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Is there a place for emotion in B2B marketing?

You may have caught one of our Senior Planners Julian French talking in B2B Marketing Magazine this month. He shared some of his thoughts with the editor Maxine Marshall in her article on how buyer psychology is used by B2B marekting agencies.

It got our B2B marketing agency bods thinking… what is the place for emotion in B2B marketing; leveraging the power of irrational decisions and intuitive purchases in a logic-dominated business world?

The Greek philosopher Aristotle, who tutored Alexander the Great in leadership, identified three key principles of persuasion; Pathos – emotion, Logos – logic, and Ethos – credibility.

  • Pathos – people buy into an emotion
  • Logos – you provide  logical reasons to support it
  • Ethos – people will believe others who seem to be credible.

The old philosopher had these down two and a half thousand years ago, and you have to say, he was bang on. Two years after inheriting his throne, Alexander the Great, at the age of 22, was able to lead a conquering army across most of the known world. He was a general, a respected tactician, and most of all, thanks to his teacher, he knew how to sell an idea.

Behavioural economics has shown us that people often act in irrational, illogical ways, mainly based on intuitive decisions; snap choices that can be subtly influenced. Rational and emotional decision making are not always as distinct as some marketers would like to think. We talk about using this in our marketing, but B2B clients aren’t always immediately on-board with the notion of selling on emotion.

In fact, the default setting is often, ‘let’s just talk about the product’.

Okay… so why don’t we fire out thousands of text only emails listing product features? Why do we add colour, images of good looking people and other design elements? These all appeal to emotion…  

Throughout the economic downturn consumers have been flocking to Waitrose, which announced huge growth and profits this month. There’s no emotional/rational conundrum for that firm, it’s all about the customer service; it’s about the shopper experience.

Robert Cialdini is one of a group of theorists who have given rise to behavioural economics, and one of his 'Principles of Persuasion' is ‘Likeability’. Imagine nice people, dressed well, being friendly, helping you with your shopping, making every part of the customer journey, every touch-point less stressful. It’s about fulfilling expectations… and it makes the brand choice an emotional one. Waitrose are a nice bunch, I’ll shop with them.

‘Social Proof’, another of Cialdini’s principles, can be seen working powerfully in the B2B world. Castrol is one of our largest clients, and when multinational automobile manufacturers insist that Castrol oil should be used in their cars, other industrial consumers of oil, grease and lubricant products take notice. Behavioural economics tells us that people can be nudged by what other people/organisations in their field are seen to be doing.

The likes of VW and Audi carry added weight as authorities on precision engineering, highlighting another of Cialdini’s (and Aristotle’s) principles; ‘Authority’ (or ethos). This authority can be borrowed, for instance with an expert-authored whitepaper or scientific study, or by using a recognisable figure relevant to your industry. The point is, the same message, delivered with credibility, carries more weight.

So if there’s nothing new under the sun, it could be argued that we’ve been reworking and repackaging Aristotle’s three principles for thousands of years; we know people are emotional, whether they’re in business or not.

This is why we use images of likeable people in our B2B marketing; it’s why we leverage ‘Reciprocity’ by providing free content, discounts and trial memberships; it’s why colours, designs and words are chosen with such loving care. Because if decisions are based on intuition, which is in turn based on life experience, then the subtext is surely that every human decision has an emotional element.

Even B2B buying decisions.

For more, check out Maxine Marshall’s article – “Mind Control” – which was published in B2B Marketing Magazine in September 2013.

To learn more about how Bray Leino can develop your B2B comms strategy, contact Austen Donnellan. 

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