Puppies, Kittens, and Kids: Marketing to the Emotions


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It is a truism in consumer marketing and advertising that putting puppies, kittens, or kids in an ad or on a product evokes an “aw” response. They automatically get attention. (Where would the Super Bowl ads be without at least one commercial with a dog in it?) But they do more than just get our attention. We are hardwired to feel open and unguarded when confronted with these kinds of images.

In fact, consumer marketers take the concept of emotional connotations even further. Think of the number of cars that are named for animals, for instance, and the images these animals evoke: Mustang, Bronco, Jaguar… Without even thinking about it, we associate power and speed with these products. Examples of evocatively, emotionally potent, names are a commonplace in the consumer marketplace.

So I started to wonder why we don’t do this in the B2B marketplace.

Yes, I know. Business buys are rational. Business buys are based on “value propositions” and “cost/benefit” analyses. Using an emotional sub-text would devalue our products and our brands.

And yet. And yet.

What would happen if we took a slightly different look at some of the ways we segment the market?

For example, in B2B marketing, we generally look at company size. There are micro-businesses, small business, medium-sized companies, and large companies. With the small to medium and large enterprises, people can, and do, differ over where they draw the lines; but the general parameters are clear.

These rough categories work for general marketing purposes. But what if we looked at them from a different angle? What if the segments were categorized into entrepreneurial vs. institutional organizations, particularly in the SMB (small/medium-sized business) space?

We can argue about language, but for the moment, let’s define entrepreneurial as founder/owner/CEO and/or family-run. (The family-owned or entrepreneurial business isn’t necessarily small, by the way. Think of the INC 500 or SE Johnson, which is a family-owned business and a consumer giant.) The people who run these businesses think of them in a very personal way, a way that is quite different from how a “professional” manager thinks of his company. Company success here is profoundly ego-based (a good thing, by and large). It is not an abstraction; it is not a stock price; it is not a stepping stone to a new position in another company.

So should we necessarily market to entrepreneurial companies in exactly the same way we do to more institutionally oriented organizations?

Obviously, in all cases we have to provide compelling value propositions. Obviously, if the products and services don’t make the enterprise more productive, more profitable, easier to manage, enhance or create competitive advantage, etc., then the products and services will not be bought.

But the emotional component of the sale is subtly different. And that leads to interesting marketing possibilities.

Is it possible to name some of our products less prosaically in the entrepreneurial space? Do we always have to try to brand a product by trying to get our value proposition into the product name? Or can we convey value through a name that evokes, rather than describes, the product’s essential qualities?

To over-state the concept: Wouldn’t the customer grasp what we are trying to convey more immediately if we called a B2B product “The Cheetah” rather than “A High Speed Enhancement Widget”? Would that not immediately lend itself to an ad campaign? An evocative product logo? Clever ways to elaborate the product’s value proposition and competitive advantage? New ways to frame the message and create an integrated communications strategy?

And to take it a step further – leaving aside for the moment the differences between entrepreneurial and more institutional organizations – can’t we use the same concept when selling into a non-entrepreneurial environment? No matter where we work, no matter whether we own the company or not, we (virtually) all operate on some basic human emotions.

I am not suggesting that we are doing B2B marketing incorrectly. Nor am I suggesting that all B2B products lend themselves to evocative marketing. It is hard, for instance, to see what kind of business product would usefully have a kitten as its logo.

I am, however, suggesting three things:

1. Taking a non-traditional look at how we segment our market spaces can lead to interesting, and potentially lucrative, new ways to market our products.

2. It is time to stop assuming that business buyers check their feelings, emotions, and susceptibility to evocative images at the door when they come to work.

3. And B2B marketing might just benefit from appropriating, reworking, repackaging, and redefining some of the most successful consumer marketing techniques for our purposes.

We all respond to puppies, kittens, and kids. The key words for business are power, speed, efficiency, etc. Surely we are creative enough to find – and use – evocative images to match those business needs.

Practical Marketing Rule # 4: No matter what the market space, remember that it is people – not companies – who buy our products and services.

Emily R. Coleman
Dr. Emily R. Coleman is President of Competitive Advantage Marketing, Inc., a firm that specializes in helping companies expand their reach and revenues through strategy and implementation. Dr. Coleman has more than 30 years of hands-on executive management experience working with companies, from Fortune 500 firms to entrepreneurial enterprises. Dr. Coleman's expertise extends from the integration of corporate-wide marketing operations and communications to the development and implementation of strategy into product development and branding.


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