Should emotion lead a B2B marketing strategy?

Author - Jodi Norris

Posted By Jodi Norris Community Marketing Manager

Date posted 24th Mar 2020

Category Marketing


Emotion is seen as increasingly important in B2B marketing, yet traditionally, it has been granted a much stronger consideration in the B2C space. With fast sales cycles and simple messaging, it is easy to see why many marketers appeal to the emotional when selling B2C.

However with increased number of reports and academic research it is becoming clear that emotion is king, not only in B2C but in B2B marketing too. Going a step further, much of the research now eludes to the fact that not only should B2B brands incorporate some level of emotive aspect in their marketing campaigns, but they should be going a step further, and shifting their marketing campaigns to primarily appeal to our emotions.

B2C versus B2B marketing 

B2C consumers tend to have a short sales cycle. Going from identifying a need to buying, can take a few minutes, and in many cases that need does not exist before the consumer sees the product. Often the products are cheap, with a single decision maker. So naturally it is no surprise that the B2C business market to the emotions of the consumer.

People buy products that align with their values, how they see themselves and most importantly how they want to be perceived by their peers. More recently, according to SmartInsights 64% of consumers are now belief-driven buyers who want brands to deliver on societal issues, as well as products.

This must have some overlap with B2B marketing, as a person working within a business you want to work with other businesses that share your values. Just as you are drawn to people who share your interests, businesses are drawn to other businesses with a shared understanding and mutual interest.

If you are following the ‘jobs to be done’ framework, the job of any product is to help a person or company be a better version of themselves alongside any function benefits.

However, in the B2B space, the marketing strategy will often be product led. This tends to be because sales cycles are longer, products can be much more expensive, and often you have multiple decision makers to please. So it is no surprise that marketers opt to create campaigns that show-off the product with all its features and functionalities.

A product driven B2B marketing strategy implies that when considering a purchasing decision, the B2B buyer compares the functionalities of a number of different options, and is able to rationally choose the best product for them. (at least most of the time) 

We’re irrational decision makers 

However, time and time again it has been proven that when it comes to decision making, despite what many of us like to believe, we rarely make decisions wholly based on reason. Take any one of Cialdini’s Six Principles of Persuasion, and you will be able to see how we can influence and persuade the decision makers to act in a way that you like, and possibly contrary to the reasonable decision for the DM.

Consider the ‘Commitment principle’. According to Cialdini, humans are thought to have an inherent urge for their beliefs to be consistent with their values. As a result, once we agree to something, we’re more likely to follow through with it to the end, even if it may no longer be the best decision for us. A tendency relied on by marketers to their advantage. 

Take an email request to complete a customer feedback survey. Commonly, a single survey question will be displayed, prompting you to answer on the page, and click ‘next’ to see the rest. Research shows that once you have answered the one question on the email page, it’s as if you’ve agreed to the full survey, and as a result are more likely to complete the rest of the survey for the sake of consistency.

Similarly, another persuasion principle by Caldini is that of ‘Social Proof’. People generally do things that they see other people doing, and the more people you see doing the thing, the more likely you are to do it. A frightening demonstration of this principle was highlighted in the 1950’s experiment by the psychologist Solomon Asch – the ‘Asch paradigm’. 

The experiments proved that based on the previous actions of others, the experiment participants would knowingly choose the wrong answer, just to fit in. The experiment highlights the fact that even when the right, rational decision is starting us in the face, there are still emotional, social, and/or psychological factors that are much more capable of influencing the decision than reason is. 

The behavioural economist Dan Airley takes our apparent lack of rationality in decision making a step further. In his book ‘Predictably Irrational’ Dan takes us through a number of experiments, conducted with his students at MIT, demonstrating that when it comes to decision making, not only are we irrational, but (you guessed it) we’re predictably irrational. We all have a tendency to make the same, logic-lacking decisions over and over, influenced by arbitrary external factors. 

One such example is that of ‘anchoring’. The idea of anchoring is that the first time you see the price of an item, that price will act as a base for all future purchasing decisions of similar items. For example, if the first hat you ever bought was priced at £50, and then if you saw a hat for £20, that would be cheap, and a hat for £100 would be expensive. But if the first hat you saw was priced at £5, then the hat for £2 would be cheap, but the one for £20 would be expensive.

Anchoring also works with much more arbitrary numbers. Airely asked his 55 MIT students to write down the last two digits of their social security number next to 6 different items that were going to be auctioned. He then asked the students to indicate if they are willing to pay that many dollars for the item. E.g. if the last number was 88, would they be willing to pay $88 for the item?

Following this he asked his students to write down the largest number they would be willing to pay for the item. Once this was done and the slips with the numbers were collected, students were asked if they thought they were in control of their decisions. Naturally, the majority said ‘Yes’. Yet when the data was analyzed this didn’t look to be the case. Those with higher social security numbers consistently bid higher on the items than those with a lower number. In fact those with a higher social security number (in the 80’s-90’s) bid 216-346% higher! This again showed the power of arbitrary external factors to influence our rational decision making.

Douglas Van Praet provides a concise summary of this phenomenon in his book ‘Neuroscience can emprover (and inspire) marketing’ When reflecting on logical solutions and decision making, Douglas says “The most startling truth is we don’t even think our way to logical solutions. We feel our way to reason. Emotions are the substrate, the base layer of neural circuitry underpinning even rational deliberation. Emotions don’t hinder decisions. They constitute the foundation on which they’re made!”

So, if our everyday decision making process is driven by emotions and desires (despite what many of us like to believe!), why do we then assume that when considering a decision in the B2B space, we can change our decision making process and act wholly based on rationality?

After all, as Steve Mann, CMO at ThetaRay put it in the FINITE podcast episode: ‘Same techniques that you would use in a B2C setting are applicable in B2B. It’s just that you’re spending somebody else’s money.’

In fact research shows that when choosing to make a B2B decision, 56% of our decision is based on emotion. So how can B2B tech, SaaS brands working in areas such as IT, Cyber security, or risk, market based on emotion?

How to utilise emotion in B2B marketing 

One strategy to utilise emotion in B2B marketing was discussed by Steve Mann in the ‘Psychology of Marketing’ podcast with FINITE. When referring to his strategy for marketing ThetaRay – the artificial intuition financial crime detection software, he discusses the idea of identifying and then utilising the key driving emotion of the decision maker(s). 

‘My marketing is meant to do that as well by utilizing the emotions that drive my customers. Like fear, because these guys are compliance professionals. They’re financial crime professionals. If they don’t catch something, then it puts their banks at legal, regulatory or financial peril.’ Steve Mann, CMO, ThetaRay 

‘So my job as a marketer and to market ThetaRay is to tell them how, we can ameliorate that fear, how we can find the bad actor, how we can help them stop narco trafficking, or terrorist financing. These are all behaviours that not only drive fear, but they drive anger, resentment, and anxiety. To the degree that I can help a buyer ameliorate those feelings, feel safe, be safe, help secure the world. I’m more likely to drive a purchase of ThetaRay. Because of this notion of safety in the world, it’s not logical, right? It doesn’t have a real logical element. It’s completely emotional.’ Steve Mann, CMO, ThetaRay

Listen to the full FINITE podcast episode here.

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