Business to Business Human Marketing: Harnessing the power of emotion in decision making

Valeria Maltoni: Your writing doesn’t have to be boring just because it’s for other businesses. Businesses have people who read stuff.” 

The world of B2B marketing has traditionally focused on swiftly communicating the must-know features, touting impressive specs, and, of course, don’t forget the useful cost-benefit analysis comparison charts.  For the rational decision-makers, these tools are a must. Helpful indeed, but there’s a fundamental problem. 

The problem with rational decision-making. 

Businesses don’t make decisions, humans do. And the overwhelming majority of our decisions are not made rationally. In fact, 95% of our decisions are made subconsciously1. The subconscious is not only where emotion and intuition live, giving us that gut feeling or sense of direction, its fast (as in neurons fire at 400km per hour fast 2) and exceptionally useful for ambiguous situations. 

Contrary to what is generally believed, all decisions, even the arguably rational ones, are in fact informed by emotion.  It’s so imperative that the well-known Damasio seminal study found when a person had damage in the brain area related to emotion processing, they struggled with even the simplest decisions like what to eat or how to plan the next few hours in their day.  

Why emotion linked messaging matters in B2B marketing. 

Shifting to a business-to-human (B2H) approach means designing for the emotional brain – therefore designing for easier decision making. And the basis of decision-making is taking action. For your audience to perform any type of action, they must feel a related emotion. To learn more, they must feel interest; to buy, a sense of trust; and to recommend your brand, optimism needs to be present.  

Why does this matter? In B2B marketing specifically, emotional strategies drive seven times more business impact than rational campaigns.3   Messaging that links to your audience’s emotional needs and motivation is what can help them make the critical shift from prospect to customer. 

Crafting a B2H marketing message  

Tapping into an emotionally informed message does not necessarily mean tugging at the heartstrings of CEOs and business buyers. There are many ways to craft an impactful campaign designed for the emotional brain. It can be as simple as creating a sense of levity in their day, sparking interest, curiosity, nostalgia, or even showing your customers you understand their unspoken daily frustrations. 

Below are three areas of exploration that can help B2B brands start the journey toward a B2H approach: 

  1. Define a human problem: 

Any good campaign brief starts with a business problem, well-defined metrics, and measures of success. Too often, the laser focus put on the business situation means we miss seeking out new creative solutions. Memorable marketing has an ability to define a point of tension. It asks, “Who is the human behind the business role, and what conflict are they experiencing that my brand can help solve?”  

One such example is Malwarebytes’ #66 Days Back campaign. This campaign wasn’t about their cybersecurity software prowess. Instead, they defined the human problem: high levels of burnout and stress experienced by those in cybersecurity roles. This campaign then worked to give professionals the time and headspace to focus on well-being by offering free subscriptions to various mind and body wellness apps, while Malwarebytes could take care of any potential security breaches.  

  1. Understand the why behind the buy. 

A lot of time is spent on how customers buy. What is their path to purchase? How long is the purchase cycle? How many pieces of content do they consume before they buy? These data points, while great, lack clear direction on what to do with such information. Instead, marketers need to ask customers why they buy, then ask why again and again, and now we start to unlock actionable opportunity. Why? Because we begin to reveal a human truth.  

Slack, for instance, knows that their customers don’t really buy for productivity reasons; while that’s definitely a benefit, they really buy because a quiet inbox feels like reaching workplace nirvana. This was depicted visually in their earlier ads that read, “What it feels like to get 48% less email.”  

  1. Consider Cultural Context. 

Culture plays a significant role in shaping human needs, aspirations, values, and behaviour, greatly influencing our subconscious decision-making. Understanding culture broadly, from social occasions and norms to even more nuanced applications such as job place culture in specific roles, can offer a fresh perspective for connecting with a B2B audience in a novel way.  

ConnectRN, a platform dedicated to helping nurses find work, celebrated Nurses Week in an offbeat way. When they learned that 63% of nurses said the way employers show their appreciation feels patronizing4, like receiving a pet rock, they set out to do something about it. Launching NursesWeakGifts, they encouraged nurses to share a photo of their junky gifts so they could exchange them for better ones. ConnectRN showed their audience they understand them, their role and job culture instead of pushing a somewhat predictable, and let’s be honest, easily forgettable message about their platform features.  

In the dynamic world of B2B marketing, marketers must remember that even seemingly rational decisions are informed by emotion. By recognizing customers, not as businesses and job titles but as those with relatable aspirations, frustrations, and everything in between, we start to discover the heart of creative marketing that not only connects to drive action but gets remembered for years to come.  

  1. Gerald Zaltman’s latest book, How Customers Think: Essential Insights into the Mind of the Market, 
  1. Nerve conduction velocity https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nerve_conduction_velocity 
  1. *B2B Institute, IPA Databank 1998-2018 B2B Cases 
  1. Nurses can exchange patronizing gifts for what they really want this Nurses week: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/nurses-can-exchange-patronizing-gifts-for-what-they-really-want-this-nurses-week-301539254.html