There is a change happening in B2B marketing. New research confirms that change agent CMOs know the status quo in B2B is a fast track to the middle of the road. Advances in technology and product development have leveled the playing field across industries. What were once powerful, long-term advantages gained through product improvements are now table stakes in a fast-moving game of constant evolution. Combined with consumers’ unlimited access to competitive information online, B2B products and services are at a greater level of perceived parity than ever before.
Companies that want to stand out are shaking things up. To combat commoditization and provide greater differentiation, forward leaning B2B CMOs are incorporating tactics from the B2C tool kit for greater impact. They are keeping the important rational elements of B2B marketing—all that critical product data and information stakeholders need to justify decisions throughout the buyer’s journey—but they are infusing it with powerful emotional connections.
Rational foundation with emotional elevation
The truth is, all meaningful product decisions—B2B or B2C—are emotional. People buy from you when they feel good about the choice they are making. When they feel like you understand them and they can trust you to help them. When they like who you are and how it makes them feel to be associated with you. Done effectively, connecting emotionally can supercharge your efforts.
In fact, emotions are critical to the choices we make. In his new book, Emotional, How feelings Shape Our Thinking (2022), noted physicist and best selling science writer Leonard Mlodinow shares how recent advances in psychology and neuroscience have proven that our decisions are largely driven by subliminal, emotional reactions and not by the conscious, rational thoughts we have long believed.
An important caveat—people like to feel like they are making rational decisions, so emotional choices need to be supported by facts to help rationalize them. Additionally, in B2B, a buyer may feel their job is on the line if they make a bad choice. Having more information gives them something to point to when someone asks them why they made their decision. Without the facts, your best prospects can get cold feet, even if they really like the idea of working with you. Without the emotional connection, you’re just another of many companies making claims, slinging product specs and pricing.
Insights are fundamental—how to dig in
To make the emotional connections work, you need to understand what matters to your prospects. It’s not about going with your gut—it’s about getting to their gut. While your sense of prospects' passions and pain points may be on-point, as a marketer, you may have blind spots or an oversimplified perspective that leads to work that doesn’t connect. To go deeper, you need to dig for valuable insights.
One powerful tool we use to jumpstart the process is internal and external stakeholder interviews. These help clients get a broader perspective on what matters to people in roles across their company and throughout the industry. From the C-suite to product development, sales and customer service teams, internal perspective and alignment about your brand is critical to conveying the essence of what you’re all about.
Externally, talking to your best customers and prospects about what they are looking for in a solution is key. Even more powerful is understanding what gets them excited about what they do, and what big obstacles they need to overcome to make an impact they’re proud of. Our external stakeholder interview process helps us uncover these deeper motivators, delivering insights that can be infused into content and messaging that resonates powerfully.
Make the customer the hero
When it gets down to it, prospects don’t care about your company or products—they care about what you can do for them. They want to feel like choosing you will make them more effective and help them on their road to success. Your messaging and content need to bring forward a compelling story—one that shows you understand their mission and can be an ally in the fight. You have to show that you get it. If you’ve done your homework and developed a deep understanding of their media habits, wants and needs, you’ll know how to reach them most effectively, speaking to them in their own language—from leveraging the right technical jargon to sharing social content that is in tune with the tone and attitude of the community. When you get it right, they will view you as one of them; a vital part of the industry helping move things forward.
The hero in action
The New Creators campaign from IBM is a great example of tapping into the passion of a target audience. It leverages powerful storytelling delivered via brand ads, website and across social media to celebrate the innovators that are their most passionate customers and prospects. People who creatively use IBM technology to drive game-changing innovation. A scientist on a mission to end plastic waste launched the Plastic Recovery Insight and Steering Model (PRISM) on the IBM Cloud with IBM Watson for data modeling. The co-founder of Home Lending Pal, teaches potential homebuyers and venture capitalists alike how to grow the equitable-housing ecosystem. Dozens of compelling stories capture the passion of the innovators and then lead naturally into information about the technologies, consulting and products from IBM that make them happen.
And you don’t have to be the size of IBM to connect with the passion of your prospects. Our client HEIDENHAIN is a manufacturer of precision measurement and motion control components. Our target research for the brand revealed that, far from being rigid number crunchers, their design engineer audience was innately passionate, imaginative and driven by innovation. This led to the “Precisely Where You Should Be” brand campaign featuring stories about amazing innovations driven by HEIDENHAIN technology. This was developed and activated across channels from traditional print to social media video to celebrate engineers as the heroes behind the world’s most inspiring mechanical accomplishments.
Acting on the trends
Savvy CMOs have seen the shift and are eagerly moving in this direction. They’re moving ahead of their competition by aligning and activating against deeper audience insights—emotional drivers that can truly increase brand relevance and drive engagement.