Stop Making Sense: The Role of Emotion in B2B Decision Making
Turn the tables. Imagine you’re the customer, sitting at a big conference table with your committee, sourcing HVAC systems for the new headquarters. In front of you are heaps of facts, figures, features, and benefits. You’ve reviewed it all, and being a steely-eyed, rational thinker, you know the systems are basically identical. Yet you have a gut feeling that one choice is best for your company.
Without that feeling, you’d never make a recommendation. Nobody would, because what if you are wrong?
A 2013 study by CEB and Google, From Promotion to Emotion, shows that we feel personal, emotional risk when making a major decision. You can lose credibility, trust — even your job — if you’re wrong.
Yet you make the recommendation.
Why? Because of that gut feeling — the emotional connection that tells you one system is the right system.
There’s a simplistic model of how the brain works that explains how business decisions are made — and why they’re always based on emotion. It starts in the neocortex: the thinking, rational brain that objectively gathers and analyzes information.
It’s common knowledge that all business decisions are rational, right? But the neocortex is smarter than that; rationally, it knows the systems are the mostly the same.
The limbic brain makes the unconscious associations that cause you to feel more positively about one system than the others. The limbic brain isn’t skewed by facts, but by words and images that give you an inexplicable emotion that there’s something special about one system. It rejiggers the neocortex, prompting it to find the facts that justify the emotional connection.
Finally, your primitive “lizard brain” lets you know it’s safe to make a recommendation; it’s the “gut” in a gut feeling. And guess what? In most cases, it’s going to be a good recommendation, no matter what.
As Gartner Fellow Simon Hayward said years ago, “Most products now are good enough to serve the majority of users most of the time.” So when most systems are equal, it’s the emotional connection that makes one system stand out from the others.
That’s why successful marketers in B2B industries work overtime prompting emotional justifications for seemingly rational decisions and making human connections to an individual customer’s self-interest, needs, and aspirations.
You probably know the companies that do this kind of work — they’re often the largest, most successful companies in any B2B category. They’ve learned from consumer advertisers that successful marketing has to be emotional.
Customers can always find the facts they need, but only you can give them emotional motivation.
Despite this, many industrial marketers grimly hold onto the idea that decision-making is strictly rational. They pile on bullet after bullet about design features and benefits, because they have the best bullets. Their fate is sameness, but they keep at it.
I recently spent a few hours analyzing the messaging — written and visual — in HVAC industry journals over a six-month span. I estimated that 75 percent of ads relied primarily or solely on product feature messaging and product photography. Here is a list of two-keyword bullets:
- Maximum efficiency;
- Redesigned accessibility;
- Healthiest air; and
- Innovative options.
Does one pair of words “feel” different from the others? Try some pictures:
- Air inlet valve;
- Woman inside a glass room lounging on warm sand at sunset; and
- Motor and fan.
Would any of these catch your eye? If not, they’re invisible … and so are all those features and benefits.
Emotional B2B makes a product stand out in a sea of sameness and can have a much more explosive impact on a company’s success than consumer advertising. For example: Accenture is an accounting firm. Exciting, right? But in 2003, they hired a young golfer to tell its customers, “Go Ahead. Be a Tiger.” Tiger Woods knew nothing about spreadsheets. But Accenture’s revenues soared from the time he was hired.
Once you’ve found that emotional cue, it does marketing wonders. It overcomes parity and commoditization. It can justify premium pricing. It creates brand awareness and sells a lot of product. So stop being so level-headed about your approach to marketing. It doesn’t make sense.
Try the emotional approach; you’ll find it’s far more rational than you’d imagined.
Publication date: 9/24/2018