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Over the years, we have had many discussions with clients and peers regarding the role that emotion plays in B2B marketing.
The most recent exchange was with BBN Chairman Clif Collier – an industry veteran with unmatched experience. Responding to GetIT’s recently published eBook, Clif wrote –
“I passionately believe that marketing has to be a balance of art and science to be truly effective. The science bit is going to increase exponentially, we know that, and it has to. Still, suppose the creative idea that generates an emotional connection with the brand is sidelined. In that case, we can never capture hearts and minds, genuinely engaging with prospects and motivating them to take action.”
I agree with Clif, but – with some reservation. I could’ve emailed him my opinion on this matter, but the topic is important enough to all of us. So, let’s brace for a longish commentary.
Do emotions influence B2B procurement decisions? Absolutely!
Are those emotions the same or similar as in the cases of B2C purchase? Not really.
Let me paraphrase Don Norman to explain my point. There are three types of non-tangibles that affect B2C purchase patterns.
Visceral – how it looks and feels?
Behavioural – does it work? Ease of use or usability.
Reflective – how I’ll be perceived by society in general if I own this?
We witness the third emotional criteria, i.e. a product representing our identity, all the time (case in point iPhone vs Android users, Tesla vs Hummer owners the list goes on). But a similar emotional range in the B2B purchase process is challenging to find. On the other hand, at least in my experience, we face the most significant emotional response for enterprise IT decision-making – what if something goes wrong? That’s the reason B2B market consolidations happens faster – resulting in oligopolies. Most B2B purchase decision-makers want to play safe and choose the ‘industry leader.’ IBM benefited from this bandwagon for a period of over twenty years.
Don’t get me wrong. The drive of being part of a tribe or perceived as an innovator – are all strong emotions that drive early adopters and visionary IT decision-makers. But early majority or mainstream market still needs the assurance that if something goes wrong – they won’t be held accountable.
Given the pragmatic and risk-averse position of B2B decision-makers, marketers need to align their communication strategy. Borrowing from Chip and Dan Heath’s Switch, every B2B decision depends on the rider, the rational mind and the elephant or emotional mind. The rational mind looks for the data, ROI, competitive specifications. But the emotional mind looks for stories – case studies, testimonial and assurances.
Another big emotion growing exponentially amongst B2B buyers – frustration around gathering consensus from all buying centre members. Today’s B2B buying involves more stakeholders than ever before. The purchase process grinds to a slow crawl as buyers struggle to wade through their research and sufficiently deconflict the results to reach a collective agreement on a concrete course of action. To help prospects make decisions, marketing leaders first need to recognise just how different buying has become through digital content and sales support material. Within that new reality, they must address what customers need to complete a purchase.
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