Wired for emotion

Fiona Lund of Brouha Marketing looks how we can harness the brain’s natural pursuit for a coherent story to engage more effectively with customers and prospects

Business to business marketing (B2B) is often perceived as the weaker cousin of business to consumer marketing (B2C); it is often seen as trailing behind in creativity, impact and measurement.

So, what does B2C have, that B2B doesn’t? If you look at the overriding principles of some of our leading household brands over the years, you’ll see they’ve all created a story. Take Persil: its message is no longer focussed on selling chemicals to keep kids clean, it’s now completely the opposite. Now we see all the ‘real’ images of family life with the children having fun and getting dirty in the process. They’ve created a connection that we buy into.

And let’s not even get started on the Christmas adverts and the heart strings that are pulled there. Dripping in emotion to the point of becoming short films. But at the heart of every approach? A story.

The question is whether as B2B marketers, we have something to learn from this approach when getting our message out to the trade, or if emotional campaigns should be left firmly in the realm of consumer marketing.

Whether you’re communicating with businesses or consumers, your messages will be read by human beings, all of whom are wired for emotion. People don’t walk into an office and stop being human; they have the same brains which function in the same way at work as they do at home.

You might be reading this thinking you’re a completely different person at work than you are at home and that’s true, we do sometimes act differently in different contexts, but the physiological brain that’s controlling our thoughts and feelings doesn’t magically change on the commute to work.

We now know that we comprehend the world in two radically opposed ways, employing two fundamentally different modes of thought: ‘System 1’ and ‘System 2’.

According to Daniel Kahneman’s book ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’, System 1 is fast, automatic, frequent, emotional, stereotypic, unconscious, and it can’t be switched off. Its operations involve no sense of intentional control, but it’s the “secret author of many of the choices and judgements you make”.

On the other hand, System 2 is slow, conscious, effortful, and its operations require attention. Ask yourself “what is 13 x 27?” and you can see how it hogs attention. System 2 takes over, rather unwillingly, when things get difficult.

What all this means for B2B marketing is that we need to turn facts into feelings, events into experiences, and messages into stories.

Storytelling is an established, proven marketing technique. Stories resonate with people. They capture the quick-thinking part of their brain. When someone tells us a story we respond with empathy and insight, and we mirror the teller’s experience. If it’s a really good story we even get a little shot of dopamine, which heightens the connection and makes it more memorable. You don’t get that from a pricelist.

Customers don’t want to just buy from you; they want to connect with you, and they want you to understand them. Your product isn’t the right one for them because of data and statistics. It’s the right one because it will enhance their lives or jobs. Telling people truthfully what you do and why you’re different is important. But so is how you tell them. By telling a story that customers respond to, and placing your company firmly at the heart of it, you’re giving your customers and prospects something with which to identify. This connection is a powerful tool.

Storytelling builds on the fundamentals you already have in place – great products, good service, the right price – by evoking an emotional response. As a result, customers will relate to you and feel connected to your company, and that will make them more likely to buy.

Every company has a story to tell, and working with a good agency can help you achieve it.