Playing to customer emotions in B2B

emotions picThis post is in reaction to an interesting blog from @econsultancy. If you read through it, though I don’t advocate the notion of attacking a competitor, you’ll likely find it common sense. But the thing about common sense is that its often rare in practice. How often do we really consider how our customers feel emotionally about their problems or our products in the B2B environment?

It seems to me we, as marketers, spend way too much time articulating features / benefits and not necessarily about what drives customers emotionally. Some key emotions that come to mind relevant to B2B –

1) Security and peace of mind
2) Fear of complexity (and a need for simplicity)
3) Fear of obsolescence
4) Disdain for the big, evil OEM or corporation (that could even be you)
5) Need to be top dog or seen as a thought leader (not necessarily as an organization but as an individual)
6) Fear of unpredictability, inconsistency or failure (not at the product level but as a team or organization)
7) Desire to be perceived as charitable or benevolent

Obviously not every customer in your world is going to share all (or even one) of these emotional needs (that’s where the segmentation comes in).  But when it’s all said and done, hard as we try, people are irrational decision makers.

How often have you tried to rationalize a purchase that in your head you knew was irrational? We see it all the time in the consumer world – products and services become emotional extensions of ourselves and we rationalize in our heads why we need something that we really don’t. I refuse to believe the same can’t be said in B2B. Buyers are still people, and people are still irrational.  There are just different emotions at play.

In my current role we are commercializing a new solution playing to some extent on #s 4, 5 and 6 from above. That said, we’re still in the early phases so I won’t try and convince you of my genius…yet. In the meantime I would love to hear about what others have seen or done to tackle emotional needs in B2B.  I’m all ears, so what have you got?


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  1. #1 by Brenda Toy on July 12, 2011 - 12:58 pm

    i can so relate to this post. i just bought a coach purse…way too expensive, not really practical, so it was a totally irrational purchase….but i did it anyway….because it was fun!! i’m not sure if you’d call that an emotion but i want to have more fun than not…. if we can inject more fun in to our marketing i think it would make a big difference.

    • #2 by Kris Kaneta on July 12, 2011 - 1:43 pm

      Brenda – I’d definitely say “fun” is an emotion. Look at the Harlem Globetrotters. People pay to see them because they’re fun. Rock concerts are fun – people can listen to the same songs on your MP3 player (just as you could use any old purse), but you go for an experience that you can connect with emotionally. I’d also say “treating yourself” is an emotion – making yourself feel special by purchasing something you just don’t need.

      I guess the bigger challenge is how the heck do we turn B2B into something akin to a rock concert. Obviously that’s probably a stretch but harnessing those emotions is exactly what I’m talking about.

      Thanks for the post!

  2. #3 by max on February 16, 2012 - 4:33 pm

    Once again, you’ve got me thinking…which can be dangerous, I know. What I am thinking about is how these emotional needs translate to my vocation in making what we offer more accessible…removing stumbling blocks. Folks in my world also get bogged down in features and benefits and endless programs without ever really acknowledging what’s driving people emotionally. Obviously, we are not something that fits neatly into any business model. But, that being said, most of the stumbling blocks that limit access are in the realm of emotion, operating somewhere below the level of conscious rationality. I hope you don’t mind if I play around with these on here in the hopes that you might help me work out how this works in my world.

    1) Security and peace of mind – seems to me that in my world, marketing aspects of what we do will need to reframe these terms. We have to manage expectations because the kind of peace and security we talk about don’t match up with cultural expectations of what those are. A lot of what we do (if we are doing it right and with integrity) will initially be dangerous and conflictual. So somehow, whatever “marketing” is in our realm has to entail getting a penetration deep into the community about what the terms mean? Or ought we to be involved in the conversation about their opposites? Not sure, but you definitely have me thinking.

    2) Fear of complexity (and a need for simplicity) – Oh man! This is a huge stumbling block and I don’t have an easy answer. In our realm, everything has to be portable and easily replicable. What we do has to be able to be replicated anywhere by almost anyone. Since what we do is done on everyone’s “own time”, if it isn’t simple, people won’t take a first step. That first step is an accessibility issue. I think this stuff might be something that takes some time to boil down to simple, but simple has to be the goal. I think we actually have to have a very good understanding of everything we do in order to make it simple, and I’m not sure we’re there yet. Simple. Not formulaic. But simple. Easy engagement and easy disengagement. Sprints, not marathons. Investment on one’s own terms. Principles over doctrine. Inspirations over complex instructions. Building blocks with options over fully built systems. Seeds over fully grown plants.

    3) Fear of obsolescence – For us, it’s a fear of fad. Fear of gadget. People want to connect to a truth that is unchanging. And many, if not most miss the reality that though the truth may not change, all the vehicles that get us there are culturally encapsulated. As such, they are in constant flux right now. This might be about managing expectations ahead of time for us right now.

    4) Disdain for the big, evil OEM or corporation (that could even be you) – This one should be easy for us…but it’s not. No matter how hard we try, it is very hard not to be splattered with the stuff being thrown at the institution. We aren’t disconnected, but we are distinct and different. We need to stay within a niche that steers clear of “big”, but maintains a level of sustainability. For us, the stumbling block is “fear of the Institution” instead of the big, evil corporation. We can do “big box”, but we can’t do “big boss”, because big boss smells of institution.. Anything that smacks of “institution” is a stumbling block to accessibility. That’s tricky stuff.

    5) Need to be top dog or seen as a thought leader (not necessarily as an organization but as an individual) – In our model, everyone is an innovator. Everyone is invited to lead. It sounds like you end up herding cats, but we really don’t. We’re kind of anti-ego here…no, we’re totally anti-ego here, but the need that’s wrapped up in this emotional set is very much at work here. People want to have an impact, and they want to see the impact. They don’t want to lead all the time, but they want to lead some of the time. They want their investment, small or large, to matter. They want to be able to move in and out of impactful participation at their own pace. But when they choose to play, they want to the ball.

    6) Fear of unpredictability, inconsistency or failure (not at the product level but as a team or organization) – Yeah. Real. Not our strongest suit. This may again be a matter of “bragging about the problem”. It may be a matter of intentionally managing expectations (our “Book” does a lot of that – “Count the cost”, etc.). We work in a vary volatile “market”. It is constantly changing, and the ones who are most successful at reaching it will be the ones who stay flexible enough to deal with unpredictability and inconsistency as normal. Failure? The ones who are successful fail the most. But the organization failing or coming apart? That’s real.

    7) Desire to be perceived as charitable or benevolent – Here’s where the institution failed. They forgot that people want to participate in “goodness”. Again, they want to see the impact. The institution separated charity from the individual so that goodness was meted out largely by proxy, if goodness was meted out at all. For us, we’re kind of in the “reality” thing, more so than the “perception” thing. And we kind of don’t care who gets the credit…frown upon folks seeking credit. But, once again, the emotional need is real. It’s especially real at the point of accessibility. People want to be a part of something that is known for its goodness, charity, and benevolence. If we aren’t seen, first and foremost, as representing these, we end up not even being on people’s radar screens when they go looking to meet that emotional need. Our “brand” (I really don’t want to make it into something as simple as a “brand”, but the categories match up for the purpose of this conversation) has to become synonymous with “charity and benevolence”, which means we have to get our brand apart from other brands that do not mean that to people. We can’t just be putting what we do out there as if it is part of some larger thing, because the larger thing’s brand is not at all what we’re after.

    Sorry for rambling here. I learn a ton from interacting with these posts. Like I said, what we do isn’t exactly the same, but what you do really helps me to get better grip on what I do…particularly on the organizational level.

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