This article originally appeared on B2BMarketing.

Emotional connection—how an individual feels when he or she comes in contact with a brand—plays a significant role in the purchase of many consumer products, but what about B2B brands? Many have argued that B2C buying is emotional while B2B buying is rational. I assure you that emotional connection is alive and well in most B2B environments, thus in B2B branding strategies. For example, construction workers may not be all that attached to the brands of wallboard or adhesive that they use, but don’t mess with the brand of their tools.

As a researcher, I have compiled a database of over 350 studies that derived the impact of various attributes on B2B brand decisions. In each study, I computed an impact index for each attribute by indexing the impact of that attribute to the average impact of all attributes in the study. This allows one to compare attributes across different studies and environments.

While the database includes about 1,400 different brand attributes, I categorized them into 11 different categories as shown in Exhibit 1.

Exhibit 1: What categories of potential drivers of brand preference did you unveil?

  1. General reputation
  2. Infrastructure
  3. Products/services
  4. Process/approach
  5. People/skills/values
  6. Mission
  7. Emotional connection
  8. Emotional projection
  9. Benefit
  10. Personality
  11. Price/value

When I examined the impact of attributes in each category on brand preference across various environments—both through the lens of B2B branding and B2C branding—and geographies, the importance of establishing an emotional connection with buyers was clear. The Average Impact Index for attributes in the emotional connection category far exceeds that of any other category (see Exhibit 2). And ranked right behind is emotional projection.

I mentioned earlier the emotional connection between construction workers and their tools. But this isn’t the only example of emotional connection at work in the B2B space. Traders (stocks, commodities, etc.) are extremely connected to their sources of financial information. They refer to their terminals as “Bloombergs,” and having a Bloomberg terminal instead of a competitor’s is seen as a badge of success. That is, there is a significant element of both emotional connection and emotional projection when it comes to a trader’s terminal. Emotional connection also has a remarkably high Average Impact Index in IT hardware and software and several other very diverse categories.

This is not to imply that emotional connection (or emotional projection) is equally impactful in every buying environment. At the other end of the spectrum, emotional connection plays much less of a role in insurance (e.g., life, health), financial product brands (e.g., annuities, mutual funds) or professional services (e.g., consulting, legal services). Consumers get emotionally attached to credit card brands, but much less so to rental car brands.

Exhibit 2: Average Impact Index, by categories of brand attributes


Over the past decade, I have tested a variety of dimensions of emotional connection and some specific attributes stand out. Convincing buyers that your brand is distinctively for people like you/companies like theirs (Average Impact Index = 184) and/or convincing them that your brand is essential to their job or success or well-being (174) would likely give your B2B branding strategy a significant advantage over its competitors.

Can you make your B2B brand seem special or essential?

While the Average Impact Index for “Is for people like me/companies like ours” is 184, there are numerous categories—including financial services—where the index averages around 200. Winning in this area is worth twice as much as winning on an “average” brand attribute. On the other hand, companies and brands in the manufacturing (122) and healthcare (94) industries appear to have less to gain by creating a “sense of specialness.”

Looking at examples of how some brands have created “specialness” offers keys to how this can be done. People’s United Bank, a relatively small bank primarily in Connecticut, created specialness by fighting the trends of mega-banks. People’s took banking to the people, setting up branches within grocery stores so that shoppers could take care of multiple chores at once. In an environment where health insurers were taking on lofty goals of solving major health challenges, EmblemHealth took a simpler approach of trying to find a solution to the working person’s insurance requirements.

When it comes to creating a sense of being essential—the other attribute in this high impact pair—perhaps the best known example of this phenomenon is what Intel was able to do with its brilliant “Intel Inside” advertising campaign. It built a huge brand advantage over AMD and others by convincing us that without an Intel chip in our personal computer, we might not realize the benefits of the PC.

Going back to emotional branding: from a consumer standpoint, it helps to have connections, but is it sufficient in B2B branding?

Two other attributes stand out in terms of generating a particularly high impact on buying decisions: having a “personal connection” with the brand (Average Impact Index = 153) and convincing buyers that buying your product or service will make them “part of a community or something special (150).

Without question, it helps to have connections in business. But can you build a brand, let alone a B2B branding strategy around this? Unlikely. A life insurance agent has a huge advantage over a competitor in selling a policy to his or her brother or cousin. But how many brothers or cousins can one agent (or an entire agency) have relative to the size of their potential market? The percentage is microscopic. This is why the mean brand rating on this attribute is dismally low.

The group of businesses that benefit most overtly from personal connection are local service providers—field services for fire and/or security systems, local testing labs or hospitals that do lab testing, etc. While no individual company may be anywhere close to being on the radar of a major national service provider or testing lab, in the aggregate, these organizations can account for an astounding share of the market. And personal connection is a key way they accomplish this. They go to church with local decision makers, they sponsor local little league teams, etc. And the national brands can’t compete on this personal element. These organizations tend to get the highest scores we have measured on personal connection.

The bottom line is this: the success of a B2B brand often lives or dies with its ability to establish an emotional connection with buyers through emotional branding. In some cases, you may need to rethink your B2B branding strategy and what you are selling versus what buyers are buying. You may be selling life insurance, but your policy owners are buying peace of mind. Do you think about it that way as you communicate with potential buyers and as you monitor the customer experience?

Rolf Wulfsberg, PhD, is global director of quantitative insights at Siegel+Gale.