Emotions in B2B Content? The Science Says Yes!


Emotions have an important role to play in B2B buying decisions, and successful marketers who look to science can learn powerful tools to reach their buyers.

I’ve always been fascinated by human psychology. It’s one of the reasons that I never tire of marketing: It’s all about understanding how your buyers’ minds work.

With new technology and more research into human psychology and B2B buyer behavior, we have more insights than ever to help us understand how to speak to our buyers and persuade them to act.

Emotion Wins With B2B Buyers

With all this science at our fingertips, we’ve learned that people never let scientific evidence get in the way of responding based on emotions — or, more specifically, what’s happening in our subconscious, which is driven primarily by emotions.

Harvard professor Gerald Zaltman says that 95% of buying decision-making happens in our subconscious. In fact, research by neuroscientists finds that when the part of the brain that generates emotions is damaged, people can’t make decisions.

Professor Zaltman adds some additional interesting details. When you compare what people say they believe with what they actually do, there’s a big discrepancy. Research shows that while consumers say they compare prices at the point of purchase, the fact is they don’t even look at the alternatives to their brand preference. When researchers actually look at physiological or “response latency measures,” what consumers actually believe compared to their unconscious physical reactions contradict each other.

“Business professionals are around 50% more likely to buy a product or service that demonstrates personal value through emotional appeals,” says Nick Hague, Head of Growth at B2B market research company B2B International.

For B2B buyers, this emotional appeal may be something such the pride they feel in making the right choice or viewing the decision as a means to securing a promotion.

We like to fool ourselves and say that we make decisions based on logic, but it’s actually the other way around. What we’re doing as humans is essentially making a decision based on subconscious emotions and then rationalizing it with logic.

Using Emotion Successfully Depends on Knowing Your Buyer

Evelyn Timson, CEO of Aspect Film & Video, explains that you need to evoke different emotions in business buyers than you would for other consumers.

She lays out the differences between the B2B and B2C buyers’ journeys in “Why B2B Marketing Needs Emotional Storytelling.” The B2B journey can be long and complex, involve many people, involve large expenditures and a long-term commitment, can affect the company’s success and must take into consideration more logical elements such as results or business value.

So how do we incorporate the right balance of elements into our B2B marketing content? Timson suggests it’s important to appeal to these less tangible qualities such as trust, reliability, credibility and partnership.

Humor can be a useful tool to tap into emotions, help break through the status quo and create awareness that there is a problem that needs solving.

The appeal you make depends on the person with whom you’re speaking—in other words, a well-developed persona. Good personas always include buyer psychographics, which is where you can get to the heart of the emotions at play in their decisions.

But go a step beyond personas to develop a messaging map that lays out the buyer’s questions, concerns and thoughts as they align with each stage of the buyer’s journey. Map buyers’ feelings alongside the logical questions and concerns.

If, for example, you learn that the biggest frustration for the manufacturing CFO is having to spend hours, or even days, aggregating operations data from five different internal systems and then analyzing it to complete reports every month, you can make an emotional appeal based on that frustration.

Develop Feelings Over Time

B2B marketing strategies that appeal to emotions are seven times more effective at improving sales, profits, revenue and other financial measures than those that appeal only to logic, according to a LinkedIn B2B Institute study.

“Emotional messaging builds the brand,” says Jann Schwarz, Global Director of the B2B Institute at LinkedIn, in a recent blog post. “Rational messages that appeal to logic and common sense lead to action. However, that action is far more likely to happen if the brand asking you to take it is one you know — and one you like.”

What this means for B2B content marketers is that you need to consistently build trust and credibility for your brand with every piece of content, and always demonstrate empathy for your buyers.

Looking at this again through the buyer’s journey, you can build trust from the first stages of the journey by creating informative content that establishes your brand as a credible and reliable source of valuable information — without selling your product before the buyer even begins considering a solution.

“There is no action without memory,” neuroscientist Dr. Carmen Simon explained in her recent B2B Marketing Exchange keynote. Your buyers have to remember you before they can be persuaded to buy what you have to sell.

In the middle stages of the buyer’s journey, you may tap into a feeling of surprise — maybe surprise about your solution’s capabilities. You can also begin to build confidence that your product or service will deliver what the buyer needs.

Schwarz points to the 2013 Volvo Truck ad “Epic Split” with with Jeanne-Claude Van Damme and how it simply created a feeling of “Wow!” With nearly 97 million views, it’s safe to say that the ad works because of the emotion it evokes. The combination of the beautiful lighting, the surprise of the feat and the Enya music create pure magic.

In the late stages of the buyer’s journey, you may want to help the buyer feel that choosing your solution is not only a safe decision but will also make work life a lot better, perhaps even resulting in kudos or a raise.

Get Emotional

Never forget that you’re marketing to people who act based on feelings first and then justify the action with logic — even in B2B. Emotion and logic both have a place in your content. The art is in speaking to the buyers’ underlying psychological needs as well as their business needs. Then you can build emotion into your marketing throughout the buyer’s journey.

Instagram is a great place to see examples of emotional B2B content in action. Check out “From Likes to Loves: How Instagram Can Boost Audience Engagement and Loyalty” for inspiration from the B2B brands using it well.


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