Why Emotional Connections Matter in B2B Marketing

By getting personal, marketers can get ahead of the competition—even in the B2B space.

Consumers frequently express their love for brands (think Apple and Netflix) but how often do enterprise customers proclaim their devotion to a vendor? Not that often. Emotional connections between clients and vendors may be less obvious but emotion ultimately plays a significant role in B2B purchase decisions. The challenge is to cut through complex, multi-buyer sales processes and connect with customers. Here’s how companies are doing just that. 

Don’t Underestimate Emotional Connections
"The emotionality evoked by loved brands is just as intense as that evoked by a close friend," report researchers from the German university Bergische University Wuppertal in the journal Psychology and Marketing. "Moreover, consumers experience emotions in a brand love relation that are even more positive than those evoked in close, interpersonal liking relationships."

B2C brands may evoke strong feelings among consumers, but other studies suggest B2B customers are even more emotionally connected to their vendors and service providers. For example, in a study sponsored by Google and CEB, only 10 percent to 40 percent of respondents reported being emotionally connected to brands like L’Oreal, Target, and McDonald’s while 40 percent to 70 percent felt connected to service providers like Cisco, Accenture, Oracle, and Deloitte.

On average, B2B buyers are significantly more emotionally connected to their vendors and service providers than consumers. Why is that?

One explanation lies in the decision-making process. While it’s true that many people in an organization might be involved in making a purchase decision, for the key stakeholders, a B2B purchase includes personal risks. If the purchase decision goes badly, stakeholders risk losing time and credibility or worse—their jobs. With so much at stake, it’s understandable that people feel a stronger connection to a vendor as compared to a consumer brand.

Transparency Goes a Long Way
Furthermore, although B2B buying is often perceived as a rational, data-driven endeavor, the decisions are still influenced by a complex mix of instinct, emotion, and reason. “People buy from people, not from companies,” notes Guy Yehiav, CEO of Profitect, a predictive analytics provider. “Therefore emotional connectivity is an important part of any business decision.” However, the way people form connections has changed, Yehiav adds. “When I was starting out in business, the popular wisdom was that you had to play golf because most deals were being made in person, on the golf course,” he recalls. “Now, people are forming impressions about you and your company even before the first meeting.”

In today’s hyper-connected, digital-first world, buyers can quickly identify the leading vendors in a field and determine which ones meet the company’s needs. And competing on price and business value is a slippery slope as most features become commoditized over time.

Therefore, when transparency is table stakes, Yehiav says he reminds his sales team that “people can tell when they’re getting a generic pitch so be authentic and connect with honesty.” Additionally, a salesperson should strive to deliver value as early as possible, such as by researching the prospect’s role in the company and sharing product information that isn’t readily available online. Putting prospects and current customers at ease by demonstrating that the service provider understands his or her problem and has the right solution isn’t just common sense, it’s a smart business practice.

Indeed, the way an experience makes customers feel has a bigger influence on their loyalty to a brand than the effectiveness of the experience, according to Forrester Research. Making customers feel valued, appreciated, and confident drives loyalty while disappointment and frustration decrease loyalty. In other words, taking the buyer’s perspective into consideration is just as important as explaining the business value of the product or service.

Telling Stories
Three years ago Adobe released a witty commercial titled “Click, Baby, Click!” created by Goodby, Silverstein and Partners that quickly became a favorite among marketers. The commercial features the CEO of an encyclopedia company misinterpreting a spike in click-through rates and ends with the message, “Do you know what your marketing is doing? We can help.” Publications such as Adweek and The Economist hailed the ad as an excellent piece of content and it is often found in Power Point presentations at marketing conferences. 

One of the reasons “Click, Baby, Click” resonates with audiences is because it fulfills a basic tenet of brand narratives. In his book, The Hook, screenwriter and consultant Richard Krevolin explains that that rule “is the understanding that your brand or product must not be the hero of the story. Instead, your brand or product must be the helpful ally that allows the consumer to reach their goals.”

By poking fun at executives who have misinterpreted data, Adobe portrays itself as an insider that understands the challenges companies face and is ready to offer a solution. “Brand narratives have the power to emotionally differentiate any brand from all of the others in the same category,” Krevolin writes.

Michael Ballard, senior manager of digital marketing at Lenovo, concurs. “Stories are how people connect with each other. If you have a compelling story that will go much further than a dry sales pitch.” At the same time, a savvy use of data can help companies tell a better story, he adds. As an example, Ballard points to Lenovo’s partnership with Vidyard, a video performance analytics firm. The PC company wanted insights into whether people were watching the videos it sends to prospects. It selected Vidyard to help it score and qualify its audience based on what percentage of each video they’ve watched. Doing so gives Lenovo’s sales team a clearer idea of which prospects are interested in learning more about the company and how to shape their pitch.

“We follow up differently with someone who watched a video all the way through – or re-watched it – than someone who turned it off after a few seconds,” Ballard explains. And by customizing the video experience for individual viewers, Lenovo was able to increase click-through and conversion rates by more than 500 percent. Ballard and his team won the 2016 Markie Award at Oracle Modern Marketing Experience for Best Digital Marketing Experience, in part because of the company’s strategic use of video.

Ballard is naturally pleased with the results of the partnership but what also stands out, he says, is how quickly the vendor responds to his requests. “Initially, the platform could only tell us how many seconds someone watched a video,” Ballard says. “But our videos have different time lengths and so I asked if they could give us the percentage instead. In my experience, asking for a change like that can take a few months but they [Vidyard] made the change in a matter of weeks.” A response like that “tells me the partner is willing to go the extra mile for us, which is something I look for in every partnership,” Ballard adds.    

Of course, business decisions are largely driven by hard data and results, but as Ballard demonstrates, behind every partnership and purchase are people. And when it comes time to renew a contract or buy another product, the question, “am I treated as a valued customer?” can determine what the customer’s next move will be.