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B2B is different.
Time and again I hear that same tired refrain. There’s a widely accepted (and misguided) belief that the things that work in B2C marketing just don’t translate in B2B. Creativity doesn’t fly. Ungated content won’t work. Nobody cares about your company’s mission (more on that in a future post).
Because B2B businesses sell to other businesses rather than directly to consumers, they adopt approaches suitable for engaging with entities – nameless, faceless organizations – but which you’d never use, let alone expect to work, with other humans.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in B2B’s rejection of anything that borders on being emotional. And that is a huge mistake, because emotion is not only one of the primary ways to grab attention and establish personal connection, it is a significant driver in buying decisions.
Before we go any further, let me be up front. This is not going to be a post that cites data or scientific research. We’ve covered that in the past.
Not me. Not here. This post is going to be from the gut. This post was spawned by a melody and a memory, two of the primary ways I tap into emotional storytelling. So get ready to catch a case of the feels and some insight into how we used emotion to help one client tell a powerful personal story.
I’m going to let you in on a secret: We’ve been guilty of the B2B-isn’t-B2C trap in the past.
When I started here as a lowly writer, I had only ever written B2C. During my interview, I was asked about writing for B2B and whether I could handle the challenge. I had no idea what the hell they were talking about. I’m pretty sure my arrogant response was basically, “It doesn’t matter as long as people are reading it.”
Somehow, I still got hired. But that didn’t mean that everyone accepted my answer. For my first few months, I routinely tried to use strategies I had successfully leveraged in B2C, only to be told that they don’t work in B2B. This was especially true of client messaging. I kept trying creative messaging and kept being told to play it straight – the client was selling fintech or UCaaS or managed services, not cars or blue jeans or soft drinks.
Whether you’re talking B2B or B2C, what you’re selling is a solution to a problem, a pain, a desire, a dream or an aspiration. You’re selling a solution to very human emotions – the frustration someone feels in not being able to do the job they’re tasked with or the desire they have to be successful.
And, just as importantly, you’re always selling to people. Even in B2B, someone is charged with sourcing a solution, and someone makes the final decision. And they are people – not faceless entities – with real emotions that influence and impact their decision-making.
We do a lot of messaging, homepages and content strategy at Square 2. In fact, we do some (if not all) of those things for nearly every client. A lot of it is really smart, logical and rational. Often that’s just what’s needed – we never insert the wrong emotion where it’s not needed. Sometimes, the emotion a client’s prospects need to feel is calm confidence, and the best path to that emotion is a decidedly unemotional message and story.
But when I look back at the messaging that elicits the most pride, the ones that I want our prospects to see, they almost always lean into feelings that people typically think of when they hear emotional – joy, love, nostalgia, aspiration. In part that’s because those are the messages that become part of a transformative experience for the client, leading to a shift in how they view themselves and how the world sees their business.
However, it’s rare for clients to come to us looking for that message. They want clever or smart or snappy. In fact, we routinely encounter clients who’ve either turned away from the emotional elements of their business, believing it has no place in their marketing, or have abandoned it because they lack the ability to seamlessly weave it into their story.
LegacyArmour was one such client. I’ll dive into them in a minute, but not before a brief personal digression.
This blog started like every blog starts: a blank page. I had no topic and nothing that came to mind seemed very compelling.
As it happens, I was listening to a podcast on Neal Casal, a musician who took his own life two years ago. His former bandmates were talking about dreams they still have about him, dreams in which they’re talking with Neal and suddenly realize he’s gone but keep talking to him anyway. Instantly I thought of dreams I have of my father in which we’re talking, then I suddenly realize he’s dead. In those dreams, in that moment of realization, I always do the same thing: I hug him and hold on for dear life until I wake.
You can’t see it, but I’m crying now. It’s been almost 20 years and there are moments when I still feel the wound of his passing as fresh as the day it happened.
That’s the gift of storytelling. It connects people via shared experiences. It transcends the actual story being told, transforming others’ experiences into our own.
Why are the ghosts of Neal Casal and my father relevant? In listening to that podcast and Neal’s music, and in thinking of my father, I was reminded of our client LegacyArmour.
LegacyArmour offers a combination digital vault and legacy planning solution. They have both B2B and B2C clients. When we first met the owners, Sahar and Michael, Sahar shared that the inspiration behind the company was directly tied to the loss of her father. It was a very personal and emotional story, one that many people can relate to, myself included.
And yet despite the power of this story, and the value their solution provides during a difficult time, LegacyArmour was messaging to cybersecurity. They were telling a very rational story that centered on technology rather than humanity. They simply didn’t know if emotion was appropriate and, if it was, how to use it without being ham-handed.
Because we’re marketers, people believe that when we talk about using emotion that it’s manufactured, that it’s an affectation. But it has to be real to work. As such, we tapped into Sahar’s story as well as our team’s personal experiences to develop a moving message. When we reviewed it internally, every member of our team stopped. Some saw the loved ones they had lost; others saw the loved ones they want to ensure are taken care of. But we all felt something deep and personal.
Beyond the image and words, it had feeling. That’s the power of emotion – it can make even jaded marketers pause what they’re doing and take notice.
When we presented the messaging, Sahar instantly saw her story, the LegacyArmour story, finally told in a way that brought into balance dueling sides of their company – the emotion and innovation, the heart and the intelligence, the technology and the humanity.
There are cynics among us who will happily point out that there is a significant B2C component to LegacyArmour’s business. That’s true, but it’s also just one example spurred by a random memory. Look at our work and you’ll find a number of other examples.
We don’t shy away from emotion, and neither should you.
You don’t have to tug at the heartstrings. Being human means feeling a wide range of emotions – humor is just as valid an emotion as sadness, while comfort and confidence are just as potent as dreams and desire. It’s knowing when to tap into which emotion and how to weave it into a balanced story that also illustrates credibility and expertise.
It’s a difficult tightrope to walk. The right execution can create an incredibly powerful, emotional experience. A misstep can create a discordant and disturbing experience that makes prospects uncomfortable and could push them away. Be deliberate and thoughtful in using emotion, especially in brand messaging. If you don’t have the in-house talent, work with a partner that has a strong messaging portfolio.