The power of emotion in B2B content marketing

Solomon Radley25/07/2018

Incisive, emotion-driven content isn’t just the key to engaging your target audience. It’s also integral to the success of any company operating in a competitive business environment.

The B2B buyer is an emotional creature. Then again, so are we all. Or at least, we are when it comes to our spending decisions. Some might like to pretend we think logically about the marketing communications we receive, weigh up the options and choose whatever provides the best value. But that’s just not how things work in practice.

Even in the world of B2B, we make decisions based on convenience. We form emotional connections with products, brands and sales reps. And we’re all susceptible to manipulation through clever advertising or marketing ploys.

A great example of this is the ‘decoy effect’, which Dan Ariely outlines in his seminal work, Predictably Irrational. It refers to the practice of making one product appear to be better value by presenting it alongside another – clearly inferior – offer.

You’ve probably encountered this phenomenon yourself, if you’ve ever purchased a magazine or newspaper subscription.

Ariely lists 15 of these “hidden forces” which shape our decisions and seem to undermine the idea that we always act rationally when making spending decisions. His thesis is that people aren’t just irrational, but that we’re predictably irrational.

Emotions play a crucial role in the decision‐making process, and you can use that to your advantage in your content marketing.

Why hearts come before minds in B2B marketing

When designing a content strategy, it can be tempting to focus on your own business objectives over what your audience actually wants.

Unfortunately, your ideal prospects probably don’t know they need your services yet. So, if you start listing the various benefits of working with you right off the bat, most of them will probably switch off.

You see, the human brain can be divided roughly into two parts. There’s the fast, instinctive and emotional system that has existed for millions of years and helped our prehistoric ancestors evade predators. Then, there’s the slower, more deliberative and logical system that developed much more recently and gives us the capacity for rational thought.

As Daniel Kahneman notes in his Nobel prize‐winning book, Thinking Fast and Slow, each of these systems has its own specialisms and biases.

In particular, rational thought is relatively slow and requires lots of mental processing power. If you throw too much information at the rational brain, it will often defer to the emotional brain for a quick and easy answer.

So, when presented with lots of facts and figures, we tend to ask ourselves if were really interested in what we’re reading. If we’re not emotionally invested in the subject, the answer will usually be ‘no’.

This is especially true in the world of B2B marketing, where we must often communicate the value of highly complex products and services.

“As we navigate our lives, we normally allow ourselves to be guided by impressions and feelings,” says Kahneman. “The defining feature of [the rational brain] is that its operations are effortful, and one of its main characteristics is laziness – a reluctance to invest more effort than is strictly necessary.”

As you’re about to see, all of this has real implications for how we go about designing successful content marketing campaigns.

How to engage emotions with B2B content

There are lots of reasons why so much branded content gets barely any engagement. But, here’s a big one: most of it is really boring.

The thing is, it doesn’t have to be.

Content marketers that engage their prospects on an emotional level and provide solutions to the problems keeping them up at night will succeed in delivering campaigns that drive business results.

That’s true whatever industry you work in. From optimisation specialists to investment firms, agrochemical producers and more – absolutely any organisation can create impactful content marketing. But to do so, you must focus on topics and stories that engage your audience’s emotions.

Take enterprise software vendor SAP, for example. On the surface of it, business operations management might not seem like the ideal candidate for a content project. But, the company brought the topic to life with a comprehensive content campaign tailored to engage 19 separate customer segments.

SAP tailored the messaging for each industry around a ‘hot button’ topic, such as digital transformation. This enabled them to appeal to each audience’s emotions by asking if their organisations were prepared for the future.

It then created bespoke content for each industry based on audience insights into what formats each audience prefers consuming content in.

As a result, the initiative generated more than 9 million impressions, as well as qualified marketing leads worth millions of pounds.

The success of this campaign can be boiled down to three core factors:

  1. It appealed to one of the most powerful emotions for motivating behaviour – fear of missing out.
  2. It humanised the topic and secured emotional buy‐in with high quality editorial content.
  3. It provided business leaders with essential insights they would have been happy to pay for.

Providing this level of insight should be a key aim for any B2B content initiative – and you can discover more about creating the kind of content executives love to engage with in our guide, The Elusive C‐suite.

Using psychology to drive brand loyalty

You’ve already seen why creating emotionally‐driven, insightful content is essential for getting people to engage with your campaigns. But, you might be surprised to discover it’s also crucial for securing brand loyalty.

In The Challenger Sale, CEB experts Brent Adamson and Matthew Dixon made a shocking discovery when they surveyed more than 5,000 B2B buyers about what they’re looking for in a supplier.

They were amazed to find that just 38 per cent of customer loyalty is attributable to the quality of your brand, product of service. What’s more, just 9 per cent of a customer’s loyalty is down to your ability to compete on price.

Instead, Adamson and Dixon found that 53 per cent of customer loyalty is down to the sales experience. Specifically, while some reps frustrate clients by wasting their time, others make themselves invaluable by providing the kind of insights their customers would happily pay for.

It’s the job of marketing to ensure a company’s sales reps are equipped to provide this level of insight to clients. That’s the only way to ensure the process is scalable, repeatable and genuinely helps reframe the challenges clients face.

When looked at like this, creating great B2B content isn’t just essential for engaging your target audience. It’s also integral to the success of any company operating in a competitive business environment.

As such, aligning your sales and marketing teams so they can use content efficiently to deliver a superior sales experience should be a top priority at your organisation. That’s the power of emotion in B2B marketing – and it’s why you should make incisive, emotionally‐driven stories a central pillar of your content strategy.

Key takeaways

  • Be emotional. Successful content marketing starts by engaging people on a human level, with a strong emotional hook.
  • Provide real insight. Once you have someone’s attention, resist the urge to pedal your wares. Challenge and inspire them, instead.
  • Align sales with marketing. Use content to enhance the sales process, forge emotional connections and drive customer loyalty.