B-to-B Insights: Rational vs. Emotional
Most marketers divide the marketing world into two segments: B-to-B marketing and business-to-consumer marketing. The “rational” school of B-to-B marketing says business and consumer are not at all the same. The “emotional” school says that B-to-B and B-to-C marketing are more alike than different.
I think there is a third segment: hybrid marketing. Hybrid markets exhibit characteristics of both business prospects and consumers. Hybrid prospects are consumers who exhibit many of the behaviors shared by business prospects or vice versa.
An example of a hybrid market is SOHOs—small business/home offices. These are, for the most part, self-employed people working at home or in small rented offices. Typically they work alone, while others have small staffs.
Technically, because they are business owners, selling to SOHOs is B-to-B marketing. But SOHOs often behave more like individual consumers than corporate executives, engineers or IT professionals.
For a corporate middle manager, the purchase of an expensive color digital printer may be a largely dispassionate decision: one of the tasks she must contend with that week.
The SOHO is more likely to agonize over this purchase decision. The expense of the equipment is much more of an emotional issue, because it’s coming out of the SOHO’s pocket. In addition, the SOHO may cultivate a personal excitement from this purchase (having coveted but never owned office equipment this high-tech or costly before) that the corporate employee does not feel.
Farmers are another hybrid market. The family farm is a farmer’s legacy and livelihood, and there are few issues more emotionally charged than keeping it and passing it on to the children. Yet, a farm is a business, and therefore, farmers are, strictly speaking, a B-to-B and not a consumer market.
More Than Meets the Eye
I am unaware of any authoritative study on whether B-to-B marketing (and marketing to hybrid markets that exhibit some B-to-B characteristics) works better when it is reduced to the bare essential facts or written on a personal and emotional level. I can only relate what I have found during my three decades as a B-to-B copywriter. Here is what I believe works in B-to-B copy as a rule:
- B-to-B prospects are far less dispassionate about their jobs and industries than often is imagined.
- The business prospect buys not only for his company, but for his own personal benefit, and the two are sometimes at odds. Often a prospect will specify a product if he believes it personally will make his life easier or his employment more secure.
- While B-to-B prospects can be engaged and sold emotionally, once that engagement takes place, they require much more rational evidence to support their buying decisions than consumers.
Melding Rational With Emotional
The answer to our question, “Are B-to-B prospects devoid of emotion?” is decidedly “no.” On the contrary, and despite what they may say, much of B-to-B buying is motivated by emotional reasons rather than logical facts.
Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter who has written copy for more than 100 clients including IBM, AT&T, Praxair, Intuit, Forbes, and Ingersoll-Rand. McGraw-Hill calls Bob “America’s top copywriter” and he is the author of 90 books, including “The Copywriter's Handbook.” Find him online at www.bly.com or call (973) 263-0562.