B2B content must win both hearts and minds to drive brand love

By Marcus Billingham-Yuen

News Corp Australia

Sydney, Australia


The traditional assumption dealing with business-to-business (B2B) marketing is that persuasion and content must be centered on purely rational benefits. We’re supposed to be sold on value, and every message and every piece of content must highlight a concrete outcome when we’re dealing with business-to-business.

This thought also needs to consider that in B2B marketing, it’s for humans by humans.

We’ve traditionally followed a salesmanship approach based on explicitly trying to persuade audiences, allowing us to become experts in framing cold, complex logic. We assume every B2B reader is a detailed expert who has a closed mind that needs to be jarred open with a case study. There is a role for rationale selling, but we forget there is an emotional side to the manager, director, or C-suite where the irrational and unconscious communication comes into play.

Getting the mind to agree is one thing, but the heart is another.

Recognising our context, we know B2B marketing is typically not a sprint but a marathon when it comes to architecting a strategy that connects with this audience.

As a baseline, 95% of your B2B audience is generally not in-market at any one time, and only 5% are in a buying mindset. Therefore, there is a role in priming brands with messages before we’re in the buying mindset to improve the likelihood audiences remember and choose your brand first.

It’s how advertising can generally work.

Identifying the triggers and being present at the category entry points, including the pain points, is where different brands win or lose: It’s become a battle for capturing not just attention but memory.

But, when it comes to memory, facts and figures can only do so much. Can you remember the e-mail you wrote a year ago? I certainly have no clue.

They need an emotional drumbeat to cut through the deluge of e-mails, meetings, slides, and notes captured in the busy days of your B2B audience. This is not to say we need James Cameron “Titanic” levels of romance and thrill. Instead, we need inspiration to pull from — something closer to “Good Will Hunting.”

James Irvine & Simon Law from Wunderman Thompson crafted a whole paper around the subject matter, revealing two points at its core. First, a sea of change is happening and the dominance of emotional factors is true in B2C and B2B, which means leveraging emotion effectively grows business brands (as depicted by the inspired B2B report charts below).

Image source: Inspired B2B: How Passion Can Be More Persuasive 2023
Image source: Inspired B2B: How Passion Can Be More Persuasive 2023

Secondly, they proposed a three “S’s” model: standing out, showing up, and saying what others won’t.

To stand out, it’s about creating distinction among your audience, which must be memorable. Showing up is about being in the proper contexts that matter — showing inspiration in otherwise mundane placements. Saying what others won’t is about challenging conventions with a nuanced point of view and breakthrough thinking.

While the first point is readily accepted, the second point around the model requires belief in your brand to deliver said emotional strategy. That comes from trust in teams to provide compelling content in line with the boundaries you establish as part of the brand identity.

Unfortunately, it is vastly more common for brands to play it safe for fear of market retribution or total disillusionment with their audience. It is much easier to “rinse and repeat” the old creative messaging and tactics than push the boundaries with compliance to stand out.

It’s created a low bar in B2B content that we’ve passively accepted, as Ty Heath and Mark Pollard discussed in their recent podcast.

Therefore, my one amendment to this model would be adding a “C” for confidence in the team, the creative, and the company to deliver inspirational content.

Using rationale plus emotional thinking in your strategy and content can quickly clear the low bar we’ve set for B2B because, no matter how senior, specialised, or prominent your audience is, there’s a human on the other end.

About Marcus Billingham-Yuen

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