To Win the Battle for Differentiation, CMOs Must Focus on Personal Value


Underlying every business decision is a personal need—a human need. It’s Abraham Maslow’s famous Hierarchy of Needs in action. Customers don’t make purely rational, logical decisions. For too long, however, B2B marketers acted as if customers made decisions based solely on rational value.

We don’t check our human cards at the door when we go to work for an employer!

Until businesses remember that, their marketing, their value propositions—all of it—is wasted effort focused on the wrong things. Yes, the logical, rational value matters, yet the personal and emotional value for the buyer always matters more.

Though technology and tools change, people don’t. People have needs for belonging, attachment, peer recognition, stability, risk reduction, visibility, freedom, confidence, career mobility, and security… The list goes on.

We’re people first; business buyers, second.

Personal (and Social) Value Matters

Business value boosts consideration—no question. However, it does not create sustainable differentiation. By contrast, personal value does.

Buyers will always ask, “What’s in it for me professionally and personally?” You have to appeal to that vital human filter for making decisions to win the war on differentiation, and it’s a war CMOs are all too familiar with.

Making the emotional connection to personal value in B2B is vital. Research illustrates how important emotional value based on a personal human need really is. (As marketers, we already knew it anecdotally, right?)

In a 2013 study (PDF), The Corporate Executive Board (CEB) Marketing Leadership Council in partnership with Google found that personal value and social value (perceived by peer group) had twice the effect on commercial purchasing outcomes (purchasing, consideration, advocacy, etc.) as business value (rational value).

That means emotions trump logic every day for influencing outcomes. Buying always involves personal, human risk. Consequently, your differentiation story must take that into account.

For example, consider that marketing VP you sell to. How will your services make her look good to her boss and build her internal reputation? How will your IT services mitigate the CIO’s professional and personal risk?

And that CFO you sell business insurance to isn’t concerned exclusively with the corporate bottom line; it’s his own personal bottom line he’s worried about when the business is exposed. Remember the old adage, “No one ever got fired for buying IBM.” That speaks volumes to the human need for security and risk-mitigation for the business and for the buyer personally.

Moreover, for some audiences, tremendous personal and social value is in being the “first to know and use” technology, business practices, etc. Some buyers take pride in being that “in the know” go-to person.

Your story must speak to those very human needs of your ideal audience.

Emotional Value Connects to Personal Value

The story you tell about your product and service value must also address the personal value your products and services create for your prospects and customers. That is where most products get stuck—no B2B buyer makes rational decisions for the good of the organization in a hermetically sealed environment without regard for one’s personal needs.

Also, research shows that emotional content is the most shared of all content types. More specifically, content that makes people look good and feel good (makes them happy) gets shared the most. In fact, campaigns with purely emotional content performed almost twice as well (31% vs. 16%) as those with only rational content.

Winning the Battle for Sustainable Differentiation

Your story must pack a punch if it is to win the battle for sustainable differentiation. Beyond rational value, your story must speak to…

  • How you make customers’ personal lives better, easier, simpler (reduced complexity)
  • What customers can do because of your offerings that they couldn’t do before
  • How your product improves buyers’ emotional or professional well-being
  • How your product or service enhances buyers’ reputation/visibility
  • How your product/service reduces personal risk
  • How your product or service creates social/peer value (if relevant)

All B2B Buying Is Personal

Your job is to make your customer look good to his or her organization, and that means you need to talk to how you will reduce your customers’ personal risk and business risk. When a customer looks good, both the organization and your customer win. When things go wrong, your customer takes the personal credibility hit.

Marketing’s job is to speak to that personal concern in a meaningful way. After all, people—not organizations—buy products and services.

MarketingProfs All In One