B2B Marketing Needs More Heart

February 1, 2018 | Lorraine Stewart

Consider marketing programs that are working. Often their advertising campaigns are designed to appeal to the head and the heart to move the target market to take action. They communicate a brand value proposition that fulfills both the rational and emotional needs. After all, people don’t buy chocolates on Valentine’s Day simply to satisfy hunger.

But is emotional appeal a driver in Business to Business marketing?

B2B marketing/advertising, estimated to be $160B spend across all channels last year, requires its own strategies. It’s certainly a more complex buying process than B2C marketing, especially when buying key supplier services. It’s hard to argue that choosing a new cyber-tech partner poses more risk than buying a box of chocolates, despite what Forrest would tell us.

What’s love got to do with it?

In our knowledge-based economy, most company leaders gravitate to information–based and rational processes for making sound buying decisions in the value chain. Yet they can fail to recognize the inherent bias from more elusive, emotional drivers of decision-making that are also at play.

Modern procurement practices have evolved (thankfully) beyond the practice of a price and profit orientation, where businesses receive multiple bids, compare choices and select a low cost supplier. Best in class companies now focus on the relationship they will have with key suppliers after the initial selection decision, often expressing specific goals to sustain value and continually improve performance.

With the mutually desirable outcome of healthy business relationships that last, B2B marketers should confidently dial up the emotional component of their value proposition to realize greater marketing success.

Buyers who evaluate and hire key suppliers can expand their thinking and improve the outcome by tuning in to the intangible drivers of relationship success. Trust and commitment directly and indirectly influence performance and productivity, not only between partners in love, but also in business!

Trust is the belief in the reliability, truth, ability, and strength of your partner; it is at the heart of it, pun intended! Look to organizational culture and fit and the core values alignment between buyer and seller to anticipate how well things will work, or not. Brand reputation and passion for the industry are other intangible factors to consider.

Get to The Feels –  Faster

It’s a tall order to grab attention and succinctly communicate the intangible elements of the B2B value proposition; the buying framework is organizationally complicated with cross functional members and informal Buying Control Centers. The sell-in process for big ticket items, i.e., multi-million dollar contracts, is long. Yet among a pre-qualified set of suppliers, differentiation and choice comes from the confidence inspired by brand intangibles.

For B2B marketing leaders, here are three ways to warm up the emotional appeal and better differentiate your firm in your own marketing efforts this year:

  1. Storytelling, in social media. Even B2B companies can elevate their profile in social media channels, selectively and with great benefit, beyond simple SEO. A powerful place to start is to share stories about how your company made a difference for a current customer. Highlight stories that illustrate your unique company culture and value system in action so prospects begin to appreciate what it might be like to work with you and your team. Create your Company page on LinkedIn; Offer social proof in video formats so that your prospects can find different and more emotionally rich information about you on line. Online vetting is a for-sure precursor to important RFP invites or face to face interactions that follow in any supplier sourcing process.
  2. Move from promotion to emotion. Evoke a positive emotional response about your company brand by giving something of value to others first. What counts? Great advice, time, support for causes, referrals and endorsements are small deposits into a B2B relationship account that will add up over time. On-point efforts require both empathy and relevancy on the sender’s part– so doing your homework in advance improves your odds of hitting the prospect’s emotional target.
  3. Let’s get personal. While the formal business case will always be important, most B2B buying decisions are also very important to an individual, as making the right decision is seen as a reflection on his/her leadership capability. Understanding the decision-maker’s personal needs and the benefits to be realized in making the right decision can be the key that unlocks the door to her/his heart; this moves the buyer from a rational place of understanding the many choices to a more emotional secure place to commit to one over another.

Say ‘I do’

The proven practice of marketing to both head and heart does apply to the complex world of B2B marketing. Accepting and embracing that emotions drive B2B purchasing decisions and key service supplier selection, allows B2B marketers to adjust marketing messages and personal sales efforts accordingly. At every level, everybody, including the most-buttoned up procurement officer or time-stressed CMO, wants these things in her box of chocolates: to trust and believe in her supplier choices, to develop great business relationships and to love the positive results that follow.