The art of story-telling in B2B marketing

  • AnolAnol

Every culture in the world began with a group of people seated around a fire telling stories of the incidents, serendipities and heroic acts which transformed and remade their world. From a social gathering in rural India to flickering pixels on your TV set, storytelling has remained a fundamental pillar of every culture. As human beings, we communicate primarily through the telling of stories, not through data or fact-sheets.

storytellingYet, when it comes to B2B marketing content, we tend to forget this basic principle and bombard the prospects with data, statistics and ‘soul-less’ information. We ignore this basic principle to oft-times dire results to our marketing campaigns as our targeted audience gets product specs and thick operating manuals put before them as a means to vouch for how revolutionary our product or solution is. the truth of the matter is that in a world of information overload, and the instant wisdom of Google, whoever tells the best story wins.

Quoting Ardath Albee

Mostly I think the reason is the control people are exercising over selecting what information they spend their time with. There are more choices than ever before, people are busier with limited time, so why would they choose to spend that time on things that don’t meet their needs? The more personalized and relevant information is to the person presented with it, the more engagement is possible. Storytelling is in our genes.

Why storytelling? The simplest answer is that stories talk to the gut, while information talks to the mind. You can’t talk a person through a change in a basic mental model but give them a story they can relate to and you can overcome many of the initial barriers and objections to the change. As explained in their latest book “Switch“, Chip and Dan Heath claim that our minds are ruled by two different systems—the rational mind (the ‘rider‘) and the emotional mind (the ‘elephant‘) —that compete for control. The ‘rider’ seeks information, data and stats, whereas the ‘elephant’ searches for an emotional context. Stories influence and motivate the elephant.

Switch

Now what makes a good story for B2B marketing? In their previous book, “Made to Stick“, Dan and Chip Heath suggested 6 principles that make an idea ‘sticky’. One of those is ‘Stories’, and the other 5 are – Simplicity, Unexpectedness, Concreteness, Credibility and Emotions. Any great B2B content should try to include all the 6 elements to become remarkable and to go viral. Some common elements of a good B2B story are –

1. Transmittable – byte size content focusing on a single context, is easy to communicate by word of mouth or social media.Don’t try to tell all of your stories in one go.

2. Tangible – i.e. with clear results. Imagine the impact of Before/After adverts.

3. Remarkable – contents with an element of surprise, without motherhood statements and industry jargons, which talk to the clients/prospects in their language.

Once you know what makes a good story you need to focus on how to tell it. There are several different ways to tell your B2B product/solution stories. A couple of the more common forms are –

1. Customer success stories or case studies – One example of such an instance is the series of video case-studies we did for our client, Cisco Systems Inc, when they were looking to gain a foothold in the Small & Medium Business (SMB) market in Asia. Nobody tells your story or sells your product better than a satisfied customer. We featured SMBs in Asia-Pacific who had adopted Cisco technology to the considerable benefit of their business in a series of video case-studies which Cisco prominently featured on their site. (Read Case Study: SMB Video Case Studies, Cisco Systems)

Cisco Video Case Study

2. Product storiesHP ProCurve Networking holds a significant position in the enterprise networking segment. Yet, one of its strongest selling points – the lifetime warranty – remained obscure and a challenge to communicate effectively. We were approached to help create marketing content that told why ProCurve’s products were the best fit for an enterprise’s networking needs. We filmed the manufacturing and testing processes ProCurve equipment underwent to tell a story of the journey ProCurve equipment typically underwent at the factory and testing facilities, mixed with interviews from senior management, motion graphics, and visual cues. The video was made available on different formats for multiple platforms to aid maximal reach. (Read Case Study: ProCurve – Selling what’s best about you)

There are many other forms and formats of stories you can imagine and convey in your B2B marketing context. The next time you are planning your marketing content, please remember – your prospects can’t absorb data because they don’t think in data. They think in stories. If you give them a story, then they can absorb the meaning of large amounts of data very rapidly.

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5 COMMENTS

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July 9, 2010

Anol Bhattacharya

Thanks Fleur. I've already downloaded that eBook! Great stuff. You guys definitely 'get it'. BTW - if you can - please check out my latest post on relevance of design in B2B content marketing : http://bit.ly/9x0jgI

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July 8, 2010

Fleur

Hi Anol, really interesting post! I like the use of storytelling to convey messages to customers, providing information in this way makes it a lot clearer. We also use that kind of concept, we believe that you must ask yourselves 3 questions before you can become a credible storyteller: Who you are, why someone should care and why someone should believe you. We even made an e-book, if you'd like to take a look; here is the link http://bit.ly/dqUFge.

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June 30, 2010

Anol Bhattacharya

Thanks Patrick. The Business Narrative Conference looks interesting. I'll send you a separate mail on that.

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June 30, 2010

Patrick Lambe

Hi Anol - great post! Did you know that there will be a business narrative conference in Singapore in September? We've got a wide range of applications for storytelling and narrative work lined up - you should be there to ensure the marketing perspective is represented! <a href="http://www.originsasiapacific.com" target="_blank">www.originsasiapacific.com

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June 1, 2010

Priyanka D

story telling makes the matter interesting for the user and that always works when building relationships, the way we do on social media!