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Want to Attract B2B Buyers? It’s Time to Get Emotional

March 08, 2021


Want to Attract B2B Buyers? It’s Time to Get Emotional

As Marketers, we know “the general public” is emotional. We know we need to use messages that deliver some kind of emotional impact to get them to leap into action.

Think about it: Disney markets on nostalgia, magic, and family. Apple markets on our desire to be cutting edge, innovative. Many food brands market on the idea of nourishing yourself—both body and soul.

When it comes to business buyers, though, this conventional wisdom goes out the window. Seems strange when B2B or B2C is still working with a human who is buying to fulfill a corporate benefit yes….but absolutely a personal emotional benefit as well. B2B, as with B2C, benefits just as much from emotional messaging.

The Myth of the Rational Buyer

When we talk about B2B buyers, most of us imagine someone detached from the decision. They’re trying to be rational. They’re employing logic to weigh out their options, so they can make the best decision.

This is usually in contrast to our B2C buyer, who buys almost solely on emotion. They seek to ensure the right features and functional benefits are present, but ultimately their emotional subconscious chooses what will provide the greatest emotional benefit. They buy because they want it.  They can picture how they will feel when they wear it or drive it. And the purchase is for their own benefit. 

When we look at the B2B buyer, we see that “personal” or “emotional” side of things disappear. This person isn’t buying to satisfy their own needs. They’re buying to meet a business need. That means the decision has to be less emotional, more rational.

When you consider there are usually several buyers in B2B decisions, that “rational” factor is amplified. People will debate the pros and cons of the various solutions they’re buying.

What we miss in this is that there’s still a very large emotional factor here. People want to buy “the best” solution for their business. But what is best? That’s often a subjective judgement.

We can see this in something as simple as deciding what computer systems to use. Let’s say you’re a seasoned PC user. You’ve only ever used Windows in your office environment, and you’re quite comfortable using it. I, on the other hand, am a Mac user.

We’re going to square off here. You’re going to argue that PC is better, because it’s more affordable and customizable. It’s also the most used system, which means there’s more compatibility. More programs are made for PC, which means we have more options about what software to use. We also have more choice in where to take our computers to be repaired, or even what computer systems to buy.

I’m going to argue Mac is superior to PC. The programming is better, the systems more innovative. I might argue the programs built for Mac are better. Macs might be more expensive, but they’re also built to last. Plus, they might even be safer than PCs.

This seems like quite the rational debate on the surface. But there’s the emotional factor we’re arguing for as well. Both of us are comfortable using different types of computer. We want to maintain that comfort. You're worried about making the switch to Mac, so I’ll tell you, “Oh, it’s so intuitive! You’ll catch on in no time.” Many people do find Macs pretty easy to use.

We both have an emotional concern in this, though. I want to maintain my comfort, but you’re concerned about your comfort.

You’re also arguing for compatibility. That seems logical, but you’re also thinking about ease of use here as well. How easy is it to work with our clients if we adopt Mac? You might be imagining all kinds of frustrations with file types that won’t open or other problems. I might be imagining how much frustration the Windows environment can cause.

That’s—again—emotional, at least to some degree! So while our debate brings up very good points, we’re still addressing our own needs. We might even be thinking about the personal needs of our employees or our clients.

And we can see this happening in any business decision. Anyone who wants to choose what is “best” has an emotional stake in the decision, because what's best depends on your point of view. I want Tim Horton’s to cater our next work meeting, because I think their coffee is best. You’re arguing for McDonald’s, because you believe they have a better cup of joe.

Or “best” here could be who offers us the “best pricing,” so we can make sure we’re meeting our budget. We’re worried about spending too much, maybe because the higher ups have warned us before. Even here, though, you might see “best” as the absolute lowest price, but I see “best” as the quote that gives us the most value.

Switching the Message

Even if we understand this, we might have trouble marketing an emotional message to the B2B crowd. That’s because those audiences also see themselves as being rational decision-makers.

The emotional appeals we use with our B2C clients don’t work with our B2B clients, because our B2B clients are making decisions that are rooted in rational reasons why. They don’t realize or don’t want to acknowledge that they’re acting on emotion. There’s this expectation that they’re not doing that.

Researchers agree with this. We don’t want to be overly dramatic or heart-wrenching here. Punching a B2B buyer’s emotional buttons too hard will turn them away from you. They may even form a negative opinion of your brand.

So, unlike B2C marketing, B2B’s emotional messaging is more subtle. We need to understand what’s driving B2B buyers. As much as it’s emotional, it’s different emotions than those driving our B2C audiences.

Apple can’t market “hype” quite the same way. With the B2C market, Apple can capture “fear of missing out” (FOMO)—you want to be a trendsetter. You want to be the first person to have the new iPhone. And they can also market things like snapping selfies with a high-grade camera and making memories with your pals.

That messaging doesn’t resonate with a B2B buyer. Apple can still market the core idea that they’re innovative. But that messaging has to address how those innovations help drive business forward. Maybe it’s your business and Apple’s innovative tech working to create the solutions of tomorrow. Maybe innovative tech helps you save time or envision a bold new plan.

This still has emotional appeal, but it’s speaking to the emotions behind a business decision. Every business owner wants to do something new and inventive, to be innovative in their field. That’s a hope. Business owners might want to save time too. There’s a fear you’re falling behind or not being efficient enough, that tasks take you too long and you’re losing out because of it.

We can see how B2B emotions are more understated and subtle. Despite that, they are still there—and that means we need to understand them and address them.

So—you guessed it—that means we need to get to the “why” in any B2B buying decision! When we understand what drives our B2B buyers to choose us, we can tailor our messaging to address their emotional needs too.

Like always then, start with the why!


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I am a business person who has excelled in driving a competitive edge through marketing, strategy, innovation, building irresistible brands and unlocking the genius that exists. I am writing to inspire or create new consideration. If you have ideas or questions that you would like me to put a pen too, I would be delighted.

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