Emotion: The one thing we can’t automate

20th November 2020

Today, we have access to a wealth of data about our customers’ buying behaviour. We’re increasingly reliant on sophisticated AI systems to analyse this data and optimise our marketing on our behalf.

The results are often impressive, but I would contend they can only go so far. Why? Because a machine can only make decisions based on a rational analysis of HOW customers are behaving, but it can’t fully understand WHY.

To understand why we buy, we have to look at our sub-conscious motivations.

The science behind emotional buying decisions

Neuroscientists have proved that our buying decisions aren’t driven rationally, they’re based on emotion. Surprisingly, this is even more the case in B2B. Research by CEB’s Marketing Leadership Council and Google revealed that:

“B2B purchasers are almost 50% more likely to buy a product or service when they see personal value — such as opportunity for career advancement or confidence and pride in their choice — in their business purchase decision. They are 8x more likely to pay a premium for comparable products and services when personal value is present.”

In fact, rational factors such as features, benefits and business value are used to confirm and re-enforce our initial emotional purchase impulses.

“Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM”

As an example, this classic advertising line from IBM tells us a lot about the corporate culture back when it was created. The opposite would probably be true today, as risk-taking and innovation is powering competitive advantage over safe decision-making.

IBM were dedicated to providing a quality, reliable service to their customers. However, the IBM marketing team understood the true psychology of the executives making decisions in their large corporate clients. They knew their customers had climbed to their position through self-preservation; job security at all cost. Sure, the advertising line implied quality and reliability, but the emotionally-charged phrase proved far more powerful and memorable.

In tough jobs, emotions run deep

Here’s another example, this time taken from our work for Panasonic TOUGHBOOK. The performance of these rugged computers make them a natural choice for the emergency services and armed forces, and engineers working in tough environments. But tapping into what motivates people to do their job in the first place proved far more effective than shouting about the features and benefits of the machines themselves.


‘The Specialist in You’ campaign understood the pride that engineers working in different sectors had in their expertise. We portrayed them as heroes, unique in their deep understanding and needs for the sector they worked in. The campaign achieved an ROI of 51:1 – proof of the power of pride as an emotional driver.

Yes, but I make widgets…

You might think that this works for business products but has no relevance for commodity components. But consider that the engineers using your widgets have their own personal and corporate motivations.

For example, every manufacturer is looking for competitive advantage. No matter how good the battery technology you sell to them is, you’re more likely to appeal to their sense of ambition with a line like ‘power to the innovators’.

The heart of the matter

So, why don’t I think that we can automate the emotion in marketing? Well, to make it work you need a deep connection with the human condition both strategically and creatively. The process relies on a combination of insight and empathy.

Your strategy team must delve deeper into the motivations of your customers – past the USPs of your product, and the behavioural data from your research. They need to talk to your customers, looking for the corporate and personal psychology that drives and motivates their decision-making.

For the complete picture, they’ll also need to research sector trends, the strategic objective of your customers, as well as the LinkedIn profiles and job adverts of your target customers’ decision makers, and those with buying power. By creating pen-portrait personas, they can bring these characteristics to life, and deliver key insights and truths which will inform your creative team.

Crucially, the next step involves a creative leap.

The greatest human attribute your creative team has is empathy. Empathy with the deep-seated desires and fears your strategy team has revealed about your customers. Without it, they can’t translate the psychological insight into something which connects and resonates powerfully at a human level.

At its best, the process produces market-beating commercial results by injecting warmth, heart, humanity and emotion into the creative output of your marketing.

These are things a machine can’t fully understand.


At P+S, our in-house team of strategists, creative directors and business analysts has been helping world-leading brands to strike a chord with their customers. Our 40-year reputation has seen us deliver campaigns which have inspired, delighted and engaged businesses and consumers alike – all while boosting our clients’ bottom lines.

Looking to create movement in your market? Or ready to stir up emotion from your customers? Talk to us at [email protected].


About Proctor + Stevenson

Game-changing strategy, creative and technology that means more impact for your marketing. And more power to your business.

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