Business-to-business advertisement often takes the form of a direct, information-based appeal to reason that relies heavily on functional criteria, such as product descriptions and specifications, data, and other descriptive content. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the typical advertisement for technical and scientific products and services. While “speeds and feeds” are undoubtedly important to this audience, a significant opportunity exists for those companies willing to explore other communication approaches. In this issue, we discuss ways to make the advertising of scientific products more effective by situating the role of emotion in the brand preferences and buying patterns of the customers.
Dense, highly technically ads are commonplace in science-related industries, so much so that the majority of marketing efforts could be characterized as complex, logical arguments designed to convince the target audience should consider buying their products. And who can blame marketing management for their attempts to generate awareness and interest using logic? After all, the entire enterprise of science relies on objective, rational reasoning. Scientists themselves reliably tell marketers in ad awareness studies that they want to see more technical content in advertisements. Why, then, shouldn’t marketers continue to fill their expensive advertisements with as much data and specifications as they can fit?
Unfortunately, this type of advertisement generally doesn’t work. The most effective advertising appeals not to logic, but emotion.
Emotion and the Consumer
In the realm of consumer product marketing, there is an established and well-documented relationship between the emotional impact of a company’s messaging and the demand for its products.i While functional, fact-based criteria clearly influence decision-making, it is equally true that the difference in sales between competing products, whether they be Coke and Pepsi, Adidas and Nike, or Toyota and Ford, is heavily influenced by highly subjective and personal impulses that might best be described as feelings, affects or biases for one brand over another. In addition to the rational evaluation of costs and benefits that goes into most purchase decisions, our preferences for products are subject to a complex amalgamation of inputs that include personal experience, cultural standards and values, and even hard-wired physiological responses that may or may not be apparent to us, combining to form the mental and physical dispositions we commonly label as emotions.
We know from daily experience that our personal loyalties and preferences for certain products are as strong as those for our favorite colors, flavors, or types of music. Often, our preferences for products and brands seem to be fundamental to our sense of personal identity. Furthermore, our feelings for all of these things are remarkably durable and persist far longer than rational information. As Arjun Chaudhuri observers in Emotion and Reason in Consumer Behavior, “Emotions are permanent… Affects may become separated from content and still remain. We may forget the content of a book, movie, or advertisement, but not the feelings elicited by them.”ii Consumer-driven companies that successfully leverage the power of emotion, through the direct experience of their brand via advertising, public relations, retail environments, packaging, sales, and all other customer touch-points stand to generate far greater engagement and loyalty than companies which ignore this mode.
Emotional marketing is not limited to companies selling commodities or packaged goods. The U.S. Government, for example, relies heavily on emotional appeal in its efforts to entice new recruits to its armed forces, imploring young people to Be All You Can be. Major colleges and universities regularly employ aspirational advertising campaigns to draw new students, and in the political arena emotion reigns supreme, with candidates carefully crafting their messages to tap deeply into our personal and collective hopes, aspirations, and even fears. Whether it is for packaged goods or a political candidate, the common denominator in consumer marketing is the consumer herself. This individual is a complex and highly impressionable target that companies can reliably engage, entertain, move, and ultimately persuade with the right emotional levers.
The question remains: Of what use is emotion outside of the personal sphere of consumer marketing? To what extent does a company need to modify its voice and messaging when it markets to other businesses rather than retail consumers, and instead of selling shoes, cars or other common goods it instead sells highly technical instruments, software, and other products? As we shall see, significant opportunities exist for scientific companies who develop an emotional connection with their customers, despite the fact that these “customers” are ostensibly corporate or academic entities who spend institutional budgets, rather than personal funds.