The Power of Creating an Emotional Connection with Buyers

For business, this is turning out to be the “year of the human.” Andy Goldberg, global creative director at GE, said in an interview with Advertising Age about marketing trends in 2015: “We need B-to-B to be more human.” Karen Walkers, SVP of marketing at Cisco, went ever further by saying, “Devotion to brands begins and ends with an emotional connection. Buyers are people, people are humans and humans are emotional beings.”

Why this sudden awakening of humanity in tech marketing? The recognition that business decision makers are also people with emotional needs? Well, the answer might surprise you, and it’s based on a good bit of data and research.

The CEB (formerly Corporate Executive Board) first picked up on this trend in their research that found communicating business value (functional benefits of a product or service) was not differentiating because perceptions on that value hScreen Shot 2015-03-02 at 2.49.41 PMardly varied between brands.

For example, a recent brand health study for a tech client found that 90 percent of their brand health (defined by a willingness to recommend and consider) was driven by service quality. Service quality made up 90 percent of the attributes in the graphic.

The smart marketer would think that in order to improve our brand health, we should increase our focus and communication for the performance attributes related to service quality. And they would be right, except for the fact that those business value drivers also apply to all competitors in the category, which is apparent in the graphic below:

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Each color line represents how a competitor scored on performance attributes under capabilities, expertise and strategic advisors. It is almost impossible to distinguish between the five companies represented (except for the competitor in orange, which also happens to have a leading share of market, mind and voice).

What is clear from the research is that rational purchase drivers that communicate business value, although important, are nothing more than “table stakes.” So what creates separation?

The answer: An organization’s ability to build and communicate value based on the understanding of the risk/reward dynamic involved with a purchase decision. The reason: There is a direct correlation between the level of risk and the emotional involvement of the buyer. The higher the risk, the more emotions play a role. Technology purchases are a particularly high risk because they support critical functions within an organization from payroll to customer communications and more.

As a result, personas need to go deeper into understanding the emotional state of buyers as they go through the buying process. Marketers should map the mental state before, during and after the purchase decision, noting the emotions that buyers might be feeling at that time. Here are some key questions to consider as you go through this process:

  • What challenge(s) does this purchase decision present for the buyer? It will defer if the buyer is new versus existing. As a marketer, it’s crucial to know how it’s different.
  • What personal risks are at stake for this decision maker? Could they lose their job if they make the wrong decision? Invest in understanding their role and their challenges.
  • What are the personal rewards for the buyer? Consider how the decision will pay off for them personally. Most often this will be career oriented, but not always.

It’s also important to note that buyers will already have preconceived feelings towards your brand. This may be a benefit or another hurdle to overcome. Our research in partnership with the FORTUNE Knowledge Group found that nearly two thirds of C-level executives said they believe subjective factors that can’t be quantified (including company culture and corporate values) increasingly make a difference when evaluating competing proposals. Only 16 percent disagree. Furthermore, 70 percent believe that a company’s reputation is the most influential factor when deciding what company to do business with.

Buyers trust their gut to make the right decision based on how they feel about a product and/or brand more than we think (and definitely more than we communicate). They make purchase decisions based on emotions, and then justify them with the business value drivers. It’s the emotional connection that triggers the decision and feature/functionality to support it, not the other way around.

What company does this best? It’s Cisco. Research has shown that they are the most emotionally connected customers. Not surprisingly, as Karen Walkers points out, Cisco recognizes that buyers are not just decision makers with budgets, but rather people who are emotional beings.

The Top 5 Posts of 2014

It’s the time of the year to look back over the last 12 months and create a “best of” list. This year I’ve pulled the most popular posts from five different sites; Adage, Business2Community, Forbes, Fortune and LinkedIn. In addition, I’ve thrown in a few other noteworthy nuggets from the year at the end of the post.

Adage Why Apple Pay Could be Huge, And It’s Not What You Think explored the potential upside of Apple Pay as an advertising platform.  It sparked the most conversation, and debate, on Twitter. Time will tell if they this strategy will come to fruition.

Business2Community5 Key Tips and DaScreen Shot 2015-01-02 at 12.45.03 PMta Points to Defend You 2015 Marketing Budget. The last post of the year required the most man hours, and it was the most reposted story of the year. It offers marketers help with their 2015 planning activities in the form of free research and benchmark data.

Forbes -the most popular and shared post of the year, Could Falling Test Scores Be a Good Thing for the US?  explores the link between test scores and success in business. It also highlights the risk associated with over emphasizing left brain analytic skill development, outlined by Sir Ken Robinson in his Ted Talk video Do Schools Kill Creativity? The endorsement of Marc Andreessen certainly played a big role in the popularity of the post.

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Fortune Are Marketers Measuring the Right Things was the first post I wrote for our new partnership with Fortune. It profiles the efforts of Ciena, a networking company, to elevate marketings role, and importance, within the organization. The post highlights an unique survey tool used to gather feedback from the sales organization on the performance of marketing (see the dashboard below).

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LInkedIn – 2014 marked my first year publishing on LinkedIn. Based on my experience so far, I’m not convince it will viable platform for content unless it becomes better policed. Too much promotional material seems is making its way on to it. At this point, I’m not sure I’ll continue to post.

That said, the most popular post on LinkedIn was also one of the most popular on Adage. The Keys to Differentiating Your Company From Others provides tips on how marketers can humanize their corporate brand to better resonate with audiences. It also identifies one of the common flaws of B2B communication – thinking that what you sell…is who you are.  Hopefully, it also helped generated a new client for a follower.

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Bonus Stuff

A couple of other noteworthy happenings from the year.

Moving on up.  

The Next Generation of Apps Will Be All About You post that ran on Advertising Age was reprinted in the Sept/Oct version of The Portal magazine, a bi-monthly publication produced by the International Association of Movers.

Screen Shot 2015-01-03 at 10.19.37 AMTaking Center Stage 

Karen Walker, SVP at Cisco, highlighted my post Everything We Thought We Knew About B2B Marketing is Wrong in her presentation at this year BMA member meeting in Chicago. The post now has close to 70,000 views.

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Happy New Year!  Here’s to an exciting year to come.

Everything We Thought We Knew about B-to-B is Wrong Video

In December, I had the opportunity to be the Keynote speaker at the Bowery Capital CMO Summit in NYC.  The event featured a number of high profile CMO’s speaking with an audience of mostly early stage startups (under 20 employees).

My presentation was based on the recent Forbes blog post Everything We Thought We Knew about B-to-B Marketing in Wrong.  The audience also included some local media, a reporter from CMO.com wrote a summary of the speech.

 

Everything We Thought We Knew About B2B Marketing is Wrong

What company do customers feel most connected to emotionally?

Apple?  Nope.  Amazon?  Sorry.  It must be Nordstrom’s then, right?  Not even close. To find the company that has the strongest emotional connection with customers, you have to leave the consumer world behind.  Blows your mind, doesn’t it.

According to new research from Google and the CEB, customers are more emotionally connected to B2B brands, and it’s not even close.  The company customers say that they are most emotionally connect to is…Cisco.

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Why?  Well, it’s about understanding risk.  The more risk involved with a purchase decision, the higher the likelihood of an emotional connection.  Increase the variables related to risk (e.g. losing a job, wasting corporate investments) and you have the ingredients for an emotionally involved buyer.   Personal risks peak when others are counting on you to make the right decision and the stakes are highest.

How did Cisco become number 1?  It has to do with Cisco’s ability to reduce risk with buyers.  Forrester ‘s Evaluate Your Channel Partner Loyalty Program, surveyed over 250 hi-tech business partners to understand the drivers of loyalty.  Partners were asked to select the reason/s “why their most strategic vendor is their most important vendor” (see the table below).

Screen Shot 2013-10-27 at 6.57.52 PMPartners, buyers of Cisco gear, selected Cisco for the strength of the relationship, despite that fact that Cisco was also the most profitable vendor (established earlier in the research).  Cisco partners value the relationship more highly than other partners, 26% more.

The reason is related to how Cisco is able to create and communicate what the CEB and Google research describes as “personal value” consisting of four parts; professional, social, emotional and self-image benefits.  Some of which are communicated, others realized through the customer experience.  For example, existing customers understand the “personal value” associated with an existing vendor 2X that of non-customers.

Cisco has built a strong “personal value” equation by investing heavily in their partner’s success.  It supports them professionally through training and certification programs.  Invest in the brand to support the emotional bond and self-image, and in sales and marketing activities to drive demand.

All of which reduces the risk associate with failure, be it personally or professionally.  And in return, they trust Cisco with their livelihood, valuing the “Relationship” above rational drivers, like profits and revenue.

Getting Personal and Emotional

How can we leverage this insight?  To start, focus on better communicating “personal value” to non-customers.  The research found that brand messaging connects with buyers early on, but the excitement wanes over time as we move down the buyer journey into the evaluation phases.

The rational brain takes over to assess risk, and the complications associated with the purchase, at this point as much as 50% of the potential deals stall or fall out of the process.  Risk impacts their initial positive emotions, and unfortunately, we don’t much to help them.

To counter those feelings engage them with personal-value messaging, go beyond just using feature/functionality language (functional benefits) to describe products or services by combining the emotional and self-expressive benefits as well (see below).

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Like Cisco, understand how your products or services impact buyers.  Does it make them feel “smarter” by having the latest technology, or more “secure” in their role.  Although buyers are individuals with unique personalities, and should be treated that way, they most likely share the same fears, uncertainties, and doubts we have in our roles.

Get to know them, like you know yourself.  Stop assume they are always rational and buy on price and/or functionality.  And finally, realize that there are customers who are emotionally connected to your brand, and/or highly value their relationship with your organization, and when they say that they “love your product or company”…they actually might just mean it.