Appeal to the Feels: Emotional Marketing in the Digital Era

True or false? “Humans are emotional creatures.”

As marketers, we’ve got a feeling it’s more true than not. Appealing to human emotions has long been a way for companies to build deep connections with their customers and inspire them toward action. Remember ASPCA’s commercial with Sarah McLachlan? Beyond being a real tear-jerker, the famous TV spot worked, reportedly helping the organization raise $30 million.

And it’s not just non-profits that stand to benefit from emotional marketing. Brands across industries are tapping into the strategy by designing their messaging and creative with the goal of stirring up an emotional connection with their customers. Even B2B companies that have traditionally appealed to “logic and reasoning” are signing on. Here’s why.

From B2B to ‘Human to Human’

Enterprise software company Sage recently refreshed their brand purpose in a move that perfectly shows the importance of emotions. Rethinking B2B as ‘human to human,’ Sage CMO Cath Keers told Marketing Week that, while “business decisions might seem logically and rationally driven…for smaller businesses these decisions are ‘actually very emotional.’”

And why wouldn’t it? While the feelings-driven “impulse buys” common with B2C may not fly among B2B buyers, there’s still an emotional element that surfaces because of how big those purchases are.

Taking weeks or months, a single B2B purchase often involves multiple stakeholders and represents a huge cost that could drastically affect the business’ performance and ROI. When you spend hours on the decision and have so much at stake, becoming emotionally invested during the buying process is more than understandable.

Don’t just take our word for it, though. A survey conducted by Google and CEB’s Marketing Leadership Council had similar conclusions:

  • Seven of the nine B2B brands studied had emotional connections with over 50% of their customers — an impressive stat considering most B2C brands have emotional connections with just 10% - 40% of their customers.
  • B2B purchasers are almost 50% more likely to buy a product or service when they see personal value — such as the opportunity for career advancement or confidence and pride in their choice — in the decision.
  • When that personal value is present, B2B buyers are 8x more likely to pay a premium for comparable products and services. Meanwhile, buyers see little difference in business value between leading brands in an industry, with only 14% of customers willing to pay a premium for any perceived differentiation.

Ultimately, whether you’re a B2B or B2C brand, your buyers at the end of the day are still people — still emotional beings. Creative branding and campaigns that inspire strong feelings will be the ones that stand out in the crowd, as well as in your audience’s memories.

The trick to doing this effectively is knowing what emotions to appeal to based on the kind of customers you have. For instance, tapping into viewers’ sense of sadness and compassion may have worked with the ASPCA campaign, but those kinds of emotions probably won’t be what convinces a B2B buyer to sign off on a million-dollar contract. Confidence, relief, or excitement, though, could very well get them to take the plunge.

So, keep emotions at the forefront of your mind in your marketing efforts. How do you want your audience to feel when they interact with your brand? Don’t shy away from creating a powerful emotional connection with your customers. In a cold sea of indifference, be the brand that people flock to for warmth.

A Digital Dilemma?

Now, if an emotional connection is what brands should strive to build with their customers, how exactly do we do that if we’re stuck behind a screen?

While digital usage had been on the rise for years, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated its growth more than anyone could have predicted. Practically overnight, companies all over the world had to adapt, relying almost exclusively on digital channels to communicate with their audiences.

For a short while, it all seemed temporary, with many thinking the split between digital and traditional marketing would one day go back to “normal, pre-COVID levels.” Two years later, it’s clear that digital’s expanded domination is here to stay, supported by the popularity of remote and hybrid work, as well as new screentime habits we all developed during the pandemic.

This change is particularly stark for B2B. As Gartner put it, “the ready availability of quality information through digital channels has made it far easier for buyers to gather information independently, meaning sellers have less access and fewer opportunities to influence customer decisions.” Its Future of B2B Buying Journey Report found that:

  • “Researching independently online” is the buying activity that makes up the greatest percentage of their time (27%).
  • When considering a purchase, B2B buyers only spend 17% of their time meeting with the potential supplier. This drops down to 5% or 6% per supplier if multiple suppliers are being considered.

And that’s all before we even get into generational differences. The grip that digital has on buyers gets more pronounced as we move towards younger consumers. For example, 44% of Millennial B2B buyers reportedly prefer no sales rep interactions at all during the buying process. Plus, let’s not forget that Gen Z is considered “the first true digital natives.”

Rather than being a barrier, though, the diverse range of digital channels out there represent exciting opportunities for you to engage and connect with your customers. Here are just some of the ways you can transform your digital marketing to make an emotional impact.

Produce Share-Worthy Content

We can’t talk digital without mentioning content. Whether it's blog articles and interviews or videos and podcasts, online audiences are drawn to content like bees to honey. Unfortunately, there’s also a whole lotta honey out there.

It’s like logging into Netflix and being faced with countless shows and movies. No doubt, the most memorable are the ones that make you feel something, whether it’s heart-fluttering excitement or goosebumps-raising fear. Take that same approach with your content. Get your audience emotionally hooked so that they’ll not just remember you but feel compelled to share your content with others.

Maybe some of your customers have had powerful experiences related to your brand. You could incorporate their testimonials into your content marketing as we did for consulting firm Strombeck. Think blog posts, infographics, video content, and more that inspire an emotional reaction and move audiences to share these human stories with others.

#Connect Through Social

Another great way to emotionally connect with your customers is by being active on social media. These platforms are essentially online communities where users engage with each other, so there are also a lot of opportunities to amplify the emotional link they feel with your brand. You know that feeling of exhilaration you get when you find someone who shares the same passion as you? That’s the kind of effect you want.

Emotions are contagious. By urging social engagement among your audience, you can indirectly deepen the emotions people associate with your brand. Post an interesting poll that gets people talking. Ask them to comment their thoughts on an engaging topic. Go above and beyond connecting with your customers by encouraging them to connect with each other. After all, that’s what true community is all about.

Need some extra help amping up that connection? Working with us means fewer headaches and more impact.

Design Creative That Packs a Punch

Never underestimate your creative’s role in stirring up emotions. In that split second that someone sees the design of a new ad or social graphic, they’re already subconsciously storing that impression of your brand. Don’t you want that impression to make an impact?

By strategically designing your creative to appeal to certain emotions, you can stop your audience in their tracks and give them a taste of what your brand has to offer. It’s like the distinct candy wrapper that visually draws you into the sweet or sour experience inside.

We took this approach when working with Northwest Church. For 12 years and counting, Northwest has been the creative playground for PH3. As we transformed the church’s creative, we worked to have it communicate Northwest’s bold mission and personality in a way that caught the attention of its ever-changing audience. The efforts paid off, with Northwest enjoying results such as a 92% reduced cost for Google Ads and a 133% increase in click-through rate.

PH3: Brewing Stronger Connections

A strong emotional connection with customers can bring forth game-changing results and we here at PH3 rise to the challenge. We rise to the challenge of helping brands like yours imbue emotion and meaning into each corner of your digital marketing efforts, all while staying attuned to the latest innovations and trends.

At the same time, our custom-tailored approach means we’re also tuned into exactly what you need. Interested in a heart-to-heart over a special PH3 brew? Get in touch. We’d love to hear your story.