It’s a proven fact that decisions are made emotionally and justified rationally.

All of us decide how we feel, act in line with those feelings, and then find the reasons to tell ourselves we did the right thing.

So you’ve got to wonder… why do some B2B marketers avoid using emotion like vampires avoid the sun? Trust me—using emotion in your marketing won’t cause you to burst into flames.

But don’t feel badly if you’re one of those marketers on the fence about using emotion in your B2B advertising and collateral. The idea has been around quite a while, but for many it’s still new territory.

Cartoon-ish multi-color representation of pie chart, bar graph, line graph, and magnifying glass

Emotions are complimentary data points.

Maybe you’re hesitant to use emotion in your B2B marketing because the pervasive distrust of emotions has you in its grip.

Western cultures, and businesses in particular, tend to privilege the role of logical thinking and minimize the legitimate role of emotions when making decisions.

In a B2B purchasing decision you absolutely need to consider the data. That’s just common sense, and no one is arguing otherwise.

Still, in a significant way, emotions do inform our rational decision-making. They’re not intended to be a substitute for data, but complementary data points of their own.

Valarie Levins, now an inbound marketing manager with AppsFlyer, makes it clear:

It’s safe to say that no B2B purchasing decision is ever 100% based on logic and reason. However, without showing value for money, clear benefits, and proven results, no amount of emotion in the world can close that business deal.

Could it be you’re holding back on using emotion in your B2B marketing because you’re just not sure what to do or you’re worried about accusations of manipulation?

Well, fear not! That’s what I’m here for.

The inescapable conclusion of dozens and dozens of studies is businesspeople rely just as heavily on their emotions when making decisions as the rest of us. We even know which emotions play the biggest role when businesspeople make decisions… read on.

In this post I write about using emotions in B2B marketing and the feelings to nurture in your prospects if you’re to get the biggest bang for your buck.

Later, in another post, I’ll share with you some ways you can use emotion in your marketing materials and sales collateral while firmly standing on ethically solid ground.

B2B and B2C Require Different Emotional Appeals

Whether we’re conscious of it or not, when it comes to a decision, we all call upon our emotions to inform our rational thinking. Even the most critical analyst has had a gut feeling.

But which emotions we rely on can differ from situation to situation.

The emotions businesspeople rely on when making a purchase for their organization are different from the ones those same businesspeople use when deciding what to eat for lunch. And those distinctions make all the difference when it comes to successful marketing and making the sale.

The chart below was first published by Oktopost and it’s been reproduced many times since. It summarizes some of the variances between the B2C and B2B buying cycles.

If you think a bit about these differences, you’ll understand why some emotions are better suited to one cycle rather than the other.

Two- column, side by side comparison of the B2B and B2C buying cycles

Use the differences between the B2B and B2C buying cycles to develop the appropriate emotional state in your target audience.



Evelyn Timson’s article, “Why B2B Marketing Needs Emotional Storytelling,” is a good read. She writes about the power of emotional appeals in B2B marketing. But she also discusses how the use of emotion in this arena is necessarily different from its use in the world of B2C marketing.

If your copy is attempting to create feelings of satisfaction and instant gratification it would likely work… if you were selling a Snickers bar.

Why? Because there isn’t much for the buyer to lose. It’s no big deal if they don’t like it; they’ll simply buy something else. At most, they lose about a buck.

That’s B2C.

But what if you’re trying to sell a few hundred candy bar dispensing machines? Try the same strategy used to sell a 99¢ Snickers to sell dispensing machines and you’ll fail in a big, ugly way.

B2B buyers have way more to lose if they make a bad buying decision: The respect of their peers. Their boss’s trust. More money. Possibly their customers. Maybe their job.

Heck, risks of that magnitude would suggest we keep emotions out of the decision entirely.

But we would be wrong. Very. Wrong.

In fact, emotions are far more effective in marketing than logic will ever be.

Instead of keeping emotions out of the equation, we need to consider which emotions we should use when promoting the sale of those gateways to chocolate bliss to suppliers and distributors.

Emotions to Use in B2B Marketing

While the language among researchers may differ slightly, many agree the most influential feelings to create in a B2B situation are:

  • Trust
  • Reliability
  • Honesty
  • Safety

It’s worth a moment to make sure we’re all talking the same language. I’ve synthesized the terminology used in about a dozen marketing and psychology studies and offer these definitions:

Close up of brown and white puppy's face

Trust is a critical component of any relationship. Violate it and you could kill the deal.

Trust, like confidence, implies a feeling of security. It’s like having an unwavering, absolute faith in someone. It’s how your dog feels about you, so don’t screw it up.

Reliability is a product of how trustworthy someone is. The more you come through for me, the more I can depend on you; the more consistent you are toward me, the more I trust you and the more reliable I feel you are.

Honesty is more than the absence of cheating, lying, stealing, and other things you were taught not to do. It’s about being straightforward, transparent, upright, and fair. It’s about having integrity. The more honest I feel you’re with me, the more I feel I can trust you.

Safety, in the context of a B2B transaction, means believing any risk—like loss of respect, trust, money, customers, or job—is minimal. Your prospect feels optimistic about doing business with you. They consider you a viable partner in business. These are other expressions of feeling secure.

Hopefully you’ve noticed an interesting relationship among these feelings… a sort of “emotional economy”. If you can get your audience to experience one of these feelings, they’re likely to feel the others.

This is great news if you’re limited to 1,000 words.

But why these four emotions and not others? Glad you asked because I’ve got a theory:

Five hands representing males, females, white, and black people engaged in a first bump over a table with laptops.

Feelings of trust, reliability, honesty, and safety can pull a deal together even when there’s disagreement.

Whether it’s a friendship, marriage, neighborhood, business, or some other type of relationship—feelings of trust, reliability, honesty, and safety have the power to bring all parties together because they’re universally appropriate and necessary if we’re all to get along.

In any significant B2B purchase, it’s common for multiple interests to weigh in on the decision. An emotion that might resonate with the chief legal counsel might not with the corporate financial officer. Still, you need to get both on board if you’re going to land the deal.

If your marketing can inspire trust, reliability, honesty, and safety, then you have a means by which to bring disagreeing parties together. And if you’re going to do business together, it’s best you get along.

Next time I’ll give some practical tips for how to create feelings of trust, reliability, honesty, and safety in your B2B marketing without being accused of manipulation.


Photo credits

  • Featured image: rawpixel from Pixabay
  • Graphs and charts: Colin Behrins from Pixabay
  • Puppy: Anthony Duran from Pixabay
  • Group fist bump: rawpixel from Pixabay