Emotion and B2B marketing

Cos Mingides, from creative agency True, discusses the role of emotion in marketing, and how to get it right for a business audience.

Do you remember the Cadbury’s advertisement depicting the drum-playing gorilla? You probably do, even though it ran back in 2007. And there is a reason for that.

The gorilla had nothing remotely to do with any chocolate, let alone the Cadbury’s brand specifically. However, after the viewer’s initial surprise and confusion, the ad delivered a strong sense of joy for most people.

The agency brief was: “Eating Cadbury’s chocolate makes you feel good,” and the ad delivered on that brief. It also raised sales.

So what does a 13-year old ad featuring a drum-playing gorilla tell us about where B2B marketing can often get it wrong?

Brand advertising is a tool to help generate sales, but it isn’t an actual sales tool – something B2B marketers can forget. In marketing to the consumer, this distinction is rarely overlooked.

B2C marketing – or simply ‘marketing’, as it’s known – when done well, is endlessly creative, suspenseful, humorous, emotive and devoid of lengthy information sharing and explanations.

In contrast, B2B marketing can lack in imagination, overload on ‘rational’ information and fail to engage with the customer.

Whether a campaign has been devised for a consumer or a business customer, the audience is ‘people’, every time. Audiences respond to advertising communications in the same way, whether they are in the consumer or the business ‘space’.

When it comes to sentiment aroused and engagement, the most effective campaigns are always the ones that manage to evoke positive or lasting emotion.

The key is to evoke emotion in the viewer, rather than depict emotion on screen – and this is something that often gets misunderstood in B2B. Ads are a powerful tool and can be used to promote a vast range of feelings. Positive feelings broadly cover joy, surprise and love and all the sub-emotions found layered beneath. Negative feelings fall under the key emotions of sadness, fear and anger that can play a strong part of a good story arc.

Decision making

Very few decisions are made based on logic and rationale. According to Daniel Kahneman in Thinking, Fast and Slow, 95% of the decision-making process is made quickly using the brain’s ‘system one‘, which runs on intuition and instinct. This part of the brain is quick to react and relies on pre-existing bias and fast, unconscious thinking. This is what emotive marketing appeals to.

The second brain system is slow, logical and indecisive. It relies on reason, intellect, and rational thinking but incredibly only accounts for 5% of the decision-making process. It has shown that we buy predominantly on emotion and justify our emotional decisions using rational facts.

Global marketing research and effectiveness company System1 Group tests UK and US ads for emotional response using facial recognition technology to determine which emotions are expressed and to what level of intensity. These findings are then turned this into a 5-star ‘effectiveness’ rating system.

The ads with the highest ratings evoke a strong mix of emotions, with surprise and happiness leading the mix. And B2B ads significantly under-perform against their B2C counterparts, with around 80% of ads scoring only a 1-star rating.

Emotion as a marketing tool

In the consumer world, Cadbury’s iconic gorilla playing the drums to Phil Collins encapsulates this technique. System1 research found that reaction featured twice as much surprise as the ‘norm’ and around half as much happiness in place of neutrality.

B2B advertising can miss the tool of emotion because businesses are too intent on selling their products or services. As a result, campaigns become an overload of complex information that fails to capture the audience’s imagination.

Businesses talking to a business audience need to be ‘braver’ when it comes to their advertising campaigns. While staying true to their brand, they need to think like ‘people’ – consider how they want their audience to feel when viewing their ad.

The idea for a new campaign should be tested internally: first impressions are key. A great campaign only needs to be viewed once for memorability and to spark an interest. An ad that fails to capture audience imagination will need many more airings to generate the same level of brand recall. This means poorer long-term results and the need for a significantly higher media spend.

Stakeholders can be a block to memorability and audience interest as they tend to judge on short-term sales performance. They attach less importance to the role of emotion in marketing and brand building. This highlights the need for collaboration with internal stakeholders to help educate them on the importance of emotion in connecting with the audience to instil brand trust and distinctiveness.

Align advertising and brand values

It is also important that the direction of the ad and the emotion it aims to evoke is aligned with the aims of the business. Disney, for example, conjures up a feeling of magic and enchantment that almost spirits the viewer to Disneyland itself. In contrast, Volvo manages to instil a feeling of safety and robustness into its communications to cement its positioning in its market as a dependable family brand.

B2B presents products and services that can often feel much tougher to bring to life. Imagine rousing emotions around insulation products. But it can be done.

ROCKWOOL, a market leader in insulation, filmed 7 Strengths of Stone: the Test Series at its innovation factory. The resulting tongue-in-cheek videos depict extreme product demonstrations that dramatise the capabilities of stone wool insulation, alongside the Danish company’s heritage and flair for R&D. The concept was developed to engage the company’s core audience in construction as well as evoking emotions of surprise, suspense, awe and laughter.

When it comes to decisions in B2B, the stakes are high. A wrong decision for a consumer might mean they pick a different brand of deodorant next month. But in the business world, choosing the wrong new supplier could result in someone losing their job. Brand building that instils confidence and creates emotional connection is even more important in B2B. The old adage that ‘nobody ever got fired for buying IBM’ is one to keep firmly front of mind.

Memorable campaigns that evoke positive emotions about a brand are essential to close that gap. Ditch the rational explanations and lengthy descriptions – there is time for detail later when your prospect is already engaged.

Whether in B2B or B2C, it’s all about communicating with humans and the same rules apply.


Cos Mingides is co-founder of creative B2B agency True, which devised the multi-award-winning ‘7 Strengths of Stone: the Test Series’ for ROCKWOOL

Main image courtesy of iStockPhoto

© Business Reporter 2020