Brand strategy and building the emotional connection in the B2B segment

You can’t sell a product in highly competitive markets just because it works well. If users have two similar options, they will choose the product they know, trust, and feel.

My name is Daria Volkova. I’m a brand strategist and marketer for IT products. With this article, I want to explain how a business can use work with a brand to strengthen its position in interaction with other companies and the market.

I’m always surprised when people talk about their product using clichés like, “It’s like Uber, but a little different…”. This wording suggests that the founders don’t know how to explain the essence of the product and its positioning, therefore, they compare it with a well-known brand (which managed to convey its positioning). And it sounds worst when pitching to investors or at business events, where the audience is very knowledgeable.

For an extended period, the traditional approach to working with the B2B segment was as follows:
1. Business representatives are relentlessly rational in their purchases. No emotional decisions — only the best value for money!
2. The best tool for sales — setting up a meeting or call and offering goods or services.
3. Branding was focused more on visual identity only. Until today, many businesses perceive branding only through the prism of design, which significantly limits the possibilities.

The decision-makers in B2B are humans (what a surprise!), and thus they might occasionally blend emotional sentiments into their decision-making process.

During the fourth industrial revolution (we live in this time), the boundaries between the physical and digital environments, ratio and emotion are blurred.

Companies that want to keep or win the lead are looking to move beyond the traditional focus on features and benefits. Instead, they are moving towards greater emotional connection with everyone involved with their business.

All people strive for personal security, social inclusion and personal growth (at least those in business). Our complex world encourages more and more people to pay attention to what and whom they buy, where and with whom they work — to add meaning and purpose to their lives.

Progressive companies are redesigning their products, business strategies, and communications to best reflect their enterprise’s ability to meet these basic needs and desires.

“Emotional connections” stem from the feelings that arise when people realize that part of their ambitions can be fulfilled if aligned with the aspirations of a particular business and its brand.

The perfect emotional connection in B2B operates deeply, allowing you to rethink and catch “braingasm” (or “aha moment”) that ultimately affects your transactions.

Brands that want to sell more are changing how they interact with B2B. They complement their proven sales strategies and tactics with a unique aura (image) that changes how people think, feel and act.

To begin with, you should understand the rational components of your product and brand — analyze technical characteristics, pricing and formulate a value proposition. All this is necessary to understand where our business is now and how it compares with competitors’ businesses.

To understand whether your product satisfies rational needs, you can answer the following questions:

  1. What makes you different in the market?
  2. What tangible results are expected from your product?
  3. What practical purposes does the product serve?
  4. To what extent does the price match the desired results?
  5. How is the product perceived today, and how do we want it to be perceived tomorrow?

These are the main questions that every founder, product manager, marketer or product designer must answer.

However, do not forget a simple truth: people are irrational.

Arguably the most helpful framework for understanding emotions is the wheel model developed by psychologist Robert Plutchik in 1980. Plutchik identified eight core emotions that form pairs of opposites: Joy vs Sadness, Trust vs Disgust, Anger vs Fear, Anticipation vs Surprise.

The strength of Plutchik’s model of emotions is its simplicity — but things get more complicated the closer you look. These emotions can be expressed more or less intensely with quite different effects. The intense form of Sadness is Grief, but it becomes Pensiveness in a milder expression. Anger intensifies as Rage, but expresses less intensively as Annoyance.

Let me remind you of an excellent example of emotional marketing for the B2B segment — Volvo Trucks advertising with Van Damme in the leading role. The product — corporate trucks — is needed only for business, not for individuals. But this ad looks fantastic and gives incredible emotions to everyone, regardless of their profession.

This example from Shopify offers to destroy the stereotype of failed entrepreneurs who can only sell to their moms. In such an unusual way, the company attracts entrepreneurs to start their businesses.

And one more example how cross-industry B2B partnership can increase brand awareness. Starbucks is the most popular coffee shop brand in the world. Polygon is one of the most promising blockchain projects in the world. Their partnership pleasantly surprises and attracts the attention of people from completely different fields to their brands.

As a result of the partnership, this new Web3-powered experience will allow Starbucks Rewards loyalty program members and Starbucks partners (employees) in the United States to earn and purchase digital collectible stamps in the form of non-fungible tokens (NFTs). This one-of-a-kind loyalty program experience is powered by low fees and high transaction speeds on the Polygon PoS network.

Job security. Back in the days when IBM was the dominant force in the computer world, its selling slogan was “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM,” and it worked. Even when some brands looked more attractive because of lower cost or better functionality, IT managers hesitated to give them a chance because their career was on the line. Buying IBM was a safe job-security choice.

Technical curiosity. Someone might choose the latest technology even if their business doesn’t really need it because they want to stay on the cutting edge or because experience will look good on their CV. Do you remember how a few years ago all businesses wanted to add blockchain to their products without understanding what kind of technology it is and whether it would benefit this particular business?

Personal motivations. When offering services or products, try to learn as much as possible about the person who decides on the client’s side. You may not know it, but your stakeholder may have a hobby or a childhood dream that you, as a business, can help make come true.

For example, if you are a website developer and know your customer likes old-fashioned computer games, you can add elements of this game style to the design (of course, if there is no conflict with the brand book). In this way, you will not just get the job done but also create an additional emotional connection.

Greed. Some B2B decision-makers may be swayed by the fact that the supplier offers a professional training course in beautiful places or resorts with tasty food and drinks — it’s a common practice in the B2B technology industry.

In conclusion, I want to emphasize that successful brands (it is not so important whether they will be in B2B or B2C segments) are created only when the semantic, visual and technical execution is coordinated and receives due attention from the people responsible for the brand and promotion.

Analyze your branding and honestly answer how it matches your business goals and expectations. Do people remember it and tell their colleagues or friends about it? If the answer is no, it’s time to work on your brand strategy.

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Daria Volkova

Brand Strategist, Product Marketer, Startup Mentor. All about branding, marketing, leadership and business culture — without clichés and pathos.