Getting Emotional: The Secret to B2B Branding on a Budget

Mary Peterson

Someone recently asked me how you build a Business-to-Business (B2B) brand without a big advertising budget. I hadn’t given the subject much thought until I joined a mid-sized technology company that was thriving amongst competitors many orders of magnitude larger. One source of this company’s success was the exceptional passion for the brand among the employees, partners and customers. My mission became to understand the source of this passion and build a formula that others might leverage. 

A broad population of passionate fans with deep relationships to the brand can be just as important as the budget. The seeds of fandom are planted in memorable and authentic communication. What is not well understood in the B2B world, is that memorable communications, in our very crowded media environment, require an emotional element. However, emotion will only have a positive, lasting impact when communications are integrated with the company culture, the source of authenticity.

Role of emotion in recall

Consumer advertisers have long known that emotion is critical to standing out in saturated media environments. Recent scientific research supports their experience by demonstrating that humans instinctively rely on emotions for memory recall and to filter large volumes of stimuli. Emotional items naturally draw our attention first: it is just a fact of nature. Traditional B2B marketers, living in the sheltered world of trade publications and industry events, have not typically had to utilize emotion to get attention or be remembered.

B2B media landscape has changed dramatically

The internet has turned that situation on its head. With business buyers completing 57 percent of the purchase process online before they contact suppliers, according to research from Think with Google, B2B brands are now forced to compete in a world where professional and consumer experiences are nearly indistinguishable. Consider: Are Reddit, Facebook, and LinkedIn professional or personal platforms? The lines between the two worlds are not just blurred, but have disappeared. Compounding the noise are growing B2B digital advertising budgets. For example, according to IDC’s CMO Advisory Service, paid media for B2B tech marketing has been running at about 20-30 percent of program budget. Marketers are attracted by the ability of digital advertising platforms to target very specific audiences and measure effectiveness. The result is a very crowded media landscape.

Not only has the medium changed, so has the audience. In 2014, nearly half of B2B researchers were millennials (born between 1981 and 1996).  This cohort, now the largest in the US workforce, are digital natives whose emotional filtering mechanisms are always on. So, if B2B brands want to be noticed they must now respond.

How do you add emotion to communications?

Emotional communications cause a feeling of surprise, delight, hope, fear or anger before the audience realizes it. Imagery/graphics & headlines can be designed to create an instant reaction if they are relevant to the audience and the brand. The type of emotion employed depends on the desired response and the context of the brand. For example, the radicalization we see happening on social media today is often triggered by fear and anger rather than awe and elation.

For B2B marketing to be relevant, industry context can enhance effectiveness of the communications. Consider the B2B technology audience that each individually operate in the context of their respective industries (hotels, schools, manufacturing, etc.)  By exploring the nuances within the industries, visceral communications can be created that nurture the emotional ties to the brand and deliver greater return on investment than monolithic brand identities and campaigns.  

Does emotion diminish credibility?

Simply unleashing your creative team to deliver relevant, emotional communications is not enough. The emotional nature of marketing communications must be consistent with the feelings associated with all interactions with the company. Inconsistency introduces confusion and doubt about the brand. Integration of the brand identity and marketing communication with the company culture is the source of the brand authenticity.

Passionate brands beget fans

Fortunately, I have had the privilege of being part of a community of passionate B2B brand fans. One of the most surprising was a luxury brand car dealership who requested a sticker for his store front so he could boast about the brand of Wi-Fi that had been deployed. The most heart-warming was an elementary school IT team that posted an image of a branded cake ordered to celebrate their network deployment. The most impressive was a fan who did a live demonstration of changing his university network configuration (very risky) on a large stage in front of 500 people, using just his phone. These are authentic fans. They have a relationship with the brand built on trust and emotional attachment. The role of marketing is to earn, nurture and amplify this fan base.

Getting started

The formula for building a B2B brand starts with understanding and influencing the culture that establishes the authentic and thus emotional nature of the brand. This gives license to the creative team to build memorable assets that contribute to brand awareness and begins to build a cadre of fans. When a brand has earned a meaningful quantity of authentic fans, that are active participants in the markets it serves, an enormous advertising budget is not required.

Mary Peterson serves as SVP and CMO at Cambium Networks and is a B2B technology marketing executive who has built global marketing teams from the ground up. She has re-imagined brands and marketing strategies with positive, measurable impact on go-to-market results—both direct and through the channel. Previously, she was Vice President of Global Marketing for Ruckus Networks, a CommScope business. Her Silicon Valley-based marketing career also spans a range of marketing roles at HP Enterprise and Compaq Computer.

Mary holds an MBA in Finance from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and a BA in Economics and French from St. Lawrence University.

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