ORLANDO: W.W. Grainger, the industrial supplies group, has successfully shown how business-to-business marketing can use deep insights and emotion to engage customers.

Victoria Morrissey, the company's director/brand strategy and advertising, discussed this topic at the Association of National Advertisers' (ANA) 2014 Masters of Marketing conference.

"We're an industrial supplier," she told delegates. "Do you know what that means? It means we don't make anything. And everything we sell you can buy somewhere else, and probably for less money." (For more, including more details of the firm's strategic focus, read Warc's exclusive report: Grainger taps the power of emotion.)

More specifically, the firm sells over a million products, be it pool tables, office chairs or batteries, and its customer base spans organisations from oil rigs and hospitals to government buildings and coffee shops.

"It's a commoditised market and … suppliers are seen as incredibly interchangeable; there's not a lot of differentiation," Morrissey said.

Achieving some kind of deeper resonance in a price-sensitive world promised to be challenging and rewarding in equal measure.

Grainger's clientele were often time-poor and resistant to marketing, too, meaning they would be hard to reach and engage.

The company's research revealed that its target audience shared some core characteristics: they were problem-solvers, experts and saw themselves as "coaches" and "mentors" for junior employees.

Given their process-driven mindset, pure "squishy-emotional" messaging would not be sufficient to make an impression, Morrissey suggested.

Rather, Grainger created a series of online videos where an experienced hand taught a younger staff member the ropes, while also highlighting the obstacles its customers faced on a daily basis.

"What is more emotional than making people know that they're keeping America running and keeping people safe?" said Morrissey.

As a result, the firm witnessed an improvement in numerous key brand metrics, including those defining it as a trusted partner, not just another name on a long list of suppliers.

Data sourced from Warc