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Is Your B2B Brand Pushing The Right Buttons?

By Brian Odell   

Business realities are constantly being redefined. Some B2B marketers are finding it hard to keep up? Lots of companies are missing this one: B2B decision makers need to be engaged emotionally, not just rationally.

Despite popular beliefs, decision makers are not always logical, often influenced more by their hearts and personal feelings than by data and information (yup, even engineers). After all, they’re human beings, not machines. Unfortunately, many B2B marketers treat them like robots, offering content that is dominated by facts and figures, yet devoid of human relevance. Research is proving that people’s personal aspirations and fears are omnipresent in their decision-making. To really engage with your target audience and separate your brand from other seemingly similar rational arguments, you must reach them on this personal level.

The trouble is that most B2B brands are not inspirational. They are more likely rationally positioned. That’s because, for decades, marketers believed that emotional drivers were not relevant to the B2B category or their brand. They associated emotional connections with consumer brands and were further deterred by the fact that emotions were hard, if not impossible, to quantify and link to tangible results. Traditionally, they focused principally on features, benefits and price.

Well today, there are several scientific studies that prove the significant role emotions play in decision making. For example, there’s the study of Affect Heuristics – the mental short cuts that people utilize to make decisions - bypassing rational decision making all together. Emotions play the primary role in how these short cuts are derived.

Or how about the research into human limbic and reptilian brain functions? The reptilian brain first wants to know if something is threatening or desirable; determining this from what it can touch, see, smell or taste (not what it can determine by rational means). From a B2B decision-making standpoint, this would be represented by elements such as color, music and facial expression. Following this process, the limbic brain responds emotionally to evaluate if trust should be given. As research shows, only after these two phases does the brain’s neocortex create a story that makes rational sense of it all - to validate the decision already made. Translated, this means decisions are actually made emotionally, and then justified rationally.   

B2B brand research also confirms these observations. For example, a study conducted by CEB (in partnership with Google) shows that “personal value” is twice as powerful as business value in achieving a broad range of commercial objectives (including awareness, consideration, purchase intent, willingness to pay a premium, loyalty, willingness to recommend).

They distinguished business value versus personal value this way: Marketing focused on business value tends to highlight the functional benefits of the company’s product or service. But marketing that focuses on personal value demonstrates the benefits of the product to the individual customer, such as how it will improve their professional goals.

CEB said that although the findings were surprising, they make sense when one thinks about the risks B2B buyers face when making a complex and expensive B2B purchase. B2B buyers must see sufficient personal value to overcome the risks they take on when advocating for a particular supplier’s solution. One of their main conclusions was that B2B purchase decisions are more emotional than B2C purchase decisions.

The FORTUNE Knowledge Group conducted a similar study and found equally compelling reasons to focus on more human and emotional factors. For example, they learned that 65% of executive decision makers agree that an increasingly complex business environment has made it difficult to base decisions on purely “functional factors” such as cost, quality or efficiency. Categories are becoming increasingly commoditized. Most suppliers have good relative quality and a competitive cost. Differentiation, then, can only be found on the emotional side of things.

Today, emotional connections are critical. But how do you get your organization to become believers? How do you implement it? Following are a few important steps to move your brand into a new “Era of Kinship” where authentic, emotional connections drive customer loyalty.

1. Start with the customer

This might seem obvious, but in too many cases, companies start their thought process by thinking about themselves and their products. We suggest you start with your customers. Who are the best ones? What are their aspirations and perceptions? What are their fears? What are their challenges? Answers to these type of questions help you understand your customers as human beings, rather than as simply transactions.  

2. Define your purpose

Today the power of kinship is the fuel that stimulates commerce, culture, character and the economy of life itself. Gone are the days of Mad Men and ego driven mantras. Kinship and authenticity are our new currency and both are best found in connecting with purpose (why a business exists, it’s primary believe, a cause). Not what you do or how you do it – but why you do it.

This “why” provides brands with focus; an important role to play in modern society and meaning that connects with people and finds a place in their lives. It is within this communication between customers and brands that we find solutions, innovate and go beyond the status quo.

3. Lead with purpose 

Progressing through these discussions into execution will all be lost without strong brand leadership. In his new book, Together is Better, Simon Sinek provides insightful inspirations that serve as constructive reminders about what constitutes successful and productive leadership. These thoughts ring particularly true for those responsible for leading brands.

Brands must be led by people who fully embrace the notion that, as social animals, our ability to get anything done requires help. Brands need leaders who prioritize and value organizational support and participation as it furthers brand reach and the development of a differentiated customer experience.

Leaders will also need this organizational support during times of uncertainty. Brands must be driven by purpose, not profit – which can evoke feelings of risk in economic or market downturns causing organizations to panic and make reactionary changes not necessarily in it’s best long-term interests.

Crafting, facilitating and leading a strong brand is an enormous undertaking, filled with responsibility and the need for a dedicated and disciplined effort to drive continued success. These three areas will help keep you and your brand prioritized, focused and thriving. 

4. Follow-through with a purposeful customer experience

For many reasons – not least for consistency and coordination – the entirety of the customer lifecycle needs to be orchestrated by marketing. Sales still owns the human-to-human real-time contact that includes demos and deals, and customer service does the same for training and support. But marketing should be the source for the branding and messaging that moves the lead through the lifecycle. Most importantly: Marketing is in the best position to turn the customer experience into a continuum of processes where one influences the other, rather than a series of siloed, disassociated touches.

Starting with these four steps will put yourself in position to go beyond traditional positioning to reach the real driver of decision-making: emotions.     

Brian Odell

About Author

Brian Odell

30+ year veteran of B2B branding and marketing communications. Started out as a technical copywriter. Worked in PR. Eventually moved to account service. Founded Catalyst to serve B2B marketers looking for ways to leverage their brand as the stimulus for company transformation. Lots of experience, but definitely new age when it comes to brand strategy and activation.