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How to emotionally engage your customers – without using kittens

Emotional marketing isn't just about fluffy animals - big data and heavyweight technology can help leverage emotional triggers for stellar B2B campaigns. 

If the first thing that springs to mind when you think about ‘emotional marketing’ is cutesy consumer ads featuring baby animals, kids and first crushes, you’re not alone. The ‘warm fuzzies’ that emotional marketing delivers have proven very lucrative to the consumer market — and very effective. Who can see a packet of McVitie's biscuits without imagining a kitten popping out? (Aw!)

Yet to the sophisticated marketer, those ads appear pretty reductive. Throw in a fluffy animal and you’re good to go, right? Actually, there is much more to emotional marketing than that, I promise you. And there has to be for it to suit B2B. A heart-warming campaign wouldn’t infiltrate a fastidious buying committee, or outlast a long, complicated sales cycle. Would it?

Let’s get real. There is potential for much greater sophistication. When we talk about emotional marketing, we’re not just talking about kittens and kisses, but hard science, big data and heavyweight tech. We’re talking about buyer personas, brand and personalisation — all the things you know and respect. 

Emotional marketing is about sending personalised and effective triggers to the right people, at the right time. The beauty of it is not only the opportunities it offers but the breadth and variety of those offerings. It’s a philosophy that can be woven into your entire approach to marketing.

The science behind your customer’s buying behaviour 

According to Harvard Business School professor, Gerald Zaltman, emotions (not logic) control 95% of the decision-making behind our purchases. (One look at my wardrobe proves this... and my affliction of impulse shopping.) 

Gerald argues that we use our rational thinking to validate our emotional response, and because we can always conjure a logical 'reason', we kid ourselves that we’re rational beings. (The dress was in the sale! One day purple animal print will seem sophisticated).

The neuroscientific community supports this theory – including Antonio Damasio, who in the late 1990s and through the use of neuroimaging, discovered something amazing. 

He found that people with damage to parts of the brain controlling emotion were less able to make decisions. They could resolve an obvious choice between right and wrong, or good and bad, by applying logic. Yet a slightly more complex decision – such as which restaurant to eat at – had them spinning in a world of variables. They needed an emotional value judgement on which was preferable. No emotional register meant no decision.

At Ignite, our annual conference for B2B Marketers, Rory Sutherland, VP of Ogilvy UK talked about the impact this has on our industry. “The difficult thing in B2B is that everyone pretends decisions are rational and objective… In B2B the pretence of buyer rationality is much harder to shake off than if you are in the consumer sector,” he said.

Yet, like Gerald and Antonio, Rory knows the reality is different. “Evolutionary psychology shows the human brain evolved a sense of reason not to make decisions but to defend our decisions and argue our case as a social species," he says. "We have evolved the sense of reasoning of a defence lawyer, not a scientist.”

Emotional marketing calls for disruption 

Okay, so marketing has always pressed emotional triggers – the fear of missing a discount, or the impetus to keep up with the pack – it's what drives sales. Yet the tide is turning. Marketers are making fundamental changes based on their new understanding of emotional marketing. 

Take Antonia Wade, CMO at Thomson Reuters, who restructured her entire marketing department to mirror the company’s new buyer personas, rather than its product offerings.

Antonia realised that her customers weren’t fully engaged and marketing had to respond to their emotions throughout the buying cycle. They also had to deliver that response at the time right and in the right tone. 

“There’s a huge breadth of personalities we market to,” Antonia explained as she discussed her largest market – financial services. "The type of person who becomes a trader has very different career motivations versus someone in compliance. The content they want to receive and the number of minutes they’ll give to it vary greatly.”

Together with the agency Omobono, Antonia’s team mapped user scenarios to each of the new buyer personas. This revealed 27 different buying journeys, including how each type of buyer felt at every stage of the journey. 

The marketers then built content plans for each persona at each stage of the buying cycle, improving customer engagement at every point of friction by discussing challenges, such as internal buy-in and support for new users. The benefits of this are felt across the company and by its customers, and it’s at the heart of Thomson Reuter’s very successful website redesign.

Martech meets emotion

Some argue that the over-abundance of technology and automation are the very things driving the urgent desire for honest human connection. The logical rationale is to strip technology back to its basics and connect on a personal, human level. Yet there is no escaping technology’s crucial role. 

The investors behind some of the burgeoning tech vendors certainly feel so. Take Spark Neuro, which in August raised $13.5 million in funding to develop technology that analyses the brain’s emotional response to marketing. Where marketers once used focus groups and surveys (which are often riddled with unconscious bias) they can now measure straight from the source. That, by the way, is no longer the proverbial horse’s mouth, but the physical human brain. 

A US consumer advert for Mr Clean, which featured a sexualised animation of the company’s male mascot, panned in a male focus group but performed excellently in Spark Neuro’s EEG tests. It then went on to be one of the top performing ads during this year’s Super Bowl. 

So why didn’t the focus group like it? Spark Neuro’s tests showed they did. The group were simply embarrassed to say so. 

Of course, Spark Neuro isn’t the only offering. Researcher, Crone Consulting, forecasts that the market will soar from $20 million in 2015 to $10 billion globally by 2020. Some developers are applying facial coding systems to measure the emotions played out on the face of online buyers. Others are tracking eye movements online, noting which ads draw attention and for how long. 

So yes, consumer marketers can have their kitten, but they can also measure and predict its efficacy with the type of strategic planning that would put Napoleon to shame. Meanwhile, B2B marketers, who have to take a more nuanced approach, can test numerous ideas with a strong assurance of their impact. 

In such a competitive market it’s amazing that marketers can still leverage these basic insights to such great effect. 

B2B purchasers are still enshrined in logic and held accountable at many levels, but that’s why emotions matter. In a corridor of closed doors, emotion may be the only one left ajar. 

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