Why All B2B Buying Decisions are Emotional

© Nevit Dilmen

Mention “emotion” and “B2B marketing” in the same sentence often enough, and you’ll eventually provoke an ironically passionate counterargument about buyers preferring to “reach their decision based on logic, rational thinking, and business value.” Just the facts, thank you very much. B2B decision-makers are serious people with serious problems investing serious amounts of money. A major investment decision is no time for emotional whims.

If this is true, then the marketing message with the most valid logical argument, and the best data to back it up, wins. Effective B2B marketing would simply deliver relevant facts to the right people, and creative elements would be limited to the safe, accepted, and traditional. Corporate mission statement? Check. Differentiation statement? Check. Stock photography of city skylines, two people shaking hands, and executives smiling blankly around a coworker’s laptop? Check, check, check.

This bland, generic approach would focus exclusively on logic and avoid any risk of standing out too much — the marketing version of Muzak.

Facts are not enough

Despite the widespread belief in the power of logic over emotion, facts by themselves aren’t persuasive. The meaning behind them is, and meaning is all about emotions. It doesn’t matter whether you sell consulting, computers, or office towers. It’s the meaning that makes the sale.

We need to clear up some confusion regarding emotion as it relates to B2B marketing. The emotional appeals we’re concerned with are not the “awww” moments of a cute YouTube video or the grab-your-credit-card enthusiasm of an over-hyped informational product.

The feeling we’re most interested in is your buyer’s emotional desire for self-actualization.

We all want the same thing

What makes one product or service the most logical choice is that it’s the best option to help achieve a goal or solve a problem. But why do buyers even care about that goal or problem to begin with?

We’re all seeking the same thing: to live up to our full potential. Decision-makers aren’t dead-behind-the-eyes automatons, dispassionately carrying out tasks simply as a function of their programming. Neither are you and I. The only reason I’m writing this (and you’re now reading it) is because we both aspire to do the most with what we’ve got. Without that innate, emotionally-fueled drive, there would be no problems worth bothering to solve.

Consider your own marketing-related purchasing decisions. Imagine that you’ve discovered a website that makes it easy to send personalized, AI-generated marketing messages with a guaranteed 90% sales conversion rate. While access to this website costs $100,000.00 a year, and the service requires a six-month ramping up period to analyze your sales data, it has the potential to bring in millions in profits.

Logical decision? Sure. No emotion involved? Nonsense. How could emotion not play a role in your decision? Would the idea of delivering these types of marketing results not thrill you?

This magic website’s own marketing approach would certainly need to include stats, data, proof statements, and other relevant details in order to help you logically justify such a large investment. But your emotional response about the end results would be the trigger to purchase. If you didn’t really care that much about maximizing your impact as a marketer, then why would you possibly consider taking this kind of risk. You wouldn’t. Even the thought of putting your reputation (and possibly your job) on the line would require a strong emotional attachment to a meaningful outcome.

Which emotions matter most?

Building trust seems to be the only universally accepted emotionally-based B2B marketing goal. In other words, pure defense — avoiding any potential downside. This “nobody ever got fired for buying IBM” approach is aimed squarely at those whose primary motivation is the avoidance of looking stupid, while completely ignoring buyers with much more compelling goals.

The challenge with the pure defense play is that unless the problem your buyers are facing poses an immediate and significant threat, the safest choice is almost always to do nothing at all. The best way to avoid risk is to not put our neck on the line to begin with. All the data in the world won’t inspire us to act if our only wish is to not screw up.

Your marketing certainly needs to minimize the perception of risk by demonstrating your credibility, sharing your track record of success, and highlighting social proof. Take away as much transactional friction as you possibly can. Just don’t completely ignore the emotional pull of the upside by making your entire message about avoiding the downside.

Focus on “emotional tugs versus logical pushes.” Understanding the emotions behind a B2B purchase makes it easier to craft marketing messages that connect your offer with the buyer’s real needs. Tell a compelling story that speaks to our very human desire for self-actualization, and make your prospect the hero of that story. Speak to the outcomes that make the most impact toward fulfilling these higher aspirations. When you use facts and data, tie them directly to those objectives. Make the data part of the larger story and help buyers recognize the connection between the facts and their personal mission.

What’s your opinion about incorporating emotion into B2B marketing? How have you accomplished this in your own campaigns?


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