Venturing Into The Twilight Zone: The Emotional Dimension Of B2B Marketing
By Perry Rearick, Chief Editor, Follow Your Buyer
B2B marketing material does not have a reputation for being deeply engaging, entertaining, or something that strikes an emotional chord with its audience. And like the Twilight Zone, we find emotional B2B marketing hard to understand and fascinating, but few of us are willing to travel there.
However, according to Ben Laws, Executive Vice President and Deputy U.S. Lead, Edelman Business Marketing, “it is a fallacy that B2B marketing should not be emotive. It absolutely should be, and that’s not just a finger in the wind opinion, there is a lot of data that backs that up.”
To understand why he is so confident in his position, let’s for moment consider the B2B buyer’s situation. B2B buying decisions are high stakes. That is reflected in how smart buyers make decisions, says Laws. They have carefully shaped buying criteria; they assemble the right people inside their organizations to be part of the buying team and they bring in outside advisers to help them. There is much to gain, and lose, with complex, high-cost B2B buying decisions, and there is certainly an emotional dimension to the process.
The best B2B marketers, according to Laws, spend a significant amount of time rigorously mapping their campaigns to the buyer’s journey. In good B2B campaigns, “we see a high level of sophistication in addressing key members of the buying committee, to include shaping and influencing the criteria they use to support their decision-making.” But those same campaigns often fail to create content that creates much emotional resonance with the buyer.
Why is the emotional component of the buyer’s journey important?
Before diving into why most B2B content tends to be dull and what can be done about it, let’s look at why it is important for B2B companies to consider the emotional component of the buyer’s journey. Laws says there is ample evidence available on the criticality of understanding and addressing the emotional component of B2B buying decisions.
In their research published by the B2B Institute, Les Binet and Peter Fields found that harnessing the power of emotion can imbed your brand more firmly into the memory of buyers and will produce better long-term effects. They further discovered that while traditional product and features content can be more differentiating, its effectiveness is limited to the end of the buyer’s journey, or the bottom of the sales funnel. Content that is emotional in nature is more effective in the early part of the buyer’s journey, moving more buyers into your sales funnel. 1
The 2021 Edelman Thought Leadership Impact Study, now in its fourth year, offers great insights into B2B buyer content preferences. The report states “high performing thought leadership strikes a balance between being authoritative and provocative and yet even human in tone and fun.” Nearly 90% of buyers surveyed said that thought leadership can be intellectually rigorous and fun at the same time. Fun B2B content? The researchers at Edelman define it as interesting content with an emotional component that compels the reader to want more.2
B2B marketers who create content that has an emotional quality will attract more prospects in the early stages of their buyer’s journey, their brand will be better remembered, and they will be delivering content that buyers prefer. And according to Laws and the Edelman study, it leads to more business.
Why don’t B2B sellers create better content?
By better content, I mean content that resonates with buyers emotionally and mentally. Think back to the last time you read something that you considered valuable but was a chore to get through. Maybe you’re thinking that right now? Compare that with a book you read that you couldn’t put down? The latter is the kind of content we’re talking about.
Marketing content can appeal to buyers both rationally and emotionally. The traditional approach for B2B marketers has been to place more emphasis on rational content: product and service descriptions, features, and functional data. Content that has an emotional appeal has been, and still is, given less importance.1
B2B marketers often say they don’t have the time needed to create content that targets the early buyer’s journey. Perhaps time is not the culprit, but rather, there is no alignment of B2B marketing resources to accomplish the things that will generate better results.
Despite the research that indicates buyers prefer entertaining, rich content that appeals to their emotions, B2B marketers continue to put more emphasis on the rational. And according to Binet and Fields, attempts to challenge this long-standing tradition will be difficult.
What should B2B sellers do?
Sorry for that bleak depiction of B2B marketing content, but now that we’re past it, we can get to the good stuff. There are many B2B marketers who regularly create compelling, emotionally arresting content targeting the early buyer’s journey and they have great success with it.
Laws highlights how it has become increasingly easier for buyers to get the information they need with self-directed research and specifically online search activities. B2B sellers who aren’t creating early buyer’s journey marketing content are absent from the buyer’s research experience. This is an important phase in which sellers can build trust with buyers, according to Laws, but they must be present with the kind of content the buyers prefer.
What constitutes good, emotive B2B marketing content varies by market, but one way to do it is to project empathy by expressing an understanding of the buyer’s customers: venturing beyond your immediate relationship with the buyer.
Laws shares an example of how a microchip company, Mediatek, employs a B2B marketing campaign with an emotional dimension. One of Mediatek’s target markets is television manufacturers and they produce high-performing chips that go into today’s TVs which are complex computing devices. Mediatek naturally has detailed spec sheets explaining their products, but they also created a series of videos called Visionaries on Vision. These rich video stories spotlight creators of the entertainment programming that television buyers will experience that is enabled by Mediatek’s chips.
Another example that Laws shares is of a defense contractor, UTC Aerospace, that produced ejection seats for fighter jets. Like all B2B buying and selling there was a rational, engineering-based way for this company to promote their ejection seat. But they also developed a series of stories featuring pilots who had survived ejections along with the engineers who design and test the seats. This offered a very human, and emotional, component to their B2B marketing content.
In Edelman’s thought leadership research, B2B buyers reported that there is too much content and most of it is not interesting. Laws states that B2B markers have less than a minute to capture a buyer’s attention, your content must be compelling, “but too much B2B content is just like wallpaper”, it’s there, contributing to the background, but no one sees it.
Emotive content, says Laws, has the aim of quickly capturing the attention of buyers, pulling them in, and stirs in them a desire to know more. That is the impact of quality B2B content with an emotional dimension.
B2B marketing is not known for its emotional content, but research indicates that including an emotional dimension to B2B marketing content can lead to better business results. Emotional content attracts buyers into the top of your sales funnel, captures their attention, engages them more deeply, stays with them longer, and is preferred by buyers.
- B2B Institute (2019) The 5 Principles of Growth in B2B Marketing, LIN_B2B-Marketing-Report-Digital-v02.pdf (linkedin.com).
- Edelman and LinkedIn (2021) 2021 B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study, 2021 LinkedIn-Edelman B2B Thought Leadership Impact Report | Edelman
Ben Laws is Executive Vice President and Deputy U.S. Lead, Edelman Business Marketing. He joined Edelman in 2006 and has led numerous integrated communications programs focused on strengthening corporate reputation, driving-business results, and managing critical organizational moments.
Ben has extensive experience developing and executing programs that center on crystalizing an organization’s story, sharpening relevance to specific stakeholders and ultimately driving real reputational and business results through nimble marketing and communications programs. His clients include Shell Aviation, Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation, Airbus, ITT, HP, eBay, and JDS Uniphase.
Ben has also provided crisis counsel to numerous Edelman clients, including a major multinational industrial company in the aftermath of the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami, U.S. Airways following the 2009 emergency landing of flight 1549 in the Hudson River, an aerospace supplier managing an equipment recall and several top-tier U.S. universities.
Prior to Edelman, Ben worked with North Carolina-based strategic communications firm, Capstrat, a Ketchum agency. He also worked on several political campaigns, including a stint as the field director of a statewide race in North Carolina during the 2004 election. He is a graduate of the University of North Carolina.