Emotional Stories Help B2B Marketing Effectiveness
Written by Andy Goram, Bizjuicer
Do today's business buyers leave their personalities, emotions and personal values at the front door when they go to work each day? I'm pretty sure they don't. So, shouldn't the traditional, rational approach to B2B marketing look to employ more focus on the emotional drivers of a purchase too? The answer has to be "yes", and a recent LinkedIn study on the importance of brand building in the B2B sector, conducted by Les Binet and Peter Field, backs up what some of use have always believed.
I'm often asked what the difference is between B2B and B2C when it comes to brand marketing. To be honest, I often struggle a bit to make clear all the differences, outside of the rational focus on product, benefit and price. That's because, to my mind, they are actually very similar. The difference in the approach to B2B has tended to come from the target audience, the business buyer. It's believed a more rational approach is required because of the environment they are working within - protracted procurement processes, specific buying windows, multiple decision-influencers to manage and a more rigorous, fact-based, returns-based to buying, over a regular consumer. But to be distinctive, brands still need to create a narrative that makes an emotional connection with the customer, in this case the business buyer. Without that, it can be a straight shot-out between price and function. A very tough, commoditised battle to try and win.
We know the rational side of our brains makes us think and the emotional side makes us act. In the world of B2B marketing there hasn't, perhaps, been the right balance between the two. This is probably because of the focus and intensity put on generating sales in the short-term. But for those businesses who've increased the focus on longer-term brand building activity, there does seem to be a performance advantage over the competition.
In their original book, The Long & The Short Of It, Binet and Field suggested a 60:40 budget split in favour of longer-term brand building vs. short-term sales activation to maximise marketing effectiveness. I should point out that this was originally based on B2C examples and whilst it has been held up as something of a bible of effectiveness, it has also come in for some criticism due to it's focus on winners and entrants of the IPA's effectiveness award, amongst other things. However, a recent Marketing Week and The Marketing Practice research survey of 600 UK B2B marketers showed that those business who have outperformed their competition, were twice as likely to have followed close to that 60:40 ratio, investing more in brand-building than others. In fact, Binet & Field suggest a more appropriate ratio of 46:54 here and even though many B2B businesses don't invest anything like that in brand building, it's also suggested that this ratio could grow over time, as a business matures.
B2B brands should not be afraid to tell their stories.
When you consider how much a business-buyer has on the line when making a big purchase, like their reputation, or career, let alone the precious financial resources of their company, you could argue that there is possibly more emotion involved in that B2B purchase than in a consumer transaction.
A brand's standing and reputation coming out from the stories it tells and the picture it paints in so doing, can go a long way to adding trust and other strong, emotional drivers to the purchase decision too. B2B brands should not be afraid to tell their stories. This will often be the best and in some cases, the only way to be seen as distinctive in their marketplace.
Today's buying processes have been hugely simplified by tech. and performance marketing. The result is often a reduced, removed or nullified human-touch in the process. Business brands used to rely on the salesperson out on the road, or on the phone to tell the story and add personality to the mix. Business brands should look to other opportunities and channels to build those relationships for the longer-term.
Of course, there has to be balance. It's the combination of both longer-term brand building and the short-term lead generation and activation that will make a B2B marketing plan most effective. But adding some more emotion to their existing approach and making a connection with the buyer on some other level can only help brands stand out from the crowd and give another reason to be chosen over their competition. So, open up. It won't hurt. I promise.
Andy Goram is the owner of Bizjuicer - a consultancy that believes people are the often-forgotten internal fuel that can power businesses and brands to greater success. He helps businesses build stronger brands through a focus on engaged and aligned people and consults on vision & values, customer experience, cultural and transformational change, brand & proposition development and employer branding.