Fueling Brand Value by Finding an Emotional Sweet Spot

How to find the right intangible driver for B2B brand value
heart shaped candy box

DeSantis Breindel recently met with Forrester as part of Huddle  — an intimate community of B2B marketing leaders who come together to connect, collaborate, and learn from each other and from outside experts. Forrester researchers and branding experts shared some of their latest CMO research about human-centered branding and B2B customer obsession. Here are key takeaways from their findings. 

Emotional Branding: “Drive B2B Brand Value With Emotion and Experience”

Forrester’s report — “Drive B2B Brand Value With Emotion and Experience” — underscores the need for emotion in B2B brand building. Pointing to the protracted, relationship-dependent B2B customer lifecycle, report author Dipanjan Chatterjee deftly argues that B2B branding deserves as much — if not more — emotional pull as B2C branding. However, this advice, though valuable, may leave marketing leaders wondering which emotions their brand should embrace. In this article, we put our B2B EQ (emotional intelligence) to the test, exploring how to find the most effective emotional drivers.

B2B Buyers Have Emotions, Too

Chatterjee draws from executive interviews and proprietary Forrester research to show the power of compelling B2B branding, and how too many firms are ignoring it. Despite simulations showing that brand actually plays a larger role in business purchasing decisions than in consumer purchasing decisions, 1 in only 15 percent of B2B marketers say brand equity is an important metric for their business. [2]

Chatterjee argues that not only is B2B branding important, but it should also be emotional. He encourages B2B marketers to develop emotional branding strategies that are driven by roles, stories, and customer motivations. Chatterjee writes, “A particularly egregious [misconception] is that B2C is emotionally rich while B2B is just a cold calculation of hard numbers and data…B2B is characterized by informational complexity that makes rational evaluation difficult, [so we] should be connecting the dots to reveal a primary role for emotions.” And yet, as many as 20 percent of B2B businesses report having no clearly articulated brand promise. [3]

The Emotional Brand Spectrum

One way to think about emotional branding is with an exercise called the Brand Spectrum, which plots a brand’s overarching message on a scale from tangible to intangible benefits (see diagram). When we at DeSantis Breindel complete this exercise with B2B brands, they most frequently fall squarely on the “tangible benefit” side of the spectrum. Yet as Chatterjee advises in his piece, there’s opportunity in the realm of more intangible benefits. However, we must proceed carefully determining the best way for our clients to consider them. We can think of the Brand Spectrum as a tightrope. A little too heavy-handed here, a little too vague there, and you might fall off the spectrum altogether!

slider showing tangible to intangible

High-Touch B2B Buyer Journeys Demand Authenticity

When we think of emotional branding in the consumer world, we think of families, puppies, and the American flag. We think of Budweiser Super Bowl commercials and Dove natural beauty campaigns. Because customers’ interactions with consumer brands are often discrete — a commercial, an online ad, an at-shelf decision — consumer goods’ appeals to emotion only need to resonate for 30 seconds, or at most several minutes.

B2B brands do not have it that easy. In his report Chatterjee writes, “B2B transactions are wrapped up in relationships that build (and break) over time.” CA Technologies’ CMO Lauren Flaherty explains that, in her business, 14 to 18 interactions are necessary to move through a purchase journey. [4] Similarly, in DeSantis Breindel’s journey mapping work with an AmLaw 200 law firm, we found 16 steps in the legal services customer relationship.

With such a high-touch customer journey, B2B brands must find emotional appeals that are deep and long-term, that continue to resonate with buyers again and again. Obvious, shallow tactics won’t work; companies need to appeal authentically, with no flashy gimmicks.

Make it a Consistent Journey

Rollercoasters may be fun for thrill seekers at an amusement park, but not for clients spending a large portion of their departmental budget. B2B emotional appeals need to be authentic — but they also need to be consistent. Customer journey mapping is an effective way to ensure your clients’ emotions are kept on an even keel throughout their experience with you.

By identifying and analyzing each step of your audience’s lifecycle, we can gain invaluable insights into how to inspire the right emotions. Many journey maps leverage customer research to plot clients’ emotional arcs, giving companies a comprehensive understanding of the impact they’re making. Journey maps allow marketers to see where they’re getting it right, where they need to improve, and where there are opportunities to create high-impact moments.

Frequently, journey maps reveal that emotions go south when customers feel unsure. The fastest way to get customers back on the ideal emotional arc is to solve their problems; this can often be accomplished through targeted content that gives them answers. As Chatterjee writes, “customers voraciously seek validation…[they] feel besieged by the process; complexity and decision making do not make pleasant bedfellows.” By giving customers the tools they need, and imbuing these tools with the personality, tone, and images that will elicit the desired response, brands can get clients’ feelings back on track.

Find your why

When determining which emotions your brand should elicit consistently from clients, it’s helpful to start by defining which emotions drive your employees every day. One way to do this is to think critically about your why, the reason your business exists for clients. As noted author Simon Sinek writes, “People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.” By thinking about what you do from this lens, you can start identifying effective emotional levers for your brand.

Finding your why should be a collaborative exercise. The reason the CEO comes to work in the morning may not resonate with the average employee, so many and varied voices should be included when your company is crafting a mission statement. Through honest conversations with leadership and staff alike, you can identify points of commonality that can be embraced, and points of disagreement that can be addressed through internal training or communication.

Identifying a mission that focuses on clients, while appealing to employees, is a big challenge —but it’s a worthy one. A “why we exist” statement provides a kick start to a compelling brand. Especially when complemented by vision and values, it gives clear direction for the emotional appeal your messaging should make. For instance, if you exist to ease decision-making, you might appeal to certainty. If you exist to provide the most-cutting edge technology, you might appeal to creativity or adventure.

Turn Your Brand Value Inside Out

At DeSantis Breindel, we occasionally encounter clients who say their reason for being isn’t about their customers. They’ll point to creating good jobs, developing their employees’ talent, creating profit for investors, or some other internal goal. It turns out this isn’t that unusual. In fact, Forrester reports that 40 percent of B2B marketers report having an inward-facing brand promise. [5]

These kinds of aspirations are extremely important in employee engagement, recruitment, and investor relations. However, in corporate brand projects, we encourage our clients to reframe them in ways that are relevant to customers. B2B purchases often represent a significant portion of a company’s spending; although a vendor’s internal initiatives may be appreciated, ultimately, what’s best for the buyer (emotionally and rationally) drives purchase decision.

DeSantis Breindel recently worked with a consulting firm with deep roots in academia. Its founders felt strongly that the company existed to develop its employees professionally. While this message was very effective in attracting talent, it was missing the mark with clients, who just wanted to know they would receive accurate, insightful, and cost-effective analysis. We helped leadership widen the scope of their mission while staying true to their devotion to employees, developing a “why we exist” statement that emphasized empowering employees to create better solutions for clients.

Fed Up with FUD

Fear, uncertainty, and doubt (or FUD) messaging is an obvious emotional tactic that nonetheless has been frequently deployed. However, its heyday seems to be over. In the 1990s — when the national emotional climate was decidedly more optimistic — FUD was unexpected and even jarring, and thus effective, but today’s business buyers are weary of warnings. They’re all too aware of the risks of bad investments, weak data security, inefficient operations, insufficient legal counsel, and the like. It’s no wonder marketing trade publications have been covering the decline of FUD messaging for some time now. In 2015, Gartner talked about “the Anti-FUD;” in 2016, Infosec Insider implored “Please, Stop with the FUD Already.”

In response, marketers have found success by flipping the script. Rather than talking about threats or risks, they’re talking about what preventing or halting them enables: confidence, understanding, and continued growth. Notice that two of those benefits are emotional, and more than that, they are roles-based. They clearly illustrate what the buyer or user can personally expect to improve with a company’s goods or services.

Role-driven Emotional Strategy

An example of a pivot from fear to fearlessness comes from DeSantis Breindel’s recent rebrand of OneSpan. The data security company’s brand had been largely focused on function, but when it did deploy emotion, it was most frequently alarm. Its homepage bore the all-caps message “Your mobile apps are under attack.” We helped the company promote a more positive, empowering message, crafting the brand line “Be bold. Be secure.” and creating a brand platform and campaign that emphasized how rock-solid security enables transformational business advances.

Building Positive Emotions With Brand

B2B branding is far from cold and calculating. With high-touch purchase journeys and long-lasting client relationships, B2B marketing requires not only emotion, but genuine, resonant emotion that stands the test of the time. Gone are the days of FUD marketing or phony gimmicks.

To capture authenticity, brand leaders must engage the entire organization in defining purpose —and then convert that purpose into a benefit-oriented appeal to clients. Guided by mission, and supported by in-depth customer journey mapping, effective B2B marketers don’t just use emotional words and images. They build feelings of confidence — or creativity, or collaboration — with truly compelling content, resources and experiences.

1 Simon Glynn and Michael D’Esopo, “B2B Brands in the Human Era,” (http://lippincott.com/insight/b2b-brands-in-the-human-era).
2 Forrester Data Global Business Technographics Marketing Survey, 2016
3 “It’s Not About You: B2B Marketers Need to Change How They Think About Branding,” Forrester
4 Interview with Lauren Flaherty, CMO of CA Technologies, June 12, 2017, in “Drive Brand Value With Emotion and Experience,” Forrester.
5 “It’s Not About You: B2B Marketers Need to Change How They Think About Branding,” Forrester.
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