Creative Lewisham blog

Brand Strategy, Creative Thinking, Digital Evolution and more...

Why talk of emotional marketing in B2B makes me angry

September 05 2022 7:14 AM


There has been a lot of talk recently about emotion in marketing – largely instigated (in the UK at least) by the nice people at B2B Marketing magazine – but I have to say that many of the emotions that the coverage raises in me aren’t very positive ones.

I can’t deny that emotion is important to B2B marketing (lower case ‘m’). Of course it is. But it always has been.

So when the editorial states: “The overwhelming majority of marketers are beginning to understand the psychological process behind B2B purchases, and the role emotion plays in it.” I can’t help feeling indignant to say the least.

The overwhelming majority of marketers already know about emotion and have done for years. (The rest won’t last long in the job because they aren’t going to have much success.)

We know it’s about the hopes, fears, desires of customers and prospects. That’s because we know that bare facts about a product simply don’t work on their own. They are but proof points.

Customers need the bare facts to be communicated in a compelling way: one that provokes a reaction. Marketing without emotion is like expecting someone to be moved by sheet music or to drool at the mere sight of a list of ingredients. Come on. Customers need the story to be told. They need to taste and feel the need for the product. They respond to the sizzle, not the steak, as they say in marketing school. And for me at least, marketing school was a long time ago.

A more interesting debate would not be about whether to focus on customers’ and prospects’ emotions. We might more usefully ask what form do those emotions take.

Here are two key emotional arguments I have considered with clients in recent months – I’d suggest this might be a more interesting discussion for other marketers.

1. Fear of failure or desire to succeed?

In a recent project with a technology provider, we canvassed opinion on why customers used the product, and geared the questions to help us work out which emotion we should provoke. Should customers think that our client would help them avoid bad things (security) or that we would help them achieve good things (ambition). Once we had taken this approach, we could see tell-tale signs emerging from the script – and a good idea for how our campaign should develop.

2. Commercial pain (gain) or personal pain (gain)?

It was then very interesting to investigate this pain/gain idea from another angle – whether it was personal or commercial. Did they fear the commercial impact of getting it wrong – ie lost revenue? Or would they feel personal shame for being associated with failure (or indeed incur personal penalties, ie job loss). We then considered the positive: would they respond emotionally to stories about increased revenue and other commercial factors, or was their ‘hot button’ about personal achievement, promotion, self-esteem etc.

These are fairly subtle points, but I think that’s where most marketers are. We know our competitors (because they are also practiced, emotionally aware marketers) are going through similar thought processes. So any advantage – however slight – in terms of smarter competitive positioning is welcome. And that advantage will clearly come from provoking the right emotion in the right people.

I applaud B2B Marketing for stressing the importance of emotion. It’s central to great marketing and the guys at B2B know what they’re talking about. But to suggest that this is new to us makes me kind of mad…

1 Comment

Colin Paterson

September 18 2022 8:15 PM

Totally agree John.
To a similar extent “content marketing” and “storytelling” could suffer the same pragmatic yet objective analysis you make for “emotion”. They’ve nee with us since the beginning. Often it is “digital” (and in particular social media agencies!) orientation that re-creates these new breakthrough revelations that are the basics behind such classics as “attention, interest, desire, action” - still applies, same concept, just different media perhaps!

December 10 2024 9:26 PM