Ah yes, ‘emotion’ – it’s a loaded word in the business world.
Peruse a few business publications, and you just may conclude that some business leaders are emotionless robots that don’t laugh or sneeze or bleed like normal human beings.
Readers are often confronted with messy word salads, rather than plainspoken wisdom. These word salads are often peppered with tired corporate jargon: Move the needle; retarget the touchpoints; and the grandaddy of them all, leverage the synergies.
Alas, it seems that ‘emotion’ – apart from enthusiasm for trendy business concepts – is generally unwelcome in the B2B business media.
And yet, interestingly, so much of corporate marketing – especially B2C marketing – is about understanding the emotional drivers behind consumer behaviour. I’ll even go out on a limb and say that grasping the essence of human emotions – from vanity to status anxiety to fear of death – is foundational to B2C marketing.
To be sure, there is evidence that the B2B world also understands the importance of human emotion, which perhaps explains why Warren Buffet – who deliberately communicates in a folksy manner -- is known as the ‘Oracle of Omaha’. In other words, the business community seems to agree that there is real wisdom in Mr Buffet’s emphasis on simplicity and genuine human emotion – and, importantly, his willingness as a billionaire to speak like a normal human being while resisting the urge to make things seem more profound than they really are.
Once, when asked about Berkshire Hathaway’s investment in Wrigley’s, he simply said: “I don't think the Internet is going to change the way people chew gum." That about sums it up, doesn’t it? Short and sweet - and no need for jargon. He's also known for writing the Berkshire Hathaway annual letter to shareholders as if he's writing to his sisters.
If many of us see the wisdom in speaking in plain, meaningful language, why are so many B2B thought leadership publications written in a language that neither inspires nor connects on a genuine emotional level?
One theory is that emotionless jargon is an easy way for those of us in the business world to give simple motivations (i.e., profit-seeking) a near scientific sheen of sophistication. Perhaps our egos prefer to believe we “leveraged synergies” during the workday. “I worked with colleagues to achieve our desired outcome” just doesn’t have the same zing to it.
Second is the idea that using robotic language is low risk. When we speak in this dry manner, we insure ourselves against the risk of giving offense. Have you ever worked with a colleague in a large organisation who plays politics and uses the latest jargon but says nothing of substance – and still, voilà – gets promoted? You have? Yeah, me too.
OK, enough with the analysis. What can be done? How should you handle ‘emotion’ when it comes to your thought leadership efforts? Here are a few foundational principles you can use to get started.
At the end of the day, B2B thought leadership isn’t high art. No one expects you to make a grand, visceral statement about the human condition on par with Michelangelo or Van Gogh. But thought leadership that is lacking in all emotion is dull and likely dead-on arrival – it’s minor in every way.
There is no harm in communicating like a mortal human.
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