We have been talking about it for a long time – and in this blog, even recently – but the need and the advantages of communication-based on emotional levers also in the B2B sectors are simultaneously in the public domain and, at the same time, far from being unanimously recognized.
While waiting for everyone to get there, let’s take a moment to reflect on the origin of this evolution and put forward some hypotheses on the social and cultural phenomena behind this “new” chapter of business-to-business communication.
How Today’s B2B Was Born: Some Non-Scientific Hypotheses
Not long ago, the article New B2B communication strategies: excite those who sell to win over those who buy our Artuso reflected on how a more emotional approach can also be useful in purely B2B communication contexts. I want to take a cue from Elena for some observations, neither systematic nor definitive, on the subject.
In particular, on the genesis of this change of perspective. In other words, I’m not interested in demonstrating the need for this new approach but in advancing some hypotheses on the causes of this ongoing change.
It’s The Only Business: Nothing Personal. Or Yes?
It was just business. Thus the criminals of the cinema justified their reprehensible actions.
A joke from a film that, however, reveals a cultural assumption: work issues are, by definition, the opposite of personal ones. Like the commonly used expression “personal matter”, which follows precisely these boundaries: personal is everything that is not professional. It is a distinction that has its reasons even today, but it also survives because it is a legacy of a previous era. Today the individual, the great winner of the third millennium, expects to be recognized, valued and understood, even at work.
No one wants to be “a number”, the famous cog in the cog. Whether or not he manages to avoid it is another matter. But certainly, in the last century, the depersonalization of the worker was a recognized evil. Sometimes tolerated, others contested, but in any existing case. And it is not absurd to think that the idea of ”impersonal” work, and therefore that of the professional as a cold, emotionless calculator, was nourished precisely by that non-individualistic climate. Just as I don’t venture a bizarre idea by saying that, on the contrary, contemporary individualism is (was) one of the Trojan horses of a more current human vision of the worker.
But we admit that there are not cold, calculating machines but people in the workplace. In that case, we also end up recognizing that emotions enter the workplace, endorsing what previously seemed almost an embarrassing promiscuity. After all, what company today doesn’t tell us in every way that it is made up of people? More: people who put their heart and passion into what they do? Whether she is sincere in saying it or not, mentioning it as an added value confirms that the company has now positively cleared the presence of the human component in companies through customs.
The Wisdom Of The Belly
What has been said so far does not demonstrate that society always encourages an emotional approach to work. Still, we are certainly more inclined today than in the past to accept that an emotional component in work is inevitable. However, some feel emotional at work and recommend it.
However, hardly anyone admits it publicly. Great leaders reveal that they collect all the data, analyze and report… and then jump in or back out depending on what their stomach tells them. Instead, we need to focus on the essentials with simple rules. And to be able to follow intuition. Which isn’t the irrational intuition we typically think of. Instead, it is only direct knowledge gained over years of experience and accumulated in the brain, which we cannot access “linguistically”.
The brain sends simpler signals through the body to direct our choices, for example, giving us a sense of security or danger, as the case may be. The intuitive decision would therefore be irrational in manifesting itself, not in forming. Beyond establishing whether it is better to make thoughtful or intuitive decisions, which is not the point of this article, it also seems clear to science that even in positions of command, where a mistake can cost millions, emotion makes itself felt. Influence. Especially in those assessments that leave a margin of uncertainty to rationality. Which is where we usually work in marketing and communication.
Informed Business, Ignorant Consumer
I want to close the reflection with a third and final factor unrelated to the previous one.
One reason why many struggles to recognize emotion’s importance in B2B communication can be traced back to an old marketing principle. Almost a cliché, which I too often quote and which reads more or less: “the first function of a brand is to defend the customer from his ignorance of him”. In extreme synthesis, the positive perception we have of a brand reassures us in choosing products that we would not have the tools – due to our incompetence and lack of verifiable information – to choose with good reason.
A dynamic that already existed at the origins of the modern market and is practically endemic today. We have said over and over that globalization has made the world smaller. But in the globalized world, because everything is virtually closer, everything is also further away. Let me explain. It is never easy to trace the truth of information, but in previous centuries, at least, the facts capable of influencing our lives were limited to narrower scenarios. Today, when our lives as citizens, consumers, etc., are affected in real time by what is happening worldwide, what hope do we have of verifying the information that may concern us? Products and their origins, companies and governments, events and their background: today, the truth has too long a supply chain.
And while information, facts and sources are moving away, progress and globalization require increasingly in-depth skills: even a simple product like flour, today, requires assessments in nutritional, health, and chemical but also ethics, geopolitics and environmental matters. Back to the bomb. The exasperated perception of our ignorance as consumers fuels the idea that at least insiders must necessarily understand something. It’s the same visceral need we have, flying on an airplane, to convince ourselves that at least the pilot in the cabin knows what he’s doing.
And since competent, desperately presumed so, professionals would be less in need than ordinary consumers of the function of guide and comfort of a marketing communication oriented towards brand loyalty. But unlike in aviation, where the pilot is likely to understand more than the passengers, things aren’t so starkly black and white in the marketplace. Undoubtedly, a purchasing manager will have a certain degree of knowledge of his subject, the brands he can choose from, and the differences between products and services offered to him. But in the global scenario, I mentioned earlier, how much of this expertise translates into absolute certainty?
Indeed, there are also specific assessment tools, such as regulations, certifications and standardizations, which aim precisely to guarantee people in companies worldwide unambiguous selection criteria. But on the other hand, precisely the multiplication of these tools demonstrates how much the problem they aim to solve is felt. Be that as it may, it is a fact that emotional levers have long since left the narrow confines of consumer communication.