How Ad Tech Can Tap Into Consumer Emotions to Drive Digital Sales

They need to start thinking like brand marketers

For over 100 years, marketing and branding have been the backbone of every industry. And yet ad tech has failed to learn even the most basic lessons that have built great companies around the world. According to one industry expert, “most [ad tech] founders have a narrow understanding of what marketing is and its crucial role in building a business for the long-term.”

The problem is that companies founded by technical experts often focus on technology: proprietary features, new innovations, bells and whistles. This information may be interesting to the people that built the technology, but does it resonate with prospective customers?

A recent Forrester research study found that 60 percent of technology companies provide too much information to buyers. With so many buzzwords and jargon-filled websites, ad tech companies wind up sounding and looking the same. To grow our industry, it’s time to get out of our own way and adopt a timeless winning strategy that sets America’s biggest brands apart.

Emotional marketing

You don’t need to invent a slogan; you simply need to tell your prospective customers a true story about why you’re calling on them.

A recent Harvard Business Review study proves that strategically targeting the emotions that drive behavior can scale business results by double digits. People purchase products and services that represent who they are, not what those products and services do. L’Oréal says you deserve luxury “because you’re worth it.” BMW is “the ultimate driving machine.” These brands all sell emotion, not steering wheels or color pigmentation algorithms, and the associated loyalty translates into billions of dollars in sales. They are successful because they have clearly and concisely articulated a single emotional truth that resonates with their customers.

Digital B2B businesses, like those in ad tech, can use the same basic principles to connect with their customers. We ignore these lessons at our peril. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, focusing on physical features only appeals to people’s lower-level needs. Conversely, highest-level human needs center around creativity, respect from others and a sense of belonging, all of which are connected to emotion. Maybe that’s why America’s biggest brands sell a certain lifestyle (Equinox/Nike), family belonging (Tide/Carnival) and sophistication (Montblanc/Lincoln).

According to behavioral economist George Lowenstein, “90 percent of all purchasing decisions of all purchasing decisions [are made] subconsciously. Or put it this way, brands and products that evoke our emotions, like Apple, Coca-Cola or Cadbury’s, nearly always win.” Maybe that’s why 81 percent of customers are satisfied with the service/products they get from consumer brands where emotional marketing is used. Conversely, 71 percent of B2B customers are at risk of taking their business elsewhere, and only 46 percent of customers strongly believe that B2B businesses deliver on their promises.

How to do it

The first step toward more effective marketing is to separate what your company does from why it does it. Identify the passion and the values that moved the founders to leave their jobs and risk their futures. What are they solving? Why do they care? Those answers can be far more compelling than the pending patents and technical efficiencies that comprise the end product.

Once you’ve identified the company’s core values, the next step is to clearly articulate them. Each company must stand for one thing, not a combination of several. You don’t need to invent a slogan; you simply need to tell your prospective customers a true story about why you’re calling on them. Doing this confidently and consistently changes everything.

Once your positioning is clear, it’s up to the entire organization—from marketing collateral, social content, thought leadership and the sales—to shout it from the mountaintops. It is incumbent on executives to champion the company’s brand message across all touchpoints, and it’s critical that brand messaging does not become an afterthought. It’s all too easy to focus on short-term gains (aka sales) and forgo all the brand building you’ve been doing. Don’t forget to also ensure that all employees embrace and share your core values—they are your best source of marketing.

Finally, never forget the competition. Preferences and tastes change just like technologies change, but your core point of differentiation should not. It’s tempting to follow successful competitors but focusing on white space will yield better results. And white space is not just about developing products and services that don’t exist; it’s about emotional differentiation that is unique to the market.

Why does this matter? Companies with strong brand equity can demand higher prices. In fact, a recent McKinsey study found that a 5 percent increase in price can translate into a 50 percent improvement in profit. Profits are highly correlated with price protection, and few business strategies deliver more to the bottom line than one rooted in strong brand differentiation, built with—you guessed it—emotional marketing.

The good news is that ad tech is taking notice and making a concerted effort to attract top brand marketers to the industry. Mediaocean attracted McDonald’s CMO Deborah Wahl to its board of directors. Former Tory Burch executive Susan Vobejda joined The Trade Desk as its new CMO, and former U.K. Microsoft marketing executive Diane Perlman joined ad-tech firm Blis. Expect these companies and others to develop powerful emotional messages that will serve them and their customers for years to come.