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‘Emotions’ don’t drive B2B purchase decisions, this does

By Scott Gillum, Carbon Design

December 8, 2022 | 7 min read

For many years B2B marketers have identified that emotions are the core driver of B2B decisions. But the reality is that thinking doesn’t go far enough, writes Carbon Design’s Scott Gillum.


A dozen or so years ago, we learned that B2B buyers made purchase decisions emotionally, and later justified them rationally. This insight set off a new wave of humanly relevant marketing – the aim being to connect with buyers at the personal level.

The realization that buyers were not just rationally driven decision-makers accelerated the transition from being product-focused to audience-centric. Customer research began to focus on the emotions behind decision-making and how B2B solutions made buyers feel.

Research revealed, for example, that early adopter tech buyers made purchasing decisions because it makes them feel “innovative, powerful, a part of a group, like thought leaders, etc.”

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Suddenly, faces replaced products in ads. We targeted key “influencers” and our content spoke of the personal value buyers received through the implementation or use of the products. And as smart B2B marketers, we thought we cracked the code…that is, until new research revealed we might have missed the mark.

Researchers from Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada have discovered why people purchase the latest technology. The fascinating new study reveals that the real motivator behind the decision is actually driven by the desire for personal growth and competency.

Now in retrospect, our research stopped short of understanding what was driving those feelings. We put the horse before the cart. Think of it as a framing issue. In our shift to understand personal drivers, most of our research focused on understanding how buyers felt about making the purchase, not what was motivating them to make the purchase decision.

In one of the research tests, participants were asked to evaluate an advertisement using a ring with a biometric tracker. Participants were shown one of five ads, each emphasizing one of the following five reasons to buy the product: learning, status, connection, power or feeling unique. Tech-gadget lovers showed a preference for the ads emphasizing learning.

In another part of the study, participants who described themselves in a survey as loving tech gadgets, were about 3.5 times more likely to say they tend to buy tech gadgets for learning’s sake rather than for other reasons, like signaling status, connecting to others or feeling powerful or unique.

Even though research was conducted on consumers buying the “latest gadget” we know it applies to B2B buyers. The research we’ve conducted in the past highlighted that people making B2B decisions act in a similar way to making B2C purchases. In fact, our research in personalities reveals that you behave, and are motivated, by the same drivers in the B2B environment as in your personal life.

Additionally, from a branding perspective, tapping into the emotions of buying does help connect with audiences. Our content resonates and performs better when we can be personally relevant.

The insight from the new research presents an opportunity to improve demand generation. Using emotions in our advertising may get someone’s attention, but it doesn’t necessarily motivate them to take action. In order to do that, we have to go deeper into wants and needs.

The journey to learn about your product or solution before making the purchase, as we have just learned, is a critical decision driver. From an execution standpoint, we need to allow prospects to view product videos unencumbered instead of requesting demos that they don't want or need. Use your senior subject matter experts in webinars to talk about the development of the technology, instead of overt sales pitches by product reps.

Creatively tap into the personal growth opportunities. Highlight new skill sets gained, opportunities to enhance their career or role within the company. Rethink your customer research approach by using psychographic research using behavioral and biometric research methods to uncover the motivators of the purchase.

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B2B buyers are people who have emotions and feelings with unique personalities. Those personalities drive behaviors and an “early adopter” is a personality type that can be targeted.

The messaging now – buy new technology to learn and grow, and by doing so, it might make you feel innovative and ahead of the crowd. Use the insight from this new research and you may also share that feeling.

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