TriComB2B Blogger - John Nagy

Emotion in B2B Decision Making, Really?

John Nagy

I saw an interesting segment on the PBS series “The Brain” hosted by David Eagleman. In the episode, he introduced viewers to Tammy, who had spent two decades as a successful engineer. Two years ago, she had a motorcycle accident from which she mostly recovered, but has since continually struggled with making decisions. She can take in information, but it becomes overwhelming for her to process. Her injury was to the pre-frontal cortex of her brain; it disconnected her logical and emotional systems. Tammy can go to her refrigerator and tell you details of its contents, but frustration brings her to tears because she can’t choose what to eat. In the Produce area of a supermarket, Tammy can tell you all the distinct features of various potatoes, but can’t decide which to buy. Her injury reveals in even the most basic situations, emotion is a necessary component to decision making. Tammy can’t make herself care, so she can’t prioritize. She can’t value one option over another. This can only be done with the help of emotions.

b2b emotion icons

Are We Really Rational Decision Makers?

For years we were told that humans are rational beings; that we consciously analyze the alternatives and weigh all the pros and cons. This was the foundation of philosophies, the basis of modern economics, and the driver behind decades of cognitive science.

Many people will tell you they are not influenced by emotional messages. Others may be, but not them. They are in control. Research shows otherwise.

Emotion Matters in B2B Advertising

Many think the role of emotion is mainly in the realm of B2C advertising, where decisions are more impulsive and emotions such as desire, happiness, sadness, nostalgia, excitement and spontaneity come into play. The conventional wisdom in B2B is that the considered purchase—where the factors of time, technology, heavy capital and the inclusion of several stakeholders—is by nature a more rational decision. A study by CEB, “From Promotion to Emotion,” shows this assumption to be wrong. They found “B2B buying is highly personal—even more so than B2C buying—due to the level of personal risk buyers feel.” Trust is paramount. The personal risks of losing credibility, time, and even a job if a purchase fails, place an enormous amount of emotion into the equation. This emotion can’t be satisfied by merely offering features and benefits.

Four Tips for Building Emotion into Your B2B Marketing

So, how do you tap into this emotion?

  • First, understand a buyer’s values. There are business values such as functional benefits and outcomes, but more importantly, there are personal values, including career advancement, confidence and self-image. Both need to be included, with the personal values having more weight.
  • Be credible. Talk the language of the buyer. This shows empathy and understanding. Avoid any hint of manipulation.
  • Use the element of surprise. Disrupt the buyer’s thinking. People are programmed to enjoy surprises. Things that are new and novel capture attention.
  • When possible, engage as many senses as you can. A video has action, sound and music all working together to leave an emotional impression. You feel the message. Compare that to a stand-alone white paper.

Using emotion in B2B doesn’t mean saying “I’m lovin’ it” like the McDonald’s jingle, but it is definitely about recognizing that customers are human. To truly reach people you have to be relevant—not just rationally, but also with feeling. 

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