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Harnessing the power of human emotions in B2B marketing

Social & Digital Technology & Data

Harnessing the power of human emotions in B2B marketing


Experiment, measure, adjust, repeat. Marketing success arguably lies in embracing an experimental mindset and understanding customers’ emotional motivators, writes Vittorio Baiocchi.

Over the past 10 years, I’ve experienced first-hand the unprecedented pace at which new resources have become available to marketing teams. More technologies and channels call for an attentive test-and-learn approach, demanding discipline from marketing teams to bring small incremental benefits to their strategies.

Experimentation has always been paramount to any marketing strategy. Then COVID-19 came along, accelerating the need for incremental benefits and marketing ROI. Today more than ever, marketers are confronted with the challenging task of experimenting with new approaches, while delivering on their yearly plans, all in the context of a constantly changing business environment. More than ever, marketers need to be listening more carefully to the environment that surrounds their audiences. And the race never stops.

The dynamics of a changing environment affect businesses just as much as the people that work in those businesses, stressing the need for brands to be receptive to conversations, feelings, frustrations and trends affecting not only their industry but their customers more in general.

Humans are emotional creatures as well as thinking ones. In fact, the power of leveraging human emotions to trigger a response in your audience has been used for thousands of years. Greek rhetoricians called it Pathos and Aristotle identified that “awakening emotion (Pathos) in your audience” induces them to “make a judgment desired”. In this sense, emotion is a key mode of persuasion.

Contextually relevant content and campaigns that leverage human emotions can provide marketing teams with new ways of finding hidden affinities with their audiences, improving message penetration, brand awareness, and ROI – adding a whole new dimension to those important test-and-learn practices.

Let’s take a look at the critical pillars needed to craft emotionally aware content and campaigns that draw attention and inspire action.

Leverage the ‘emotional motivators’

Whether you’re in B2C or B2B, emotions are still the number one factor driving buying decisions. Don’ believe me? Research from Les Binet and Peter Field for the B2B Institute shows that B2B strategies that appeal to emotions are 7x more effective at driving long-term sales, profits and revenue than rational messaging.

People buy with emotions and explain with logic. Leveraging the power of emotions in your marketing can help your brand stand out, creating new connections with your audience and providing your marketing team with a new dimension to enrich the marketing success formula.

But how exactly can marketers craft messaging and campaigns that speak to the heart of their audience? The good news is that it’s possible to target the feelings that drive customers’ behaviours. In a study conducted across hundreds of brands in dozens of categories, Harvard Business Review calls them “emotional motivators” and defines their importance as a fundamental way for a firm to gauge its customers’ future value.

How to leverage the top 10 emotional motivators for brand success:

  • Stand out from the crowd: Project a unique social identity. Be seen as special.

  • Have confidence in the future: Perceive the future as better than the past. Have a positive mental picture of what’s to come.

  • Enjoy a sense of well-being: Feel that life measures up to expectations and that balance has been achieved. Seek a stress-free state without conflicts or threats.

  • Feel a sense of freedom: Act independently, without obligations or restrictions.

  • Feel a sense of thrill: Experience visceral, overwhelming pleasure and excitement. Participate in exciting and fun events.

  • Feel a sense of belonging: Have an affiliation with people they relate to or aspire to be like. Feel part of a group.

  • Protect the environment: Sustain the belief that the environment is sacred. Take action to improve their surroundings.

  • Be the person I want to be: Fulfill a desire for ongoing self-improvement. Live up to their ideal self-image.

  • Feel secure: Believe that what they have today will be there tomorrow. Pursue goals and dreams without worry.

  • Succeed in life: Feel that they lead meaningful lives. Find worth that goes beyond financial or socioeconomic measures.

Needless to say, there is no one size fits all. Brands that truly understand their audience may pick amongst hundreds of emotional motivators to create new ways to connect.

Talk with your audience in their preferred context

Crafting your next video, ad or content piece in a context that’s relevant to your audience can be a great way to improve the outcome of your marketing efforts. Customer research will help you gain important intelligence into your customers’ world. You can then use that intelligence as fuel for your next campaign.

Research data from Google shows that understanding your customers should be one of the most important aspects of your strategy. Around 40 percent of marketers are using consumer research to drive decisions. And 90 percent of marketers also agree that understanding user journeys is critical to success.

There are many techniques available to help marketing teams better understand the characteristics and buying preferences of their target customers. However, in the attention economy, brands don’t compete in their respective industries or product categories and the battle for attention extends to virtually any other blog or website you can find online. But unless you have an unlimited budget and resources to feed a mastodontic content strategy, how do you win such a daunting battle?

The answer lies in discovering what context your audience is immersed in. Then find ways for your brand to constructively join the conversation.

  • Interview customers beyond your category. Interviews are a great way to get an intimate understanding of your customers. Asking questions beyond your product or services can help you learn about their content preferences. For example, what type of content they consume and what social media channels they follow? What spokespeople they listen to and what events do they attend? You can then turn this information into an opportunity to tailor your message to your audience’s content consumption preferences.

  • Use social and web listening tools to fine-tune your customer data. Did you know that Google processes approximately 5.6 billion searches per day (63,000 per second)? And that there are approximately 500 million tweets a day? Using social and web listening tools in conjunction with your existing customer data can help you gain a deeper understanding of what conversations your customers are joining, what channels they follow, what questions they ask and more, even beyond your product category or industry. The opportunity lies in finding ways to tailor your existing content. Or in creating new content to join the conversation in a context that your audience is comfortable and familiar with.

Avoid falling into the tone-deaf trap

When thinking about new content ideas or campaigns, marketing teams often start the planning process with their product or service in mind. What are we trying to sell? Which are the features that make our product or service unique? Can we identify our customers’s pain points and objectives as they relate to our industry?

A more careful assessment of a customer’s status quo may provide a breath of fresh air to the creative minds in charge of crafting that campaign. Being aware of what’s going on in your customers’ world requires dissociating yourself from the problem you are trying to solve for your business, focusing on your customer first, then working backwards to find ways to creatively connect to the emotions, events, conversations and situations your customer is immersed in at a particular point in time.

But achieving the right balance between your business needs and your customers’ status quo lies somewhere in the middle. Take Shopify’s ‘Let’s make you a business‘ campaign as an example.

The campaign objective was to encourage the next wave of independent business owners. It highlighted how Shopify can help them to start, grow and manage a business. The campaign cleverly leverages Shopify users’ emotional motivators with a multi-channel execution strategy aimed at being visible throughout the day. The result is a creative B2B marketing campaign that talks to the audience’s motives, giving them a venue to fulfil a desire for self-actualisation, success and freedom from the everyday routines.


Whether you’re in B2C or B2B, adopting an emotional-connection approach in your marketing can lead to significant improvements in your capability to deliver a message to a specific audience and trigger the desired response.

Marketing teams are often immersed in countless experimental practices, testing and learning technologies or channels to add small incremental benefits to their strategies. However, finding the intersection between your audience’s status quo and emotional motivators can unlock a wealth of new ideas to fine-tune your content and campaigns for improved business success.

Vittorio Baiocchi is the director of marketing, Asia Pacific, at InMoment.

Photo by Lesly Juarez on Unsplash.

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