Thursday, May 7, 2015

Brand Spark: 3 ways to spark an emotional B2B brand

It's a common lament among  B2B marketers: we inherently lack the spark of B2C, because consumer-oriented brands can appeal to the emotion while we're stuck with price comparisons and procurement committees. As the brand manager for a B2B aerospace and defense company, it's something I've even said myself.

But a pair of research studies by the Corporate Executive Board (CEB) tell us B2B brands that just stick to the facts are selling themselves short. Even in the  realm of B2B, the personal can still be a powerful way to spark a connection.

In 2013, Google and the CEB’s Leadership Council conducted a studysummarized in the Google Think article, "From Promotion to Emotion: Connecting B2B Customers to Brands", by Google's Sam Nathan and CEB's Karl Schmidtthat found that B2B brands actually drove more emotional connections than B2B brands (see the left-hand graph below). Which makes sense, when you think about it: My decision to buy an Apple Watch might be looked at askance by an Android-loving colleague, or maybe my wife when she sees the credit card bill. But when you make a decision at work, you’re putting your credibility—and sometimes, even your job—on the line to the tune of tens, thousands or even millions of dollars.

So clearly, emotion plays a serious role. In fact, as you can see in the right-hand graph below, they found that “B2B purchases are almost 50% more likely to buy a product or service when they see personal value—such as opportunity for career advancement or confidence and pride in their choice—in their business purchase decision.” Even more compelling? “They are 8x more likely to pay a premium for comparable products and services when personal value is present.”

Two years later, the CEB took that finding to the next step by looking at how to successfully navigate today's complicated procurement processes that are often filled with more and more stakeholders with divergent views. In an article on SAP's The Customer Edge website, "Business Value and Personal Value: A B2B Marketer's Guide,"  Schmidtalong with the CEB's Brent Adamson and Anna Birdtell us the answer is personal value ... with a twist.

According to their research, the average group of decision makers is made up of 5.4 people. And even winning over one member to your solution isn't enoughfully half of those decision-makers surveyed weren't willing to publicly advocate for a solution, even if they were willing to buy it. The key to winning the business, then, is to move one or more of those members (what the CEB calls a “Mobilizer”) to action, willingly lobbying colleagues to make a decision in your favor.

And how do you do that? By appealing to the personal—what the CEB dubbed Identity Value: “the ways a supplier provides benefits to the individual employees and how they perceive themselves.” It’s not a decision made by fear (i.e. that old sawhorse, “No one ever got fired for choosing IBM”), but the opposite: By being associated with the brand they selected, Mobilizers and their colleagues will feel they did good by their company and they assume and reflect the key brand (i.e. emotional) traits of the supplier they chose.

Three ways to spark your company’s identity value brand

What does all of this mean to me, you and all of our marketing colleagues in the B2B branding world? Well, it means the personal matters—a lot.

Through my experiences and studies in Northwestern University's Medill IMC program, I've identified three core steps your company  can take to get started down the personal path as a B2B brand:
  1. Find the Emotional Core: Even in a B2B environment, take the time to develop a compelling brand promise that goes beyond easily-leapfrogged feature differentiation to focus on the personal, resonant story.
  2. Tell Meaningful Stories: Personal brands aren’t told in taglines or clever magazine ads, but through powerful stories that illustrate the benefits your brand brings to the people who choose it. For example, think about the companies whose selection of Google Apps for Business didn’t just change their email client, but the whole way they communicated and talked about themselves as a business.
  3. Mobilize Your Mobilizers: Deliver those stories—and the values of your company—in ways that give the Mobilizers in your court ammunition even when you’re not in the room. Build active forums on your site where like-minded folks can share and learn about your company and the challenges and successes that make you the only smart choice.
Emotional branding can be as effective for industrial fasteners as it is for fast casual. Spark that emotional connection your B2B company with these three steps, and start to build its identity value—and, when you do it right, your own.


Paul Zastrow brings more than 20 years in brand management and marketing communications to his role as corporate brand manager for Rockwell Collins, a global aerospace and defense company headquartered in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Paul is pursuing a Master’s in Integrated Marketing Communication from Northwestern University’s Medill. Connect with him on Twitter (@paulza) and LinkedIn.

1 comment:

  1. Paul,
    Great post. I always thought B2B marketing would be so boring compared to B2C, but your post makes it clear that the two have more similarities than I realized. Thanks for enlightening me.