Do emotions matter in B2B marketing?

Tags: Knowledge
Do emotions matter in B2B marketing?
Many B2B clients argue that emotional advertising has no place in B2B marketing. For long I too agreed with them but not anymore. Emotion is not just about commercials like you see on television.

Agreed, that purchase decisions in B2B are made on rational and pragmatic evidence of benefits and value. Agreed, that the emotional television commercicals will not clinch deals for B2B. Agreed, that factual data and actual needs are the clinchers in B2B. What is becoming increasingly evident is that the level of emotional engagement customers are subjected to is influencing buying decisions. Traditionally, B2B marketers have been reluctant to indulge in emotional engagements despite being tempted by advertising agencies. There are some ingrained beliefs for this. Almost all B2B marketers believe that their customers are rational when it comes to taking decisions on buying products and services from a supplier.

Unfortunately, they have not realised the fact that many a times the emotional factor is the real decision tilter. The other reason why marketers have refused to listen to the emotional angle is that most of them have not actually analysed the B2B buyers’ minds to learn about emotions. They have been tuned to think from peers and bosses, not to mention their professors who taught them B2B marketing basics, that buying decisions are purely dependent on products and services, specifications and prices.

A recent study of small and medium enterprises in the B2B sector in the US throws light on several interesting findings. The researchers put the firms participating in the study into two groups wherein one group was shown an inspiring video and the other a depressing clip of same duration. Both groups were then pitched the same concept of a product: a special magazine on innovation that is of use to all types of B2B businesses. The results were not surprising: The group or individuals who watched the inspiring video clip were more willing to subscribe to the magazine than those who watched the depressing clip. The research measured both the inclinations to the concept as well as purchase intent and in both the situations, the group that watched the inspiring video showed positive attitude toward purchase.

In order to succeed in this highly competitive market, firms need to understand the core emotional needs of the customers. That is not to say that product specs, pricing, after sales and demo are not important. There are cases where companies have used the brand in an emotional advertising and shown increased sales. Such companies also use social media for creating more awareness and connect with customers. More importantly companies should acquire the skills to engage with their customers in a meaningful way. Typically, in my opinion, the universal emotions hold good for any situation. These include humour, belonging and love.

So what can a B2B firm do to get emotional when it does not have huge budgets to make a TV commercial and air it nationally? The key is in getting closer to their customers. What they have missed out in the past is more qualitative research. It is good to do more and more qualitative research including focus groups based on various segments, spending more time with customers including lots of listening by all contact employees with customers. Of­course, quantitative research including surveys, segmentation and cluster analysis are helpful and important but these will not be enough for emotional insights. For instance, many of us would have found out that sometimes customers say one thing and want another. This is clearly avoided when one is face-to-face with a customer and having a discussion. Hence, quantitative research cannot be a substitute.

Various authors and researchers have ideated and written about core emotional needs of customers that need to be addressed. Here are some of the key ones:

Need to control: This is perhaps the most primitive one. Such customers respond to communication that empowers them. They are attracted to the product or service that hold the promise to transfer control to them. Customers want to be able to do things themselves instead of approaching the company for everything.

Need to express self: All of us are trying to find ways to express ourselves. Marketers who can position the brand or product as a symbol of expression will score high on the customer’s list.

Need for growth: This one is different for different people. The best way to help your customers is by knowing where they want to go. The idea is to identify major life transitions and milestones in the customers’ lives.

Need for recognition: This is as universal as it can get. Everyone has this need and the communication should have emotional value for such messaging.

Need for belonging: Belonging to a group or association is the most important need for most customers today. Look at the success of online groups and communities. If you help your customers make their connections and include them into special groups, you have a better chance to score with them.

Need for care: This is a fundamental need and provides several opportunities for marketers to earn points with customers. It could backfire too if you are not careful in addressing this. zz

(M Muneer is the CEO

and MD of CustomerLab)


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