Why Global B2B Marketers Can’t Forget That Businesses Are Made Up of People

By Shiloh Gray

Global B2B enterprise marketing is complicated but can be reduced to answering one question from the customer's perspective: Why would I spend seven figures on this one software-as-a-service company or hardware product? And while making sure marketing is aligned with sales and other "blocking and tackling" issues are crucial, I contend that emotion too often ends up minimized or erased from technical product marketing in favor of hard metrics.

I read somewhere that the key to great marketing is to be consistently interesting. The quickest and stickiest way to create interest is through emotion. Initially, people tend to think about sweeping anthems or slapstick humor when someone talks about creating an emotional hook, but there are many different emotions that we can tap into as B2B marketers.

While it's widely accepted that many great business moments are built on great interpersonal relationships, it's important to remember that every touchpoint a global brand creates is an opportunity to do just that: Start a great relationship.

Emotion is universal in marketing, whether you are selling customer experience (CX) software or motor oil. I've worked in B2B and B2C marketing over the years, and it's incredibly important to use the right words and images, because the way business professionals and consumers think about their purchase decisions is nuanced from region to region.

B2B marketers should remember that CEOs, CMOs, CTOs, and data scientists are people who experience branding as consumers and B2B decision-makers; therefore, the mindset in addressing them should be about feeling, tone and persuasion.

In each region, your customers will have different reasons for what impacts their purchase decisions — culture and economy, to name a couple. For instance, B2B buyers in a Western European country like France or Sweden won't necessarily be affected by the same messaging as their peers in Japan.

Functional and Emotional: Understanding Each Market

That's where global B2B marketing meshes with B2C in a way that's underappreciated. You must talk to each market as its own, whether you are selling software or motor oil.

Years ago, I was putting together the guidelines for a U.S.-driven global campaign for a major B2B lubricants company (motor oil and greases), and a major part of our campaign was centered around visuals of work trucks from each region. While details like make and model were crucial for regional applicability and product fit, nuances like the color of the trucks and whether they had personal effects on their exteriors became incredibly important.

While the messaging for both China and Pakistan revolved around creating legacy, the Pakistani audience expected to see vehicles that were bright and uniquely decorated by their owners and communities — while our Chinese audience was satisfied being shown standard neutrally-colored vehicles. In this, providing a future for their families was the focus for both regions, but our Pakistani audience was compelled by a more bespoke translation.

It's similar to how U.S.-based fast-food chains build out regional menus around the world to fit the locals' cuisine preferences. Global marketers have to address each market with a considered touch because really good brands balance the functional with emotional.

Weighting the functional and emotional parts of the equation is the magic sauce. For the B2B audience, it can be a balancing act between the egoistic and altruistic as some buyers will want to focus on how your product or service will help make more money for themselves and their company, while others will be leaning into how what you're selling will be good for their customers or their teams.

Certain B2B brands are great at accomplishing functional and emotional. I'm consistently impressed by Mailchimp and their ability to capture what motivates small business owners and amplify it in a unique, down-to-earth voice while still finding a moment to inspire.

Distinguishing these nuances between countries and continents, of course, should be the groundwork for a branding team before launching their go-to-market strategy. Getting your hands on regional data is essential. If you are marketing artificial intelligence, read up on how each locale feels about AI to make sure your way-in resonates.

At the same time, your creatives need to know the local vernacular so ad copy speaks the language of customers. While buyers in certain countries or parts of the world might react positively to certain messages, others in a different part of the world could react negatively to the same message.

Voice Can Inspire Action

In some instances, your marketing may feel as if it's changing from region to region, but what's most important to remember is that it's not the expression that is the true measure of success, but how the work is received by your target audience. This is why great marketers work so hard to keep visual parity across global brands, so the voice can stretch and inspire action.

This is a challenge for marketing teams as we look to scale globally in the future: packaging our emotional hook so that it is clean and true, while allowing it to flex and find comparable shapes to fit the market and create connections.

Everyone loves to talk about AI, but few truly understand it, so how AI can transform businesses and their internal teams will be the way in. A successful, globally scaled AI company will be able to consistently create interest by underpinning functional outcomes with rich regionally-attuned emotion.

In the end, global B2B brands are only successful when their marketers remember businesses are made up of people. And people are complicated.

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

Shiloh Gray is the VP of brand & creative at ASAPP.