5 Tips to Bring the Art of Storytelling Back to B2B Marketing

Jun 23, 2016


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People are natural storytellers. For centuries, storytelling was the primary way that cultures around the world preserved their traditions and kept their customs alive. Over the last few years, B2B marketers have strayed from one of the most natural, easy ways to influence an audience--the art of storytelling. It is as though metric-packed case studies have replaced the purposeful narrative. Many marketers have been so focused on metrics, proof points, efficiency, and buzzwords that they've lost sight of the fact that customers are human beings who crave a good story. It is no surprise when they stop reading.

Good news.

The art of storytelling is making a big comeback and regaining relevance in B2B marketing. Major corporations and marketing professionals are realizing that metrics and value propositions alone will not resonate with their customers. Without a compelling story, a product or brand is dead on arrival. Customer engagement begins with emotion, and there is no better way to make that happen than by telling a meaningful story.

One sign of the shift to storytelling is the blurring of lines between B2B and B2C marketing.  Storytelling requires human-to-human-rather than human-to-product-connection. Most professionals who market directly to consumers understand that we live in an "attention economy." You have to give the customers something they can relate to on an emotional level, and you have to do it early to have a fighting chance of holding their interest.

The simplest story instantly triggers the curiosity in all of us. We can identify and relate through stories. They can change the way we think, act, and feel. Stories can illustrate ideas, engage audiences, and inspire action in ways that cold, hard facts often can't. A well-told story can create a connection between your audience and your message. 

B2B buyers are not so different from consumer buyers-both demand that your story is "better" than the previous brand's story, more so than ever before. This is why B2B marketers must change the way they engage their customers.

To be clear, purchasing decisions in B2B marketing are not purely emotional. Rational buying triggers are still important, and savvy marketers know that buying decisions are not made in an emotional vacuum. But storytelling can provide an essential human context, so that a customer who is leaning toward making a rational purchase decision also gets the sense that it "feels right."

Here are five ideas to help you bring your stories to life:

Tell your story the same way you would tell it to a friend or a colleague.

Too many B2B writers revert to formal corporate language. Instead, write as though you are having a conversation with an old college friend. Use buzzwords and jargon sparingly; make the story fun to read. It's not a matter of "dumbing down," but rather a matter of being approachable and establishing a connection.

Don't just tell your customer's story. Tell their customer's story.

In B2B marketing, there's an unfortunate tendency to focus on your customer. Remember that your customers have customers of their own. How does the use of your products and services impact your customers' customers? If your customer is saving money by using your solution, why not highlight how that is also benefiting their customers?

Create suspense.

"Once upon a time, everything was perfect, then it got even more perfect." Is that what engages readers? Not likely. Tension is part of everyday life, and readers expect it in a good story. You don't have to advertise your company's shortcomings in order to create tension. Instead, talk about real business challenges where the outcome is uncertain, and then bring us along as you overcome those challenges.

Encourage readers to see themselves in your story.

Even the traditional case study can engage readers if it's a personal account of what "someone like me" experienced. If buyers can see themselves as the protagonist, they're more likely to take action. One way to make that happen is to incorporate universal themes to connect with your reader-overcoming adversity, or the perseverance and ultimate triumph of the underdog. Give readers a reason to see how your story ends, and give them a reason to cheer when it's over.

Get out of your comfort zone. Try something new. 

Yes, it's easy to structure the customer stories the same way again and again, but that isn't likely to ignite curiosity or evoke a strong emotional response. Even if it's the same story, it's possible to tell it in a new way. Keep those "messaging" documents in the drawer and focus on writing the story you want to tell. Why are you passionate about your organization? Why should others care? How is your product transforming the industry?

There's a reason storytelling is one of the most ancient forms of communication. People not only connect to good stories--they remember and retell them. If you make your customers the heroes of the stories you tell them, your products will sell themselves.