Brandspeak: Does Emotion Play a Role in B2B Branding?


Recently, as I was going through a brand inventory framework to help a group of startups identify opportunities to better define their brands, one startup leader commented, “I don’t need to think about emotional benefits. I’m a B2B brand.”

Many in large as well as small companies believe that emotional benefits are only for B2C brands. They think that B2B brands should focus solely on functional benefits given the often high cost of B2B purchases, the complex procurement process and the potential business impact if the purchase fails to meet expectations.

However, some Bain and Company consultants in a recent Harvard Business Review article argue that it’s critical to consider “the full range of both rational and emotional factors behind business purchases.”

They cite emotional benefits like whether a brand can “reduce anxiety” or “enhance the buyer’s reputation” as impacting the B2B purchase, too. Reliability, trust, credibility, partnership, confidence—all emotional benefits—can sway a B2B decision.

A “Think with Google” piece brought this to life: “When a personal consumer makes a bad purchase, the stakes are relatively low. Best case, it’s returnable. If not, it might require an explanation to a spouse. Business purchases, on the other hand, can involve huge amounts of risk: Responsibility for a multi-million dollar software acquisition that goes bad can lead to poor business performance and even loss of a job.”

Market researcher Forrester linked these emotional benefits to an opportunity, describing brands as “a proxy to allay the fear of
buyers.” I also appreciated how the Forrester analyst emphatically commented: “If you thought B2B was all about features and functionality, think again. The human brain abhors complexity, and… influencers and decision makers in B2B are desperately seeking the right signal to simplify decision-making. That signal is brand!”

To see how some B2B brands are using emotional benefits to engage their audiences, just take a look at their YouTube videos and survey the themes:

• Boeing – reliability

• EY – purpose and legacy

• Goldman Sachs – leadership

• McKinsey – reinvention

• 3M – improving people’s lives

A former CMO of mine used to explain B2B marketing not as “business to business” but as “people to people.” People comprise organizations that make business decisions for B2C as well as for B2B brands. And people are human and full of emotion. I particularly like Dr. Jill Bolten Taylor’s description of humans: not as “thinking creatures that feel”, but as “feeling creatures that think.” When you look at it that way, it becomes clear why B2B marketers need to consider emotional benefits for B2B brands.

This article first appeared in

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About Author

Joe Pantigoso

Joe Pantigoso is a Senior Director in Global Branding at SAP, a leading enterprise software company and top globally ranked brand. Read more from Joe in his Brand Tips for Branders series.

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