Cold Hands, Warm Heart: the Importance of Emotional Connection in B2B Branding

In attempt to understand her low proportion of rational (practical and affordable) to irrational (expensive designer) shoes in her closet, finance executive and self-proclaimed shoe addict Deborah Rosen posed a question to the LinkedIn community: “Why do we buy things we don’t really need that oftentimes do not make reasonable sense?”

In a simple answer, Rosen goes on to state and explain: “The short answer is that we make decisions from our emotional minds, not our rational minds.”

It’s no secret that emotions play a significant role in decision making. Various scientific research studies on emotions and decision making support Rosen’s aforementioned conclusion and collectively point to one overarching theme: “Emotions powerfully, predictably, and pervasively influence decision making.”

In the world of branding and marketing, the role of emotions historically has tipped more heavily toward the realm of business-to-consumer (B2C) rather than business-to-business (B2B). Generally, B2B purchasing has been viewed as being more rational compared to B2C purchasing, which tends to implore more of an emotional appeal.

However, when applying the scientific implications of emotions upon general decision-making principles, particularly to the subconscious mind (as is the case of Rosen’s personal experience), it is clear that emotions play a significant role in winning over a target audience irrespective of purchasing a B2B or B2C brand.

In fact, a study conducted by Google in partnership with CEB’s Marketing Leadership Council, found that B2B customers are significantly more emotionally connected with their vendors and service providers than are consumers with B2C brands.

This higher level of emotional connection with B2B consumers likely correlates to the higher level of risk involved with making a business decision compared to an everyday purchase decision. Choosing an underperforming laundry detergent has relatively low risk compared to choosing an underperforming multimillion-dollar software platform that could possibly lead to the failure of a business and job loss.

This is a rather obvious but frequently overlooked conclusion. In B2B, we tend to forget that at the end of the day, whether you are an everyday consumer or business decision-maker, we are all humans who are affected and influenced by emotions, albeit at fundamentally different times.

Crossing Into the Emotional Zone

Our nearly 30 years of experience in evaluating B2B brands has shown us that the majority of B2B brands tend to focus their positioning and marketing on the technical, more rational aspects of their products, services, or solutions. These aspects include features and benefits, such as time optimization, cost efficiencies, domain expertise, or the quality of materials. At the core of showcasing features and benefits is an attempt to win the business of a target audience by establishing a relationship through trust and confidence.

However, a laundry list of features and credentials is table stakes across B2B branding and creates a parity of products, services, and solutions. Attempting to differentiate by marketing product features alone, despite the fact most competing products and solutions are identical, is what the B2B Institute at LinkedIn refers to as “Product Delusion.” This rational positioning approach can only get brands so far in building trust and confidence because everyone else is doing the same, limiting the opportunity to differentiate in the marketplace.

The most successful brands establish trust and confidence when crossing into the emotional zone — this is where a brand can authentically differentiate itself in the market and build true brand loyalty by capturing the hearts and minds of its audience through emotional connection (see exhibit below).

Turning back to the Google/CEB study, B2B purchasers are almost 50% more likely to buy a product or service when they see personal value — such as opportunity for career advancement or confidence and pride in their choice — in their business purchase decision. Furthermore, they are 8x more likely to pay a premium for comparable products and services when personal value is present.

How to Establish Trust and Confidence Through Emotional Positioning 

The following are key questions to ask in order to effectively build trust and successfully cross into the emotional zone through emotional brand positioning:

  • Why does your brand exist? Beyond the functional benefits of your products, services, and/or solutions, why was the brand created in the first place? What is the purpose of your brand? A clear understanding of your brand’s deeper purpose, beyond product/solution features, lays the foundation of authenticity for your brand to establish a lasting emotional connection.
  • What value can your products, services, and/or solutions provide to your target audience that your competitors cannot claim? What are your core strengths? What makes your brand unique? Understanding your brand’s differentiators can further clarify and support the emotional benefit of your brand.
  • What is the desired emotional benefit of your product, service or solution? Can you confidently deliver on that promise? What core personality attributes would you like your brand to exude? What tone would you like your target audience to sense from your messaging and visual identity? Keep in mind that certain emotional motivators can drive us to select specific products or services. For instance, consumers seeking comfort and security seek brands that embrace assurance or evoke a feeling of safety (e.g., “Nationwide is on your side”).
  • What emotional associations does your brand currently have with your target audience? What attributes are most important to your target audience? Understanding the current emotional perceptions of your brand by your target audience (data typically gathered from qualitative and/or quantitative marketplace research) and comparing it to your desired perceptions can help establish how aligned your brand is to the marketplace and what needs to be done to rectify the gap between perception and reality.

Once these core brand tenets are established, a clear emotional positioning approach can be developed. Overlaying the rational and logical features and benefits of your brand with powerful emotional benefits will create preference and purchase intent, move you beyond the crowded consideration set, and ultimately, to lasting brand loyalty and advocacy.