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The claim that facts and rationalisations alone decide business purchases is a myth. In every purchase (even in B2B), people make the decisions, not companies. And good storytelling is what drives people to make decisions.
Stories have a universal power to effect change and influence behaviour. Whether you are a salesperson, an IT pro or even a C-suite executive, great stories never fail to captivate.
Think back to the last good story you enjoyed. What made you finish it in the first place? Something must have grabbed your attention upfront.
That’s a start, but an attention-grabbing opener alone won’t do. You must have cared about someone, rooted for someone – empathised with someone in the story.
Despite the limitless ways to tell stories, they all share a common trait – they stir emotions deep inside us. And human emotions are a direct consequence of neurochemistry. Neuroeconomist Paul Zak’s research shows that dramatic arcs in a story coincide with spikes in our body chemicals – cortisol in times of distress, and oxytocin when we feel empathy.
What’s more, those who were found to release more amounts of both chemicals were more likely to part with their money.
This is great news for B2B marketers. To influence buying decisions, tell a good story that affects your audience’s emotions. Here are some approaches to get you started.
Humans are naturally inclined to care about people over inanimate objects. So one way to invoke empathy in your audience is to have characters they can relate to – or even better – identify with.
This is where a well-developed target persona is critical. Create a ‘hero’ for your story: a character with the same traits and pains as that of the persona. This approach is ideal for explainer videos where your product or service can be showcased as a catalyst for the hero’s journey.
You can also use personification in a quirky way. Remember the video series What If Google Was A Guy?
Not every piece of content is educational. Convey ideas indirectly and infuse some fun into them. Are you selling a service instead of a physical product? What if that service had a mind of its own? What if it behaved like a person?
Content that goes viral is usually of the short and unconventional – i.e. shareable – type. If brand awareness is your top priority, try taking your content for a spin with analogies and metaphors.
The ‘fear, uncertainty, doubt’ approach always finds a niche. Present a worst-case scenario and everyone takes notice. Pinpoint your audience’s problems and pain points upfront to catch their attention. Then show how your products can help them overcome those problems.
This approach has a narrative arc that lends itself well to case studies, testimonials and ‘how-to’ guides.
For giving your story that extra ‘punch’, start with hard data and figures. This adds authority to your case, and targets the rational half of business decision makers’ minds.
For example, which of these openings will grab your attention? Security breaches are a major concern for enterprises these days? Or: Did you know that 60% of enterprises will discover security breaches in 2015, as per Forrester Research predictions?
Both aim to tell the same story, but the second statement creates more urgency. Humans are emotional creatures first, yes, but convincing them depends as much on logical appeal.
Sometimes, a journey contains enough of a dramatic arc that the story tells itself. Why do biopics, epics and millennia-spanning stories sometimes become popular?
Films like 2001: A Space Odyssey or Lawrence of Arabia – or even documentaries – still appeal to our emotions. The narrative arcs of these works are stories in and of themselves.
Company histories are ripe for this approach. Tell your brand’s story – how it evolved from its roots, overcame obstacles, and helped customers.
If technology is central to your business, then you are blessed with even more options for these ‘journey’ stories. Educate your audience with stories about the evolution of various technologies and services.
Finally, stories may appeal to your audience’s intrinsic emotions, but it’s extrinsic motivators like real-time control, points and rewards that keep them engaged. This is especially relevant to Millennials, many of whom grew up with video games and classroom reward programs.
This is the idea behind gamification – using game thinking to engage audiences and solve their problems. Showing real-time survey results, making your videos interactive, or creating game-like scenarios that educate your audience are just a few examples.
There is one more approach – that of no approach at all. As George Bernard Shaw famously said about storytelling – “The golden rule is that there are no rules”.
When it comes to creative content, there are only guidelines. Follow them for a start, but don’t be afraid to break away from the norm if necessary. Experiment with new technology for new ways of telling stories.
As more brands turn to content marketing, we discover new and better ways of storytelling. How do you plan to tell your stories?
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