For some reason, B2B marketing content tends to lean more toward academia than literary license. Much of the content produced is dry, mechanical, and, well, academic. We think our content must exude professionalism because we sell complex, high-ticket solutions to businesses.
While I applaud all the folks who insist that B2B is like B2C because we’re marketing to people, it’s a sentiment that’s slightly misplaced. Even at the most complex in a B2C purchase—think buying a house. This transaction is still less complex than buying a collaboration technology for a company with 1,000 users where you must gain the consensus of 10 colleagues with different priorities whom you don’t know all that well to make the purchase. Not to mention earn the willingness to adopt from those 1,000 users. And most importantly, your job isn’t on the line if the decision doesn’t deliver that ROI you promised.
While you can buy a house in a matter of days, it’s likely that buying the technology will take months. Both purchases are emotional—but the emotions are different.
When we think emotion in B2B, we tend to get stuck in the B2C emotions of happy or sad with an outcome of making them laugh or cry. Neither of which are emotions seen favorably in B2B—at least not often.
Emotion in B2B marketing content is more subtle. Think anticipation, curiosity, pride, confidence, trust, and likeability.
But I think the part of emotion that’s overlooked most often in B2B is all the ways emotion comes into play with our content that we may not even realize.
9 Ways Emotion Plays in B2B Marketing Content
Empathy represents emotion. Buying isn’t just about logic – which is why most B2B marketing is so, well, bland. Buyers want to know you “get” them. That kumbaya experience creates a favorable memory. And the saying “People won’t remember what you said, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel” is true—whether B2B or B2C. Neuroscience finds that memories are based on emotion, not logic. It’s what buyers remember “feeling” about their experience with you that will direct them to engage with you or avoid your brand in the future.
Insightful ideas that stimulate “what if” exploration is emotionally engaging because they create anticipation and curiosity.
FOMO – fear of missing out, used by B2B firms for decades, is emotional.
Due to the high investment for many B2B purchases (in time, money, and resources), risk is also an emotion, albeit one we want to minimize for our buyers.
The prospect of career advancement by transforming a part of your company is, yes, emotional.
Investing in the idea of change is emotional – Will it work? What if it fails? Imagine what we can do when we have X!
The use of storytelling in B2B marketing content is also emotional, when done well. Will the hero reach his goal? The conflicts and obstacles to overcome induce anticipation and even a bit of anxiety. Rooting for the hero (businessperson) to win is also emotional and that feeling of triumph when the hero makes it through is transferrable to the reader/buyer. That feeling can motivate action.
Word choices evoke emotional responses. Marketing fluff and jargony words inspire indifference, leading to disgust when really amplified. For that matter, so do false or bravado claims that make eyes roll. Think about how you feel when you come across words like robust, leverage, or leading-edge. Now think about words like inclusive, confident, useful.
The format of content also inspires emotions – consider:
- Another talking head video
- Seriously? 52 tips on X with no explanation about why or how they work or when to use them
- How wonderful, I need to fill out a form and wait an eon for the email with the link to access the PDF
- Yay! A virtual afternoon event with great speakers and Sasquatch playing during breaks!
- Thank you > A 4-minute read with ideas backed by statistics (with source links), no passive voice or wasted words, and tips I can use right now!
Emotion in B2B Marketing Content is Layered
A powerful emotion in B2B marketing is how much someone likes and trusts your brand. B2B buying decisions don’t depend on intuition, alone. Nope. Your boss expects rationalization for the price based on the return on investment the company will reap. So, there will be a time when logic comes to the fore more so than emotion. The trick is in getting the layers right in the flow of the buying journey.
Attracting, engaging, and converting buyers into customers is a multi-step process. It’s much easier to accomplish if the buyer is already predisposed to “like” your brand. And, if you can’t activate them to consider you when they’re in market, you’ve already lost the game.
Brand building must not only be about awareness, it needs to focus on likeability. With only 5% of buyers in market at any one time, we need to ensure that the experiences provided to people who could become our buyers are making a favorable impression. We need to delight them, make them glad they spent a few minutes with our ideas, our content, our brand.
But we also need to layer in the rational factors. B2B buying isn’t an all emotion or all logic deal. Your content experiences need both. Why not add a criterion for your content to assess it for why your buyers will “like” it? What should it make them feel?
If you’ve developed your personas based on real customers and interviewed well, you will know what emotions you need to evoke over the arc of the buying journey. From curiosity to hope to what if risk assessment to determined to move forward, your content can use emotion to boost the impact from rational consideration. This combination is what causes momentum in the buying journey.
In the nine examples above, you saw both positive and negative emotions. Even if your brand isn’t a hip, fun-loving, high-growth tech unicorn, you need to consider the way your content lands. And it’s not just the words to consider. You must consider the formats your buyers prefer, and which emotions you elicit, when.
Let’s face it, if you feel negatively about a brand, is there any amount of enticement that will make you engage with them—or trust them—when you’re the buyer?
At the very least, marketers must do no harm. This means that the experiences you provide need to be—at a minimum—relevant, pleasant, and fulfilling, even if not over-the-top exciting. But I know we can do better than that.