It’s tempting to assume that emotional marketing elements like your brand story don’t matter in B2B. But research shows that’s not the case. Marketers lose a key opportunity to gain a competitive edge when they ignore the emotional elements of B2B branding, like brand storytelling.
A recent MarketingWeek article agrees, noting that “[B2B] Brands need a creative storytelling element because it is not enough to rely solely on rational product messaging. There has to be clear differentiation and a narrative that taps into business buyers’ emotions.”
If you’re marketing a SaaS solution to customers focused on price, you might be rolling your eyes at the mention of emotions in the same breath as business buyers. Tech buyers just want solutions to work, not make them feel good. But consider this: research has shown that intuition plays a bigger role in complex purchasing decisions than rational thought. B2B purchasing decisions are about as complex as they get. So, the competitive edge your solution needs might hinge on connecting with buyers’ intuition. Intuition isn’t irrational. It’s the unconscious mind speaking up based on emotional associations. You can activate customers’ intuition by telling a compelling brand story that connects with key emotions.
Branding For The Win
B2B brands that outperform their competitors report focusing more on long-term goals, like brand strategy. So how can your brand tell a strategic story that resonates with buyers?
First, the obvious: a great brand story isn’t a substitute for solutions that meet the needs of your buyers. Before you turn your attention to brand strategy, we’re assuming that you have a solution that addresses your buyers’ jobs to be done and satisfies the table stakes in your space.
But once you’ve got a credible solution and clear use cases, you need to take that next step. Make your buyers just, well, like you. Likability can be the key to getting an edge in a space where, realistically, many solutions could do the job. Subconscious emotional associations might be the difference between a win and a loss.
B2B Buyers Are People Too
Researchers at Bain categorized what matters to B2B buyers in a framework they call the B2B Elements of Value. The foundation of the pyramid is the basics: table stakes and functional value. Moving up the pyramid is where things get interesting for marketers. That’s where you find opportunities to tap into the humanity of your buyers.
The top three categories of the pyramid, Ease of Doing Business Value, Individual Value, and Inspiration Value, lend insight to how you can really connect with buyers and stand out with your brand story. Some key emotional needs to target from each of the top categories are:
Of course, it’s difficult for sales to point to a product feature that guarantees buyers will trust in your company’s reputational assurance, commitment, vision, etc. So your brand needs to have an effective story to communicate these values. Let’s look at some tactical ways brands have sent messages that tap into those emotional needs.
The buyer who signs off on your solution needs to feel confident that you aren’t going to make them look bad. After all, it’s their reputation on the line. Marketers can help build a trustworthy brand by offering plentiful, relevant case studies and cultivating positive analyst coverage.
Top brands prove how critical this is time and again. The old saying “no one ever got fired for choosing IBM” may well now have transformed into “no one ever got fired for choosing AWS.”
Capabilities demonstrations can show customers that you know your stuff, which is much more compelling than asking them to take your word for it. A great example of this was Google’s AlphaGo. It became the first computer program to defeat a professional human Go player and a Go world champion. Back then, Google didn’t have to simply tell customers they had superior AI expertise, because they proved it.
Show Off Capabilities With Inspirational Partnerships
Cultivate high-profile partnerships that demonstrate practical capabilities in appealing use cases. This can help buyers picture your brand inspiring innovation in their business.
For example, Amazon partnered with different sports leagues, like NFL and Formula One Racing, to provide analytics. Viewers see “Next Gen Stats Powered by Amazon,” which delivers major brand benefits. First, it builds positive brand association by enhancing viewer engagement with the event. Second, it builds credibility for the brand by demonstrating that heavy-hitters like the NFL and Formula One trust Amazon. Finally, it demonstrates an application of machine learning and analytics that could inspire prospective customers to consider how those capabilities might be applied in their business.
Tip the Scales with B2B Branding
If you’re confident you check the boxes for functional requirements but are still struggling to differentiate your solution in a tight market or build a more loyal customer base, it’s worth examining how you’re telling your brand story. With average B2B sales cycles clocking in at 3 months for small deals and 6-9 months for larger purchases, emotional elements like trust, perceived commitment, and likeability can help keep you top of mind for busy buyers. Look to brand strategy guidance for help identifying opportunities to tell your brand story in a meaningful way so you can tap into customer intuition when they’re making complex decisions about your solutions.
With custom market research and marketing services, Cascade Insights helps companies seize opportunities in the B2B technology sector. We work with everyone from enterprise tech stalwarts to up-and-comers such as FinTech, MarTech, Health Tech, and more.
Special thanks to CEO Sean Campbell and President & CTO Scott Swigart for advising on this post.