Connecting on a human level: why emotions are the next big B2B marketing tool 

Turtl's Nick Mason argues that, in reality, B2B business decisions are even more emotional than B2C ones

Talking to Spock doesn’t work.

Instead, B2B marketers have a duty to recognise the role that emotions have in generating engagement and gaining a customer’s interest. When most people think of marketing, they think of Don Draper: the master of the emotional sell, recognising and using other people’s emotions to build pitches and connect directly with consumers. This is the stereotype of the archetypal B2C marketer, where the emotional pull is a common tactic. So, if the notion of using emotions in marketing isn’t new, why does the myth that B2B marketers should exclude emotions from their marketing toolkit continue to hold so much sway? 

This myth stems from the idea that business decisions are based solely on logic — driven purely by facts and data, with marketers speaking directly to a company as a whole organisation rather than to the individuals responsible for making buying and selling decisions. As a result, many B2B marketers market as if they are talking to Spock from Star Trek — logical, rational, and impressed with barrages of information.

In reality, B2B business decisions are even more emotional than B2C. If you make a mistake as a consumer, like impulsively buying a pair of shoes, you can recover pretty quickly. In a B2B context, however, a mistaken purchase can mean putting your reputation on the line or even risking your job. This means that B2B marketers have a duty to recognise the important role that emotions have in generating engagement and gaining a customer’s interest, intent, purchase, and loyalty.

Understanding how engaging formats use human psychology to win audience attention

No matter how good your content is, if people aren’t engaged by it, you won’t be able to tap into their thoughts or decisions. If, for example, a report is presented in a tedious format that switches your reader off, your captivating charts and interesting insights will simply start collecting digital dust. Without engagement, your message’s reach and campaign’s ROI will be negatively affected. 

Traditionally, marketers in the B2B sphere have spoken to prospective clients as if they were addressing a corporation or company as whole – rather than the individual decision-maker. They often forget a key B2B principle: we’re trying to reach humans on the other end of any communication or piece of content, and there are certain psychological principles content has to adhere to if it is to win mindshare and consideration from audiences. Simply put, marketers need to appeal to human emotions. Here’s how:

The heart wants what the heart wants

Given a human’s first reaction to any stimulus is almost always emotional, it’s important that any marketing communications trigger this same intuitive, instant response, so as to not disappear into a sea of emails. Take personalised content, for instance. Personalisation (which is custom content sent to the right individual, with the right message, at the right time) helps your message stand out from the crowd, making the recipient feel seen and recognised, all emotions that make them more likely to actively engage.

What’s more, B2B marketers can no longer get by with impersonal, mass approaches to solving individual problems. Instead, great marketers are looking for ways to make their message relevant and valuable by sending the appropriate information to suitable contacts at pertinent moments — all in a format that engages the recipient. They combine emotional intelligence with insightful data to understand what stage a company or contact is at and what will engage them. 

Above all, great B2B marketers don’t assume they are talking to logical machines, or that any problem requires a rational solution. Instead they seek to understand the pain points and frustrations that most affect an individual and demonstrate how they can resolve these. Through a strong understanding of human psychology, the most successful marketers can engage both the emotional and rational sides of their prospects’ brains to elicit strong responses.

The science behind emotion-driven content

Our choices and preferences are partly determined by our subconscious thought processes, which constantly draws on emotion to power its decision-making processes. Despite how we may think of ourselves, it’s estimated that up to 95% of our decisions are made subconsciously, meaning there’s almost always an emotional aspect when we make a choice, no matter how logical we think we are.

Yes, a simple list of your product’s advantages over that of your competitors may be convenient, but it isn’t going to drive people towards your offering in the same way that personalised content can when presented in a format that encourages active reader participation.

Research has shown that purely emotional content is twice as effective as content that relies on rational information. This is true in B2B as well as our personal lives – we don’t become different people when we put on a suit or log into a Zoom call.

In short, creating content that uses emotion effectively makes customers look at your brand as more valuable. The result? Customers naturally see your brand as more trustworthy and deserving of their business. Once this principle is understood – and marketers are able to communicate in such a way as to elicit an emotional response from their reader – they need to consider how and when to contact their audiences. By knowing which emotions to talk to and when in the buying journey they need to appeal to these, they can ensure that their content is both relevant and impactful. 

B2B marketers must recognise that emotions are not always positive — with the high stakes of business decisions, negative emotions are an important component to understand. Emotionally intelligent marketers recognise and respect what people are feeling, positive or negative, and reach out to solve problems in a way that connects to the individual where they are at. 

Communications that motivate through the need for belonging could use the message of community, tap into the fear of missing out, or hook with “don’t get left behind”. Put simply, the most successful marketers will use the whole spectrum of human emotion in their content to ensure each reader feels understood throughout every stage of their buying journey.

Wrapping up

As psychology becomes more important than ever in the marketing toolbox, we’ll increasingly be able to understand the impact of emotion on business decisions. Then as we gather more data, we’ll be able to use this to tailor our communications strategies to our audiences. For now, however, we need to bear in mind the basics of creating and delivering emotional content: that we are always talking to another human who we don’t want to overwhelm with mountains of information, and who is often compelled by their emotions more than their rational judgement to make big decisions. 

At the end of the day, we all receive a mountain of notifications, emails, and content. Marketers know content needs to be brain-friendly, conversational and personal to get read. But the often neglected goal of any marketing professional is to ensure that what they present is remembered by the head and the heart.

Featured image: Wonderlane / Unsplash

Nick Mason

Nick Mason is CEO and Founder of Turtl, the scientifically proven Content Platform that delivers better outcomes. After spending time with psychology professors at the University of Oxford, Nick realized the way businesses communicate online is at odds with how our brains work. In a world of too much information and too little time, Nick founded Turtl to help businesses stand out with captivating content and behavioral insights. An experienced and multi-faceted leader, Nick has led Turtl to transform digital content for the likes of Cisco, Bloomberg, Lexus, and Allianz. He speaks regularly on the topic of psychology in sales and marketing content.

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