The B2B Buyer Connection — From Emotion to Purchase

Late last year, Google and CEB published a study called From Promotion to Emotion: Connecting B2B Customers to Brands. The study has been widely discussed and was the subject of a presentation at last month’s Business Marketing Association conference, where the idea of emotional connection resonated with some of the show’s other prominent themes — particularly the idea of storytelling.

This research will hopefully once and for all dispel the myth that emotions are strictly the providence of consumer marketing, while B2B messaging should stick to rational appeals. The authors use detailed survey data and case studies to demonstrate the powerful role that emotions play in business purchasing decisions, and the depth of personal connection that customers have with B2B brands. In fact, this study suggests that there is a stronger emotional tie on the B2B side than on the consumer side. This makes sense. After all, there aren’t many purchases you can make as a consumer that will make or break your career the way a major supplier decision can.

While this is a powerful idea, it’s easy to come to the wrong conclusion about these findings if you don’t look past the headline. Proving the value of emotional connections in business decision-making doesn’t mean that B2C marketing approaches will work for B2B. It doesn’t mean that a clever headline, a tear-jerking commercial or a catchy theme song will be all that it takes to sell to businesses.

While we often hear discussions in the industry suggesting B2B marketing isn’t too much different than B2C marketing, people who market products and services to businesses for a living know that this simply isn’t true.

Consumer and B2B emotional connections operate in completely different contexts. Creating emotional resonance in B2B marketing is a complex challenge that involves a wide range of factors and implications. The dynamics at play include:

  • Personal value vs. business value — There is a complex mix of emotional and rational components to each of these value equations.
  • Multiple decision-makers — There are an average of 5.4 decision-makers in every B2B buying cycle, each with their own motivations and triggers.
  • Long sales cycles — B2B emotional connections need to extend and evolve across decision journeys that can run easily run into the six-, 12- or 18-month range.

Most of the Google / CEB study actually delves into the need to develop a deep understanding of buyers’ emotional triggers, recommending the creation of detailed personas that give a face and a voice to each decision-maker. The study also presents findings that demonstrate the need to push content marketing beyond thought leadership. Marketers need to leverage their understanding of buyer motivations to deliver true commercial insights that are directly relevant to the customer’s business.

Connecting with business decision-makers on an emotional level requires a great deal of work and involves a wide range of considerations. You need to take a deep dive into their world and come up with actionable insights. You need to understand their industry and their challenges better than they do. Then you can show them how your solutions will deliver business and personal value in way that other options won’t.

Emotions definitely play a more profound role in B2B decisions than in consumer purchasing. But activating those emotions so that the business decisions fall your way also requires a more complicated set of processes, frameworks and insights.