Emotion is key, even in B2B relations

Josh Peachey's picture

B2B brands must remember that emotions drive loyalty, writes Nick Hague, Head of Growth at B2B International.



Alibaba and Office Depot have inked a ‘strategic collaboration’ - a partnership focused on helping small businesses in the US sell abroad. These two brands will have to remember the importance of emotion when it comes to their desire to dominate the world. 

The deal sees Alibaba hoping to reach US customers; while the American retailer, in turn, gains global prospects. But while their announcement of a co-branded online business-to-business wholesale marketplace has the obvious advantages of scale, for long-term success, they will also have to foster a sense that customers can trust them to deliver, wherever they may be.


The importance of emotion 

A successful brand is based on a connection that includes trust and an emotional bond which fosters a long-term relationship. Indeed, with Harvard Professor Gerald Zaltman finding that a whopping 95% of all purchase decisions are made subconsciously, it’s clear that B2B brands cannot afford to forget the importance of emotion. 

Brands which successfully make people feel a strong, positive, emotional connection gain fans – and this is no different for business-to-business brands. There is a general belief that decision-making in business-to-business markets is entirely rational. However, ask any procurement person and they would likely state that buying decisions come down to the quality of the product, the price, or the service delivered.

But we know that emotions play an important part in consumer markets and we know, too, that people don’t leave their emotions at home when they go to work. 

So how much of choosing a B2B company is based on emotions? It’s hard to quantify but one thing we do know is that brands play a huge part in driving emotions. Think about it... brands create an expectation and expectations carry a great deal of hope and promise – this is the stuff of emotions.

For too long B2B companies have ignored the power of the brand. When we buy a product or service there is always a level of knowledge or perception about the company, even if it is just down to the recognition of the logo. This leads to a level of expectation which is of itself, down to what we call ‘the brand’.


Linking brand emotions to experience

What’s more, the link between brand, emotion and delivering a world-class customer experience may seem obvious but is too often ignored. 

We need to remind ourselves that emotions can be negative as well as positive. Emotions drive brand value but they can destroy it - almost in an instant. Emotions that destroy brand loyalty include irritation, dissatisfaction, stress, disappointment, frustration, feeling hurried, neglected or unhappy.

On the other hand, positive emotions that drive value include trust, value, focus, safety and a sense of feeling cared for. There are of course other emotions that grab attention such as feeling interested, energised and stimulated – but the important takeaway is to understand what emotions are associated with your brand and which experiences are linked.

This can be understood as your brand’s ‘emotional signature’. Once you know which emotions you own, you can use this to guide your brand and customer experience (CX) strategy in order to differentiate your company from the competition.  

Many business-to-business companies are similar. They produce their products to exact specifications and are too often regarded as commodities. However, perhaps even as a direct result of this, relationships are central to their brands.  

It’s important that B2B brands maintain clear company values, which staff are aligned with. Everyone in the company needs to know the mission statement and what it means, whether they are customer facing or not.  And everything the company does should be delivered against these brand values. Consistency is everything. A great brand always delivers against its promise.

The brand needs to be consistent in everything it does, whether it’s the way the phone is answered or the format of business cards, or even the presentation of signatures in emails. The consistency of the brand gives reassurance to customers.

Alibaba and Office Depot, in partnering, will have to remember this.