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Getting passionate about emotion in B2B tech

4 min read - by Alex Norbury - MD

As consumers, we can all recall our favourite pieces of creative. A John Lewis Christmas ad; Budweiser’s Whassup; the tick-tock-tick-tock one from Guinness.

What does award-winning marketing have in common? Emotion. So, let’s explore why, in B2B tech-land, we find it all a bit much?

“Emotion” is such an... emotional word. It generates a lot of strong feelings within B2B tech marketing.

Some say there’s too much of it (they call it marketing waffle), others say it’s essential when markets are so commoditised. And of course the cop-out answer is that there is truth on both sides. It comes down to what we mean by “emotion.”

One of the most challenging questions we ask when putting together a brief is, “Why will this audience care about this proposition?”

It’s a human word, “care”. But in this context, are we talking about the kind of care that has people bursting into tears, or going dewy-eyed with romance?

Do they trust you?

In B2B, the core emotions are more related to the responsible judgement that expert decision makers bring to buying decisions. They care because they want a solution that adds real value for the organisation they represent, procured from a vendor or partner they can trust.

This is why it is critical to ensure a close alignment between your brand and the campaigns you run. It is your brand that embodies your relationships with your customers and represents the values that your customers buy into when they select your offering ahead of anyone else’s.

Market to heroic professionals

For our clients, it’s about recognising that a customer or prospect has a job to do and that the emotion we need to generate will come from appealing to their professional values.

After all, when you find a great solution to a complex business problem, it’s genuinely exciting. You feel proud, triumphant and, perhaps, a little relieved.

It’s a classic storytelling scenario: the heroic solving of a problem, even if that problem appears to be related to a highly specialised piece of technology. One person’s rather dry, niche bit of tech is another person’s gloriously elegant, game-changing solution.

Every feature tells a story

Which means that for some campaigns a detailed technical specification might be the most potent and compelling motivational message.

Even the best practice of leading with benefits as opposed to features might be patronising. To an expert, features tell their own stories.

To paraphrase the Spiceworks manifesto: “Just tell me what the product does and I’ll decide whether it’s right for me.”

But does that mean an end to the debate about “human-to-human” marketing and the old stand-off between B2C and B2B? Are we saying that human emotion, rather than professional care, is only for consumer audiences?

Examples: emotional marketing at work

I’ll quote two examples from our own portfolio to show how the human story can work with the professional proposition to deliver an effective, emotion-driven campaign, aligned with trusted brand values.

The first was a campaign for Lenovo and their ThinkCentre Tiny series of compact desktop PCs. Building on the idea that the smallest chillies are the hottest, we sent jars of hot chilli sauce to partners and end-user customers, under the banner, “Tiny Not Timid.”

Our aim was to drive home the phenomenal power packed into the compact devices. The campaign generated more than $6 million in sales pipeline because the human and professional emotions in play worked together.

The visuals and the chilli sauce grabbed attention and entertained, putting a smile in the mind of the reader.

But the decisive factor was the product, which addressed some critical audience needs. Desktop real estate is a big problem in some markets and this was a compact solution that didn’t compromise on power.

$11.8 million worth of love

The second example was for NIIT Technologies (now Coforged). Here, human emotion was front and centre because the campaign theme was “Love Disruption”. It was aimed at passenger services operators, for whom “disruption” is obviously a sensitive word.

The line and the imagery telegraphed the relevance of the campaign to the audience, building intrigue and adding a touch of wry humour with the paradox of the line.

It demonstrated that NIIT understood the audience’s world, a point backed by case studies and insights that appealed to the reader’s professional sensibilities.

The result? $11.8 million in qualified sales pipeline and a 98:1 return on investment for the client. Clearly, this audience learned to love the disruptive technology that helped them overcome one of their most challenging business issues.

Insight generates excitement

For both these examples, the key point is that human emotion alone is not enough to deliver results in B2B tech marketing. You have to back your human story with rational evidence that convinces the reader’s professional side.

The other critical factor in the Lenovo and NIIT examples is the audience insight that led to the creative themes. We knew enough about the realities of the audiences’ worlds to create fresh, relevant, and valuable propositions, and sprinkle them with the entertainment value needed to get attention and draw readers into the full story.

The language of personalisation

And perhaps that is the most telling emotion of all: feeling recognised and appreciated. The readers could see that our clients had a genuine understanding of their world.

For me, that is the essence of personalisation. It’s not about putting someone’s name on a landing page. It’s about showing the reader that you speak their language.

There are few stronger foundations for trust than that.

[1] IPA and the Financial Times, The Board Brand Rift, June 2019.