While multiple sessions at this month’s Cannes Lions festival looked at harnessing data and artificial intelligence, at B2B International we’ve been conducting some pretty interesting research into the role of emotion in business decision-making.
The surprising fact is that in the process of choosing a supplier, when it comes down to deciding between the two final contenders in a pitch process, a very significant 56% of the choice comes down to emotional factors.
Clearly this means marketers need to think harder than ever about building a human connection with potential customers – so we were very interested to see at least one discussion at Cannes looking at how to combine the benefits of automation with an increasing desire for a one-to-one, completely personal service.
Called ‘Human-to-human marketing in a world of technology’, the discussion featured Elizabeth Rutledge, American Express’ chief marketing officer, talking about the brand’s global marketing journey and how they are balancing technology with humanity.
‘Tech can connect us but also push us far apart,’ Rutledge said. She called for a ‘focus on digital empathy’ – that is, making things more personal and fusing marketing with a real human touch. ‘The more relevant tech becomes, the more we value true, human qualities,’ she added.
Rutledge’s philosophy ties in with the findings of our own ‘Winning with Emotion’ research, particularly our insight that business-to-business communication IS human-to-human connection.
Tracking the full decision-making process from research to appointment, we discovered that although rational factors such as an acceptable price, viable product quality and effective distribution form the minimum requirements necessary to enter and rise to the top of the consideration set, generating an emotional connection is ultimately what counts when the final decision is made.
It is critical for suppliers to have a strong brand in which customers feel emotionally invested – not only does it impact on the final decision, but 95% of decision-makers stated that even before contacting a supplier, feeling a sense of connection to a supplier’s brand is as important as feeling confident about what they do.
Whatever they might claim about their logical thinking, there is also the fact that business decision-makers don’t simply leave their experiences as consumers at the front desk.
SME decision-makers in particular, rely on their experiences as consumers when choosing a supplier. While 26% of enterprise decision-makers reported to have been influenced by their consumer experiences, 34% within SMEs reported doing so. Suppliers who serve both businesses and consumers should be aware of the synergies between their B2B and B2C offers and ensure an excellent experience and consistency across both.
So how can B2B brands form better connections with customers? Here’s the strategy we have identified:
Create positive word-of-mouth by delivering an excellent customer experience. Recommendations are important, so this can give potential buyers confidence from the outset in the suppliers they consider.
Strengthen thought-leadership positioning to connect with potential buyers. Business decision makers reported that a demonstration of expertise via content marketing was the third-most important factor in evaluating suppliers under consideration. For enterprise decision-makers, thought leadership was even more influential (ranking as the second-most important factor).
Clearly communicate your point of differentiation and sell on value because although B2B buyers are not driven by price alone, the value they perceive a supplier can add to their business is crucial.
Build connections with the influencer network because B2B decisions are rarely made unilaterally. In 80% of cases, more than one person is involved in the decision and for a third of purchase decisions, a team of four or more is required. So, do aim to connect emotionally with multiple stakeholders (often from different functions) rather than focusing all efforts on the one person traditionally considered “the decision maker”.
We also thought that Elizabeth Rutledge’s final remarks at Cannes were worth repeating: “Go out and find the empathy,” she said. “Create real human connections one customer at a time.”
It’s really something to think about. Human-to-human marketing is going to transform what we do in the most positive way imaginable – a brave new world we can embrace in good faith.