We need to drop emotion from B2B marketing

Three years ago, I was fortunate enough to bag the headline spot at a conference entitled ‘Emotion in B2B’...

At the time it was quite a novel topic for a conference and I waxed lyrical about changing the way we market based on tapping into emotional audience drivers. Someone even clapped at the end.

Three years on, the blockbuster B2B Ignite event had quite a few excellent talks that majored on the importance of emotion in B2B. This got me to thinking: as an industry we really should stop using the word ‘emotion’ immediately.

Yep, I said it. Here’s why:

Stakeholders do not want to hear us talk about emotion. We’ll lose the battle. We’ll be laughed out of the boardroom. So what do we do? Revert to banging on about features and rational product messages? Of course not, that’s career suicide on an industrial scale.

If we consider the fundamentals at the heart of the emotion-led talks at Ignite, we’ll see that there’s a better way.

More than a few speakers made reference to the work of Daniel Kahneman and his seminal tome ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ in particular – which he described a few years ago as a “book people say they are reading, rather than have actually read”.

Here are a couple of facts, from and about Kahneman, that explain why I want to avoid the emotion word:

  1. His framework around two systems of thinking is NOT about emotional and rational states: he explicitly states that ‘irrational’ is the wrong way to think about thing and advises us to recognise that this is simply how the brain works and has kept us alive for tens of thousands of years – it’s modern life that is out of sync with how our brains function.
  2. He won the Nobel prize (as mentioned by some of the Ignite speakers), but for Economics! His study isn’t about emotion, it’s about how people make decisions.

This, I believe, is where we need to move the discussion to: science and economics.

The science being neuroscience – the study that shows how our brains act and function in response to varying stimuli. Neuroscience is at the forefront of new techniques for marketers to understand how their audiences truly think and act.

And the economics being behavioural economics – the study of how people make decisions, and more specifically make ‘economic decisions’ (i.e. ‘buying stuff’).

As marketers, our mission is to be completely in tune with how our audiences think, make decisions and buy. Behavioural economics and neuroscience help us to not only achieve this, but also to prove it – scientifically – in front of the businesses that sponsor us.

So let’s move the debate forwards, because it’s one we simply cannot afford to lose. Here are some helpful links to pave the way:

Inside the mind of the buyer – a practical guide to using behavioural economics in marketing.
The Yes Factor – a handy slideshare explaining how people decide.
• And my talk three years ago: