profile of human face in blue with gear where the brain would be

As B2B marketers know, there’s a big difference between a considered decision and an impulsive one when it comes to buying behavior. However, it’s a mistake to compare consumers and B2B purchasers in black and white terms, thinking of consumers as emotional and B2B buyers as logical. Human beings act on their feelings and invest meaningfully in relationships—including in business, and especially when the stakes are high.

It’s time to dispel the myth of the rational B2B buyer.

Research shows B2B buyers find reassurance in emotional connection

While the business buying decision is indeed well-researched and deliberate, it is far from void of emotion. A study from Google and the CEB Marketing Leadership Council found that “B2B customers are significantly more emotionally connected to their vendors and service providers than consumers.”

And really, this makes a lot of sense. Consumer purchases are generally low-risk. (Don’t like an item? Return it.) Business purchases, by contrast, represent transactions with high-stakes ramifications across a business and its people.

B2B buyers take responsibility for recommending or green-lighting massive purchases of products or services, inking contracts that often span years. The cost can be astronomical. The wrong choice could impact your business’s performance negatively and might even result in job losses (including your own).

As a result, per the Google study, “the business customer won’t buy unless there is a substantial emotional connection to help overcome this risk.” It is emotion, not facts, that provides the reassurance B2B buyers want to feel when they choose a brand.

For B2B companies, rationality-led branding leads to missed opportunities

B2B companies that ignore the emotional drivers of business purchases undermine their own brand efforts and investments. While B2B buyers are thoughtful, the brand that only affirms their most rational, logical thinking leaves countless opportunities to deepen the relationship on the table.

B2B brands that stand out lean into emotional connection. They generate excitement and anticipation for the personal rewards associated with that brand’s products and services as much as the professional ones. Depending on the buyer, messages about the prospect of career advancement could be incredibly motivating. Others may just crave the satisfaction that comes with feeling good about the choice they make.

For B2B marketers, the first step toward leveraging this insight must be to explore what their customers really care about. Then, they must translate their new buyer understanding into a brand that conveys not only what the business does but why it does it. (Simon Sinek explores the importance of finding and expressing your business’s WHY in his viral TED Talk, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action.”)

Articulating WHY they exist humanizes a company and makes its activity feel more meaningful than a series of business transactions. It helps a B2B prospect develop confidence that they’re building a relationship with a partner they can personally trust. The brand recognizes their values and priorities uniquely, and this triggers the emotions that can drive them to purchase.

We witnessed the power of emotion first-hand when we helped rebrand a professional services firm that provided information and data services to the financial services industry. Conversations with the firm’s customers (top-tier asset managers and hedge funds) revealed precisely what drove their decision making—and it wasn’t any service. Instead, buyers were moved and motivated by what the firm’s services enabled them to accomplish.

This information directly informed the new brand, which got to the heart of what mattered to the firm’s customers on both professional and personal levels. New designs, messages and experiences empowered the business to establish deep emotional connections with prospects—inspiring them to perceive the company as different, a partner that understood them better than anyone else.

Why emotions matter in B2B branding

As the Google study makes clear, the purely rational business buyer is a myth—and a dangerous one at that. B2B brand consultants that ignore the role that emotions play in B2B decision-making processes miss important opportunities to differentiate themselves and connect meaningfully with their prospects. In an increasingly crowded and noisy B2B marketplace, such connections are critical to success.

For more information on B2B buyer behavior and how to establish an emotional connection with customers, contact us.

About the author

Dru DeSantis

Dru DeSantis is a cofounder of DeSantis Breindel. She shapes strategic brand identities and powerful brand activations from digital ecosystems to multi-channel campaigns, engaging audiences and achieving critical business objectives.

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