t streamlined. Or maybe it’s confusion due to lack of the appropriate insights they need to do their job well. Whatever it may be, hone in on it and build a story around it.
Embrace your business—the good and the not so good. Authenticity and sincerity can go a long way with an audience that is used to digesting nothing more than marketing hype. Add a little brand personality and don’t shy away from talking about missteps or outright failures—if they can help your audience.
When a business opts to be genuine rather than put on the marketing mask of “For the past 20 years, we’ve been awesome at…”, it inspires trust. You don’t have to be self-denigrating, but don’t be afraid to paint an honest picture about your business, even if it includes some hiccups you encountered along the way.
Often times, B2B marketers are driven to strip any sense of vulnerability out of the process. This self-censoring can tear away any shred of meaningfulness out of marketing collateral and turn it into dry, dull, stale content.
More importantly, a little bit of vulnerability goes a long way in building credibility. Exposing the real side of your business—and the people and personalities that make up your organization—puts a face to the logo and inspires connection with the people to whom you’re trying to sell.
Don’t fall into the stern, authoritative sandtrap. Think outside the box when it comes to your B2B marketing strategy and push the boundaries of the traditional marketing framework. The data clearly highlights that B2B buyers are looking for emotional connection and that sparking that connection can have a real impact on your bottom line.
Don’t shy away from presenting a true (and perhaps slightly imperfect) picture of what your business is, stands for, and does. You’re either building trust with your audience or fading into the online sea of white noise. Be original. Be a little weird. Just keep it real.