The art of emotion in B2B marketing

We speak with CMO of Deloitte Annabel Rake on the art of emotion in B2B marketing, and how COVID-19 has heightened the need for brands to reflect on their purpose.


Benedict Buckland Hello and welcome to The CMO Show, the program where we ask some of the biggest questions facing the industry to the leading lights in marketing. Today I'm delighted to say that I'm joined by Annabel Rake, CMO at Deloitte UK and South and North Europe. Annabel has been with Deloitte for a number of years, covering a number of different roles. And I think a highlight for me when I was looking through was the Head of Sponsorship for London 2012. So it brings a huge amount of experience and I think is going to be a great participant in the conversation we're going to have today. But first, before we get get into all of that, thank you very much for joining us. Annabel, it's a pleasure.

Annabel Rake Very happy to join you.

Benedict Buckland Wonderful. For those that haven't been privy to the prelude to this conversation, we have some connection difficulties I think probably is the best way of putting it. So Annabel's being extremely resourceful and not only having to tackle working from home and everything that lockdown brings, but has also had to dial in using her phone and doesn't have a stand. So I think we all need to give a huge amount of recognition, actually, to Annabel, who's going to have her arm up like this for the duration. So thanks for that Annabel. How has second lockdown been for you, was it any easier than the first? Or has it been a sort of a trial like it has been for everyone else?

Annabel Rake I think for me personally, I have two young children, I'm in second lockdown, obviously schools and nurseries are open, which has been the saving grace for us, I think. That obviously wasn't the case during the first lockdown, and that was much more challenging to deal with. The fact that the kids are off to school to nursery at the moment is definitely making things a little bit easier.

Benedict Buckland One for and also you've got the privilege of being up in Yorkshire. So you have wonderful sort of expanse of the outside, which I'm not quite enjoying in the same way here in Hackney, in London. So today we're going to be talking about the role of emotion in B2B marketing, which I'm hugely excited about having this conversation. And just very quickly, before we jump into this, a tiny little bit of housekeeping. This is a live session and we want it to be as sort of participative and as engaging as possible. So if everybody that has dialled in to watch today, please feel free to put any questions that pops into your mind, into the question and comments box. What we do is be monitoring this throughout any question which are relevant. I can pick out and just feed into the conversation. But we also try to reserve some time at the end so we can put those to Annabel. So now housekeeping is out of the way down to business. Now, as I said, we're speaking about the role of emotion in in B2B marketing. And as I said, I'm very excited about this. However, there is almost a little bit of a surprise that we're still having this conversation about what role emotion can play in B2B marketing, given, certainly, from my perspective, the incredible persuasive power that it can have. And so Annabel just to start us off, I'm really interested from your perspective, why do you feel there is still a degree of skepticism about emotion when it comes to B2B marketing?

Annabel Rake I think we can sometimes approach B2B marketing as a corporate, talking to a corporate, and in reality what we're really doing is and certainly in professional services, which is is obviously my heartland, we are humans talking to humans. And I think we can we can sometimes talk in corporate speak, you know, use words that you wouldn't necessarily use in everyday language and put forward our marketing, put forward our communications in quite a sort of rational and data-based way. And I think that that can work to a point that there are certainly people out there that really benefit from data and like to be very data-driven in the way that they engage. But I think we just forget that that we are talking to people at the end of the day and people engage in an emotional way. Doesn't matter what it is, emotions could be different. It could be about fear. It could be about trust. It could be about support. It could be about joy or hope or optimism. But I think in B2B, we've tended to rely on the rational and that that has meant that we've forgotten the emotional sometimes. And it's certainly an area that I think we could lean on much more in in B2B.

Yeah, absolutely. I think that it's important what you say in terms of that rational does have a role to play, but I think it's really about getting that that balance. But certainly I was reading an interesting report quite recently, which was done by Peter Field and Les Binet, and they were looking at the comparison between emotional campaigns to campaigns, which are based around emotional messaging and those on rational. And whilst rational is quite effective within a very short term transactional sense. Those were that were led by emotion, in terms of long term business impact, we're actually seven times more effective. So there's that evidence out there that emotion has a really key role to play. Do you feel that there any fundamental misconceptions that are at play here, which are potentially preventing B2B marketers from exploring that that side of things?

Annabel Rake I'm not sure whether there are misconceptions, I think we're perhaps just leaning on where we where we've been in the past. If you think about when decisions are made, for example, people often make decisions and post rationalise them on data or hard facts or logic, for example. Actually, they're making them in a really emotion based way. We see that a lot in terms of, you know, we're regularly going and bidding for work with clients. And we will often ask clients at the end of a bid process, successful or unsuccessful what was it that either want to sell or lost is the bid or enabled another competitor to win? We see through that clients really are justifying on those sorts of rational points whether it might be about service or cost or value or what have you. But when we dig deeper into our data, we can we can see that actually it's things like when a client team comes across as being really dynamic, hungry for the work, passionate about it, builds that rapport with with the client that we win much more often when those attributes are coming across. Those are human emotional attributes. So I think because when you first see the data, you're looking at some of that rational stuff and you kind of quite naturally think, right, so it's got to be about the service and and the cost that we're putting forward and all of those good things. Of course, there are elements of that in any bid. I think when you when you dig deeper and scratch the surface, you can you can perhaps see that there's a bit more to it.

Benedict Buckland Yeah, absolutely. I think that it's it's really interesting what you say there in terms of the interpersonal dimension which can can exist and be very, very powerful and effective there. When when it comes to, I suppose, taking what we see in an interpersonal level and that success with communicating emotion and then translating that through to a brand perspective in terms of campaigns, what do you feel that B2B marketers need to do to start to incorporate that sort of emotional messaging? What things should they consider to identify what what's the right way of approaching it? Annabel Rake I think the first thing to do is to pick up what we've just talked about in terms of, you know, realise that the person on the other end of the campaign is a human being and really practical things like think about the language that you're using. You know, we've talked about the kind of corporate speak elements, but also think about what would engage you in real life. B2B buyers are also buyers of consumer products. The same person is buying B2B services might buy a drink or some clothing or a car. I think in those areas you can see that great human language coming through. So I think there's a really practical point there about the use of human language.

Then I think there's thinking about the the range of emotions that you might want to consider. humour isn't necessarily often a sort of emotive tool that's used in B2B. But I think if you if you were to change humour, to wit. Yeah, actually, that is something that I think really can engage from a B2B perspective. You know, you're you're often dealing with senior, very intelligent individuals. And that that wit in the way that you engage them can be really, really powerful. I think some of the emotions I mentioned earlier, things like hope and optimism. So painting a picture of the future and what that could be like for your your client, their organisation, the customer that you're dealing with and sometimes thinking about what might be seen as negative emotions. And this isn't about playing on negative emotions necessarily, but customers may be worried, especially right now, about the future of their business, or they might be worried about things like cyber attacks, for example, an understanding that they might have, fear that they might be scared about what's going to happen, and therefore thinking about what's the emotional play that you want to provide that I know from our perspective we will think about actually it's about support. They want somebody that they can they can partner with that's going to enable them, help them to to get through a pandemic to to work against cyber attackers, whatever it might be.

So thinking about perhaps what some of those negative emotions might be and what your positive counter emotion could be in the way that you engage. I think probably the last the last thing I'd say is around provocation. Again, in in the B2B space, I think we can all sometimes shy away from controversy. That's not necessarily a bad thing, especially for a brand like Deloitte, which is insurance brand as well. But that doesn't mean you can't provoke you can't provoke people to be thinking differently about a particular challenge that they've got or the outcomes that they might be seeking or the way that they're addressing something. And again, just thinking about that intelligence of your customer and how you might engage on that level and just provoke that that different a different level of thought. So hopefully, if you few a few different thoughts and ideas.

Benedict Buckland Absolutely. And one thing that I want is to pick I'm sure it was done on a subconscious level, but the way that you were explaining that you constantly were using the word think and actually I think it's really powerful when marketers think what they think means, because one of the things which I always try and sort of persuade most of my conversations is to go through thought experiments and going going through a thought experiment where you are trying to put yourself in that person's shoes. Yes you are using the data that you might have on that individual. But more it's about using your imagination and visualising what they would respond to. It can be incredibly powerful in terms of understanding how best to to engage them. So I think that's really, really key what you said there in terms of I and a couple of things which I'd really like to explore them. But firstly, I loved how you talked about the importance of wit. And then also you talked about provocation as well. Now, both of those to get right can be quite difficult. And that would be a lot of marketers out there that are potentially thinking of a principle that's great. But that's that's a little bit risky. What advice would you give to marketers in terms of being comfortable with taking risks when it comes to emotional messaging within B2B marketing? I suppose just a little bit add on to that question. How do they placate or convince their stakeholders that a slightly risky approach is is the right one to take?

Annabel Rake So the first thing I'd say is, is it go back to your comment, actually, you were talking about thinking and putting yourself in the shoes of the customer. And we use something at Deloitte. I'm sure others use it, too, which is thinking about your customers stay awake issues. So what really keeps them awake at night and how can you help them with that? And that's always a good starting point, because that's rooted in understanding your customer, which is kind of marketing what I want. But to think about your your your stakeholder point there in B2B marketing, which we often are dealing as much with our internal stakeholders as we are thinking about our external clients and customers. And, you know, I always would think about A/B testing on things, you know, prove the case to do it the way you want to do it, do it the way the stakeholders suggesting. Test that for a while. Look at the data that you're getting back and understand that data and think about how you might want to continue to to shift. It is something that we've been doing internally is actually showing our internal stakeholders, the partners of Deloitte who own the business. What are other brands doing? Give them that kind of that inspiration session. Share some of the things that are going on. Talk about perhaps what might be making some of the campaigns that that you showcase successful and they could be B2C in terms of just providing that that bit of inspiration and thinking about that point about your customer is a is a consumer of goods as well as a buyer of services or B2B products, but also that that kind of B2B switch that is happening. There definitely are organisations out there that are moving to a more emotive and emotionally based approach. And and I think just just showcasing some of that and helping them understand what what difference and goods might look like can often be quite, quite powerful, I think.

Benedict Buckland Yeah, absolutely. I think that in terms of you're describing, it's adding a bit of rigor and making it sort of evidence based. So you're making the case for why you might take that risk or take that slightly more emotionally, that approach. So, yeah, absolutely agree on on that front. Another sort of dimension which I'm sticking up from the previous previous answer and you were talking about how Deloitte certainly but also it's a bit of a trend in terms of showing you're there to support your clients and this whole idea of providing support, both in terms of very practical sense, but also a bit of an emotional support as well. And that's something we've definitely seen within the B2C area over the past nine months with everything that's going on in lockdown. We see a lot of brands evolve their messaging. So it's all about we are here for you ultimately. Now, in your observations, are we seeing that same shift within B2B in terms of that increase in sort of like emotional sort of connection? Or do you feel there's a little bit of a lag there still?

Annabel Rake But with that, we're certainly shifting at Deloitte, I have been seeing that with with other brands as well, and I think this point about emotion, B2B branding is probably even more critical over the last nine months than than it has been previously. We have seen, certainly in the B2C space, we've seen consumers moving away from brands. If they are not happy with the response of those brands to the pandemic, the way they treated their staff, the way they treated their customers, you have seen a shift. I think that that is also the case in in in the B2B world.

I think certainly Deloitte clients, we have been reaching out. We've been offering support both in the way that we go to market. So our marketing approach did shift. We we have given all our internal partners and practitioners the tools to go out and speak to their clients in a really helpful way, giving them thought status for clients. So not to not to scaremonger, but to help clients think about how they might approach what's going on and we've reflected that in our in our broad external marketing as well. And certainly seen a really positive response from clients in that, you know, just looking through some of the I'm big on client feedback because as you might be guessing from my answers here, but looking at some of our client feedback responses over the last period of time, and you can see really clearly that it's coming out that our people are certainly helping our clients in that way.

Clients are noticing that, appreciating that, noting that certainly in those organisations versus competitors, we have been the ones that have been reaching out, offering that support, whether that be sort of practical support to help our client think through their response to what's happening out there in the world and be about Covid-19, about Brexit, any range of things or whether it's in how we work with them and flexibility in how we work with them and how we run our projects with them. Many people not being on client site that previously would have been. So how does that all of all of that work? And so looking at every facet of our engagement with with the client and making sure that that that support is coming through across every touchpoint.

Benedict Buckland In many, many respects the whole sort of dynamics of the B2B relationship that have changed in the past nine months. It's become much more personal. In fact, exactly what we're doing here now is a demonstration of that you're seeing into my sitting room. I'm seeing into your bedroom, possibly. Oh, yes. Yes. There is this that we're almost seeing behind the curtain, which is obviously really, really refreshing. And do you think that this idea of becoming more personal, B2B is going to be a lasting shift and will be here for good?

Annabel Rake I do, I think we were becoming more personalsed anyway. Technology and data was enabling that more and more and more. I think we were probably doing that in a tech-based way. And the opportunity to do that more is in the human-based way. But as you say, you know, you're seeing into people's lives in a different way. The people I work with, whether that be in my team at Deloitte or some of the external organisations that I work with are seeing my kids the same way. Cats, you know, I've had all sorts of different things going on, people joining, cause you see that in your colleagues and the ecosystem within which you work. You're just getting to know people in a very different way. And I think actually that's really critical, although the virtual world does let you into people's houses just through the virtue of their in their house or in their flats or wherever they may be.

I think there's there's an element of you're not getting so much the kind of the water cooler moment or the walk to the coffee shop or whatever it might be. And that that's really important when it comes to a business which is is often based on relationships. I think you join as a call you straight down to business, often looking at the agenda straight into that, thinking about what you've got to achieve. Sometimes you can forget, you know, just ask the personal questions that you would have asked on on your walk to the coffee shop. I think it is it's as much about the sort of marketing approach that you have is as every touchpoint that you have with the customer. Just thinking about that, asking them how it's going. What are the pain points for them at the moment and your understanding of that, again, putting yourself in your customers shoes, unless you do those sorts of things, it's it's really hard to really get back to understanding of your customer.

Benedict Buckland I think it's a really interesting paradox that you've you've just described there. For me personally, what you were just describing in terms of what was called that water cooler moment, is that what you do lose when you have when you're not face to face with people is you lose those moments of serendipity, which is often where ideas come from. It's a chance encounter. It's an overheard conversation. That is the bit which is going to be really important for us to to replicate. My last question, I think, builds on that a little bit, but also references back in terms of what you were saying that you've done with your partners in terms of giving them some of the sort of the tools they need to do to go out and have these conversations at the moment. I think in a people first business, such as Deloitte, your partners and associates and everyone working there ultimately are extensions or certainly sort of manifestations of your your brand. What do you get for how companies really use their people to communicate those brand values and actually to be part of that marketing activity themselves?

Annabel Rake I think the first thing to say is whether you're addressing it actively or not, your people are an extension of your brand. Right? So you might not have a program to engage your people in your brand, but regardless, they're going out and talking to your customers, your clients, and leaving an impression not only of them as individuals, but of the brand that they are representing. So I think that's a really important point to start with. I think in terms of how you might engage your people then to to go out and in our case, represent the Deloitte brand in the way that we would want them to. There's obviously a lot of talk at the moment about purpose and purposeful brands, and that that is something that at Deloitte is very important to us. You know, we we have clear values at Deloitte. We have a clear purpose, which is it's quite simple.

Our purpose is about making an impact that matters for our clients, our people and society. And essentially what we do is we try and give our people the the tools and the anecdotes to go out and talk to our clients about that person and how we are delivering against that purpose every day. And that, therefore, is not all about a particular service that we might be delivering to them. It could be about what we're doing with some of our alliance partners. It could be about what we're doing in the community, and it's about telling stories. So giving your people the stories to go out and talk to clients about.

So I think that's that's a fairly practical way, I think, to just help your people, to kind of think a bit broader than the piece of work they might be delivering or the product that they might be selling. And just think about what's going on in the broader world for B2B companies that rely on people particularly. I think there's also an element of how you attract people to come and work for your organisation. And again, purpose is really important to us in that regard. We want we want people who would share our purpose, share our values, and therefore the sorts of people that will will naturally go out and and deliver in that way for our clients.

So if all of our purpose is about making an impact, then all people should be able to talk to their clients about the impact they're making for that particular client organisation or perhaps on what they're doing in the local community or how they manage their own teams and their own people, and how we make an impact for all people that's across all those different dimensions that we try and equip our partners, our people to to go out and have those sorts of conversations and tell those sorts of stories.

Benedict Buckland So I know that I said that was my last question. I was just really interested in terms of what you're saying, in terms of giving giving them stories when it comes to creating those stories is that clients I don't mean is negative by top down in terms of marketing decide and then you cascade it down and they have a toolkit that they read from or is there a very sort of like organic process where you are empowering people and partners to create those stories, providing it's within within a framework.

Annabel Rake But really, we do it in lots of different ways because I think if we relied on just one way, we would never we'd never get them all bubbling up. We've got we've got twenty thousand people just in the UK, for example. So we have to have lots of different ways of doing it. But one of the great things that actually we we we started doing a few years ago is we have an annual impact awards and these awards take place across all of Deloitte in North and South Europe. And we ask people to tell us their stories and the impact that they've made. And and again, it's across those three areas. What sort of impact you made for your clients, what sort of impact to be made for for people at Deloitte? And what's the impact you're making on the communities in which you live or work? And so we gather those on an annual basis. They are clearly stories that are coming from our people. We might help to identify some of them and some of them along a little bit along the way. But it's coming from our people. And over the years we have seen that really increase the engagement in that program. We've seen that increase. People want to be involved in it. They're proud of what they do. They're proud of the impact they're making and they want to showcase that and share it.

Actually, one of the things that I've seen really change over the years is in the first couple of years that we did this, people would enter a story which is about client or enter a story which is about society, for example. And now the stories that we get through are much more all encompassing, which I think from a purpose perspective is is absolutely where we should and need to be. By which I mean if they're talking about a piece of work they've done for a client, they might not just talk about the impact on the client organisation, but the impact that that might have for customers of that client, for example, or the location in which that client is based. Along the way, they're also talking about and this is how it developed, the team of Deloitte people that were working on this particular program as well. So they're really understanding the how those different pieces of impacts are linked together. And we get some phenomenal, phenomenal stories through from from across north and South Europe, as I said, and to sharing those and that kind of feeling of pride that you get.

I always talk about the green globe because obviously we've got a green is a significant element in our brand. I talk about the green glow that you get when you when you read those stories. We use them in our annual report, for example, as well as the people do see those stories showcased in quite a public way, which is fantastic, for those people.

Benedict Buckland Wonderful. I think the other way of looking at the green glow is that people are envious of those stories as well in terms of because of this sounds so appealing. But now I really liked what you said there. I think it's almost an overriding message is that this importance of just looking looking outside of a very sort of traditional linear way of looking at things, as you said, they're talking about sort of not only how it develops the team that were taking part in that, how that impacted the customers, customers or the customers, clients, consumers or whatever, that sort of chain and looking at that, that bigger picture. And I think that the more that the marketers can engage in just that "think" exercise of thinking about who they're trying to reach in a much more holistic sense, then they can understand all of those different ways of actually engaging them. And I think as we've discussed and I think as some of the data and reports discussed as well, there is a huge amount of potential in that and could be extremely powerful if B2B marketers are able to to harness emotion. So Annabel. Thank you so much for your time. That was a really, really enjoyable conversation. And I'm pretty confident that everyone that tuned in will have got a lot out of that seat. Thank you very much for being a guest on the show, and I look forward to hopefully speaking to you in the future about similar topics. So thank you very much.

Annabel Rake Really happy to have joined. Apologies for my shaky camerawork for anyone watching.

Benedict Buckland I mean, I think clearly we can't do a round of applause, but I would otherwise say a round of applause for such steady camera work that you did there. I think that you can be very proud of mastering technology and being able to talk very eloquently as well. So thank you very much and thank you very much for everybody that joined in. Annabel Rake Thank you very much.

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