Leveraging Emotions in B2B Marketing

Emotions play a large part in our decision making, whether we know it or not. In consumer markets, it is common knowledge that shoppers often make decisions on impulse, status or nostalgia. But what happens when we enter a business setting? Are we able to leave our emotions at the door?

In a 2013 survey conducted by Google of 3,000 business decision makers, researchers found that emotions continue to play a role in our purchasing decisions at work. When asked about their emotional connection to both B2B and consumer brands, B2B brands rated significantly higher than their consumer counterparts. This raises the question of what generates an emotional connection to a B2B brand: what are the emotions we feel?

The predominant emotion connected to a B2B purchasing decision is negative: fear and anxiety over whether or not a decision is/will be the correct one. Should the forecasted return on investment be strong, we may feel more confident and sure about making this decision. If the supplier is one the company has transacted with before, we might have a high level trust, leading to comfort making the repeat purchase.

Individuals in a B2B purchasing role can take on a lot of personal risk when making decisions. The wrong choice can result in lost time and effort, should a purchase decision go poorly. They might also lose credibility if they make a recommendation for an unsuccessful purchase or potentially lose their job if they are responsible for a purchase which damages the organization. In the same survey conducted by Google, researchers found a direct correlation between the amount of risk a B2B purchaser faces when making a decision, and whether or not an individual feels an emotional connection with a B2B brand. Risky purchases elicit a stronger emotional connection (often not in a good way).

Since emotion plays a part in B2B purchasing decisions, it makes sense that marketers should incorporate this into their marketing pitch when speaking with potential clients. One way of doing this is through storytelling. Storytelling – when done correctly – can bring a service or experience to life (even in a B2B context). Storytelling in marketing usually incorporates the voice of the customer through testimonials and success stories. Storytelling can also include the brand heritage and experience to demonstrate the supplier’s ability to address their customers’ pain points.

To bring this point to life, I recommend watching a 2010 Ted Talk by Simon Sinek, where he demonstrates how the Apple (consumer) marketing message differs from their competitors, and how businesses can learn from Apple’s marketing strategy. Simon Sinek believes that the key reason why Apple’s product range appeals to a broad range of consumers is that they tell their brand’s story. The focus of their marketing is why they do what they do, followed by the how and the what (“by the way, we also make great computers”). Simon Sinek argues that emphasizing why businesses do what they do is equally as important as talking about what they sell. Apple attracts customers to their products because they believe in the same message the company promotes. It is for this reason, Sinek argues, that people not only want to purchase computers from Apple, but also want to invest in MP3 players and smartphones. People continue to return to an organization if they feel that they share common values.

Sinek argues that by following his model, brands will more strongly connect with potential customers on an emotional level, and therefore communication their points of difference (PODs) much more effectively:


This model by no means applies to consumer brands only. Another successful emotional marketing campaign is IBM’s early 1990s “Nobody gets fired for buying IBM.” This campaign addressed the personal risks purchasers face when making B2B purchasing decisions, and attempted to alleviate those concerns. Another example is a UK-based supplier of safety gear, which has transformed its marketing approach to focus on what its customers gain by using their products: the ability to do the things that they love with the people that they love. Finally, a leading generator manufacturer recently launched a new marketing campaign that uses customer testimonials to attract new clients.

Emotions play a large part in any and all B2B decision making processes. Is your marketing taking advantage?

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