23rd July 2021 •
Apparently, I’ve always been something of a storyteller, from a very young age when I’d entertain anyone who would listen with dramatic tales of my adventures. At age 7, I wrote my first ‘novel’, that was read out to the whole school at assembly over the course of a week.
The simple truth is that stories are far more memorable and relatable than bare facts. As humans, we care infinitely more about people, places and events than we do about specs and stats. So by grounding information in a time, setting and personal context, we enable our audience to connect emotionally and rationally.
There’s no shortage of great examples of storytelling in consumer marketing. It’s in the DNA of the world’s biggest brands. But when it comes to B2B, great storytelling is harder to find.
It’s often said that ‘Reason leads to conclusions. Emotion leads to action.’ As B2B marketers, too often we stay in our comfort zone. Instead of telling engaging stories, we simply turn bulleted lists into sentences. We focus on features, functions, specifications and benefits. It’s all very rational. But does it really connect? Does it really influence behaviours and drive action?
I’m excited to report, as both a storyteller and a B2B marketing professional, that we’re beginning to see a greater understanding of the importance of storytelling among the B2B community. And I’d like to share a few key elements of storytelling that could help you take the leap and craft a compelling B2B story for your brand.
Any good story consists of three essential structural elements: beginning, middle, and end. Each of these sections needs to be clearly marked and easily recognised. Although it might be appropriate for a thriller writer to break with convention and start with a glimpse of the ending, it’s not a good idea when you’re building a B2B brand story to engage your potential customers. You need clarity, not cleverness or confusion.
Within that simple structure, you need to weave in some key components to make it compelling:
Think of any good story you’ve ever read – it almost certainly contained all of these components. If any are missing, the story will fall flat and lose your attention well before the end.
Translating this advice into a B2B brand story context, you might begin with a day in the life of your customer – Frank the factory manager. He’s facing a crisis because the company’s outdated manual processes are causing multiple delays, orders are backing up, he’s getting complaints from the sales teams as they receive angry calls from frustrated customers. But then Frank has a brain wave. He remembers the free trial of your order processing software he’d signed up for then forgotten about when things got hectic. One swift call with the IT manager later, and it’s installed across the business. It’s like flicking a switch. Everything changes – for the better. The backlog clears within minutes, sales start running smoothly as orders are despatched in record time. Now the only calls coming in are from happy customers. Crisis over. And Frank’s life is suddenly a whole lot easier.
That’s a lot more engaging for your target audience than a list of the software’s features and benefits. It also follows the well-established storytelling principle – ‘show, don’t tell.’ The story demonstrates how your product transformed your customer’s crisis; with an emotional impact your audience can relate to.
The reason companies are increasingly interested in brand storytelling, is that stories engage people in a way other forms of communication don’t. We’re brought up on stories. Why? Because a good story captures the imagination, contains a situation we can relate to or aspire to, and has emotional resonance. When you read or listen to a story, it’s with a sense of anticipation that you’re going to feel something – joy, delight, excitement, sadness, anger, fear, frustration, and a range of other emotions.
If the story is told well, the customer who reads/hears/watches it will be emotionally involved at every stage, and more inclined to take action at the end of it. Emotional resonance directly impacts buying behaviour. There’s so much more power in a well-told brand story than a dry sales email. You don’t need the ‘hard sell’ if you ‘show, don’t tell’ with a well-structured story that evokes an emotional response.
It’s obvious. But if you read a sample of ‘About us’ pages from company websites, how many of them feature an emotionally-charged origin story, and how many are just a fact-filled chronological potted history that elicit no emotional response apart from a stifled yawn?
Any decent page-turner worthy of the name will contain a few cliffhangers. The tension builds as the chapter draws to a close, and then in the final paragraph or sentence, a dramatic event or sudden jeopardy is introduced. You have no choice but to turn the page and keep on reading to discover what happens.
It never fails in fiction, but how does that fit with your brand story? While it would take a fair amount of skill to achieve the same effect within a single piece of communication, what about over a series of ads, or emails, as part of a campaign?
If a cliffhanger isn’t practical for your purposes, how about introducing a plot twist? Any story that reveals a fact, person or event that’s totally unexpected, ends up living long in the memory. You may not have even seen the film ‘The Sixth Sense’, but you’ve probably heard the line ‘I see dead people’.
In telling your brand story, think about ways you could introduce the element of surprise – maybe in the way your product or service provides your customer with the solution to overcome their challenge when all appeared to be lost. Claiming victory from the jaws of defeat never gets old.
Stories began long before we had books, pens or any ability to read and write. Ancient civilisations shared tales of battles and heroic deeds around campfires, in palaces, marketplaces, and anywhere people could gather and listen. The Oral Tradition thrived because people heard exciting stories that were so memorable they were passed on from family to family, generation to generation.
Your B2B brand story will only really have an impact if it’s clear enough, strong enough, and short enough to be understood, remembered and shared by everyone in the company. It’s one thing to create a compelling brand story, and quite another thing to inspire your people to own and retell that story in their own words. If all your people live out that brand story in the way they do their jobs and how they interact with customers, then your story will have a long-lasting legacy for generations of customers.
So from one storyteller to another, I hope you find this advice helpful. Next time you’re creating content for your brand or campaign, keep these simple tips in mind and transform your content from mundane to memorable, from clinical to captivating, and from insipid to inspirational.