Do B2B Technology Companies Need Brand Love?
Should they want it, and how can they get it?
Within marketing, the holy grail of practice has always been the ability to secure ‘love’ for a brand. Of course, the idea of love is defined differently, but the essential premise is a kind of enduring loyalty that goes beyond logic; an association of warm emotion, a tinge of irrationality in the decision-making process, a heartfelt attachment.
The problem is, when Plato was discerning his classifications of love, he didn’t really come up with a term for ‘brand love’ to slot amongst the idea of eros, agape or pragma. But if he had, he’d have probably had quite a lot to say on the nature of what brand love is and the factors that contribute to it. Not to mention the factors which preclude it…
Is technology inherently unlovable?
In the opening paragraph we talked about the idea of brands which bring ‘warm emotion’. Unsurprisingly, the brands which achieve this tend to be associated with the more hedonistic elements of our lives; food and fashion often feature particularly highly. Technology tends to fall on the opposite end of the spectrum; cold and clinical, it provides a functionality that seems to lack warmth. Technology companies are certainly capable of securing loyalty; one only has to look at the slavish following that Apple have managed to achieve – but the justifications that people tend to offer for their loyalty are surprisingly devoid of emotion. Even if the underlying reason for loving Apple is actually more psychological than consumers let on (or even realise themselves), the rationalisations used to explain loyalty are always exactly that; grounded in rationality.
‘Pure’ engineering gets a little closer to the concept of being loved; one only needs to look towards our devotion to cars to understand that (along with the anthropomorphic characteristics and pronouns that are so commonly associated with them). But even then, that’s because there’s an inherent association with the ‘human’ element; the idea of a person using skill and passion, the sweat of their brow and the dexterity of their hands to create a thing of beauty and power. But since the world of cars has become increasingly ‘driven’ (excuse the pun) by computers and electricity… the love seems to be diminishing.
No, undoubtedly, it’s not engineering as a collective which leaves us cold; but bits and bytes do seem to fail to get our engines running.
Business head versus consumer heart
It’s not just technology that fares badly in the ‘love wars’; any product or service in the B2B sphere tends to be treated as purely functional, with no room for frivolity, fun or emotional fulfilment. The received wisdom is that emotive branding is for consumers, whereas B2B marketing and branding needs to be entirely more rational; built on facts and specifications and bottom-line profits. The idea is that consumers are flighty, easily-led simpletons, whereas business purchasers are analytical, cutthroat masters of logic.
But how exactly does that work when the very same person who is making precise cost-benefit analyses at work heads home to polish off a bottle of overpriced Château Lafite, or impulse buy a multi-gym online on the basis of one Facebook advert, or feed their beloved cat the most expensive gourmet tin on the market?
The point here is: the very same people who are supposedly cold-hearted and clinical business buyers are also mushy, sentimental consumers. Of course context changes the way we make decisions, but the underpinning psychology at the base of our decision making doesn’t alter that wildly; we are still fundamentally human, and motivated by human concerns.
Never been kissed
So put these two elements together and it would seem that B2B technology companies don’t have a chance of being loved. Except that actually… they do. It might be a slightly different kind of love, but research by Google suggests that emotion can drive purchasing decisions in business far more than we might have assumed.
Indeed, B2B brands are the ones most likely to be able to form what Google identifies as central to the formation of brand emotion; a relationship. In the B2C world, any talk of a relationship is inherently a false construct; Coca-Cola definitely doesn’t care about you, and even the slightly more engaged brands have far too much of a one-to-many dimension to them for there to the parity needed for genuine connection.
But B2B brands – especially in individual technology markets – do have that capacity for relationship building. Encounters with each other tend to be repeated, meaningful and in-depth.
This perhaps means that the word ‘emotion’ is a bit of a misdirection. Emotion is certainly a part of a relationship, but only one dimension. It’s therefore instead useful to talk about the intangible elements of technology B2B brands which can make the difference in relationship building:
- Mutual Support
What results is not the irrationality of consumer brand love, but a meaningful bond between two parties that is based on entirely rational, but arguably intangible concepts. It is these dimensions as much as the technological advantages of a product that will attract and keep customers in the long term.
Eyes (and hearts) open to the benefit of relationship-thinking
The question is, how many technology firms are recognizing this?
It seems, not enough.
And that’s not helped by the fact that the marketing, PR and communication firms catering to them often don’t seem to have caught on either. There’s still a remarkable focus on ‘functional’ communication and content that focuses only on technical detail. Nothing that focuses on the elements above; building meaningful connection and stressing intangible values alongside technical ones.
In-so-far as there’s any attention paid to ‘customer relationship management’, this tends to be focused on the idea of management software and systems. As a result, the idea becomes almost paradoxical; you’re integrating something that dissect your relationships in an efforts to manage and improve them. That’s not to say formal CRM systems don’t hold value in some settings, but just that there’s a counter-intuitiveness in trying to manage the most intangible, human element of your performance with something tangible and non-human. Real relationship building involves, well… being present as part of the relationship. Demonstrating trustworthiness in order to receive trust. Being loyal to receive loyalty in kind. Embodying the relatable elements of business; humour, warmth, connection, shared experience and common goals.
Xpresso’s focus on building relationships both with and for our clients
But we know that the companies we work with are heavily invested in the idea of creating meaningful relationships, because that’s exactly how they operate with us. Each one maintains a specific personality, and looks for us to communicate that just as much as we communicate their technical expertise and the benefits of their product offerings.
And our ability to do this comes not just from the way we approach our ‘formal’ activities; i.e. creating and disseminating content which embodies the intangible values, humour and personality of our clients as much as technical detail and business benefit. It also comes from so many tiny, behind-the-scenes, intangible efforts; leveraging 40 years of industry knowledge – connections, trust, respect, reputation, visibility. In essence, transferring the benefit of our own established relationships and channels to our clients in order to build connections and open doors. Tiny elements of latent value that make the world of difference for our clients; the difference between a single sale and a lasting relationship.