Puppies, Kittens, and Kids

Puppies, Kittens, and Kids:
Marketing to the Emotions

It is a truism in consumer marketing and advertising that putting puppies, kittens, or kids in an ad or on a product evokes an “aw” response. They automatically get attention. (Where would the Super Bowl ads be without at least one commercial with a dog in it?) But they do more than just get our attention. We are hardwired to feel open and unguarded when confronted with these kinds of images.

In fact, consumer marketers take the concept of emotional connotations even further. Think of the number of cars that are named for animals, for instance, and the images these animals evoke: Mustang, Bronco, Jaguar… Without even thinking about it, we associate power and speed with these products. Examples of evocatively, emotionally potent, names are a commonplace in the consumer marketplace.

So I started to wonder why we don’t do this in the B2B marketplace.

Yes, I know. Business buys are rational. Business buys are based on “value propositions” and “cost/benefit” analyses. Using an emotional sub-text would devalue our products and our brands.

And yet. And yet.

What would happen if we took a slightly different look at some of the ways we segment the market?

For example, in B2B marketing, we generally look at company size. There are micro-businesses, small business, medium-sized companies, and large companies. With the small to medium and large enterprises, people can, and do, differ over where they draw the lines; but the general parameters are clear.

These rough categories work for general marketing purposes. But what if we looked at them from a different angle? What if the segments were categorized into entrepreneurial vs. institutional organizations, particularly in the SMB (small/medium-sized business) space?

We can argue about language, but for the moment, let’s define entrepreneurial as founder/owner/CEO and/or family-run. (The family-owned or entrepreneurial business isn’t necessarily small, by the way. Think of the INC 500 or SE Johnson, which is a family-owned business and a consumer giant.) The people who run these businesses think of them in a very personal way, a way that is quite different from how a “professional” manager thinks of his company. Company success here is profoundly ego-based (a good thing, by and large). It is not an abstraction; it is not a stock price; it is not a stepping stone to a new position in another company.

So should we necessarily market to entrepreneurial companies in exactly the same way we do to more institutionally oriented organizations?

Obviously, in all cases we have to provide compelling value propositions. Obviously, if the products and services don’t make the enterprise more productive, more profitable, easier to manage, enhance or create competitive advantage, etc., then the products and services will not be bought.

But the emotional component of the sale is subtly different. And that leads to interesting marketing possibilities.

Is it possible to name some of our products less prosaically in the entrepreneurial space? Do we always have to try to brand a product by trying to get our value proposition into the product name? Or can we convey value through a name that evokes, rather than describes, the product’s essential qualities?

To over-state the concept: Wouldn’t the customer grasp what we are trying to convey more immediately if we called a B2B product “The Cheetah” rather than “A High Speed Enhancement Widget”? Would that not immediately lend itself to an ad campaign? An evocative product logo? Clever ways to elaborate the product’s value proposition and competitive advantage? New ways to frame the message and create an integrated communications strategy?

And to take it a step further – leaving aside for the moment the differences between entrepreneurial and more institutional organizations – can’t we use the same concept when selling into a non-entrepreneurial environment? No matter where we work, no matter whether we own the company or not, we (virtually) all operate on some basic human emotions.

I am not suggesting that we are doing B2B marketing incorrectly. Nor am I suggesting that all B2B products lend themselves to evocative marketing. It is hard, for instance, to see what kind of business product would usefully have a kitten as its logo.

I am, however, suggesting three things:

1. Taking a non-traditional look at how we segment our market spaces can lead to interesting, and potentially lucrative, new ways to market our products.

2. It is time to stop assuming that business buyers check their feelings, emotions, and susceptibility to evocative images at the door when they come to work.

3. And B2B marketing might just benefit from appropriating, reworking, repackaging, and redefining some of the most successful consumer marketing techniques for our purposes.

We all respond to puppies, kittens, and kids. The key words for business are power, speed, efficiency, etc.  Surely we are creative enough to find – and use – evocative images to match those business needs.

Practical Marketing Rule # 4:  No matter what the market space, remember that it is people – not companies – who buy our products and services.

This is a follow-up to a previous article: Creating Demand

21 thoughts on “Puppies, Kittens, and Kids

  1. Emily,

    You make a great point. How do we lose site of the fact that decision makers are human, and feel emotion – in B2B?

    I ponder that for heavier, more industrial B2B, perhaps even beyond puppies and kittens, the visceral emotive power of a Clint Eastwood, charging a nation to rally with a “it’s half-time” speech is another good example of electrifying our emotions and motivating us to take a call to action.


  2. This was such a great article! We do advertise to people and not companies. Your second suggestion is something that I have always believed and try to keep in mind. The other two are something I will keep in mind from now on. Thank you for keeping this in the mind of your readers.

  3. Hi Emily,

    Great article! I had written a lengthy response and then LinkedIn decided to act up and gave me an error when I tried to send the message, but not without deleting eveything I had already typed up. Anyway, there are some companies already trying this approach and one that comes to mind is Drobo (formerly known as Data Robotics). Their success has been completely based on marketing a very technical product (RAID backup solutions) to small and mid-sized businesses that have no interest in IT, such as photographers, videographers and graphic design studios. More often than not, those businesses are made up of one or two individuals handling very large files on a daily basis, which in the past required very complicated and inefficient solutions for back up. The Drobo simplified that part of the business dramatically and that success generated with small businesses translated into increased sales to mid-sized and large enterprises.

    Needless to say, the product became so successful and so well known that a couple of years ago the company decided to change their name to Drobo.

    Disclaimer: I’ve been a very happy Drobo customer for over three years.


  4. Awesome piece of information! May I reference part of this on my blog if I post a backlink to this webpage? Thanks.

  5. Just added this blog to my favorites. I enjoy reading your blogs and hope you keep them coming!

  6. Hi Emily

    Good, usable insight once again.

    Something I’ve noticed in my years selling ecommerce solutions is that there’s often no rhyme or reason why someone does or does not buy. I’ve made a point of asking every single client why they chose us/me in an effort to try and learn more about the emotional processes people go through and I’ve sat scratching my head at times, I can tell you.

    The upshot is: everyone is different, and no matter how many people (as opposed to organisations) you sell to there will be a fairly unique reason for buying – maybe not the one you intended to tap in to either.

    Attempting to gain an understanding the people you sell to is key, but still expect to be surprised at times!

    Keep up the good work,

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