Why storytelling defines the future of B2B marketing
It’s time for B2B organisations to finally move beyond just publishing content.
For years, B2C companies have readily embraced the art of storytelling.
And it paid off.
Major consumer brands, like Nike and Apple, owe a sizeable part of their success to their marketing campaigns, which conveyed powerful messages through the use of relatable stories.
So why can’t the same be said about most B2B organisations?
Even though 50% of B2B buyers are more likely to purchase if they feel an emotional connection with a brand, the vast majority of marketers are still suffering from a ‘creativity confidence crisis’.
According to new research from LinkedIn, B2B marketing leaders in the UK have the lowest confidence in their companies’ abilities to produce creative campaigns (although this is slowly changing).
If you’re looking to learn about the benefits of B2B storytelling and pick up some techniques you can incorporate into your marketing strategy, read on…
Why is storytelling important for B2B companies?
Storytelling brings many benefits to your B2B organisation.
The most important one is that it makes your organisation more memorable. Even though facts can be very persuasive when you’re promoting your product (especially in a business-to-business context), stories are ultimately what people resonate with.
In fact, in a study conducted by Stanford professor Chip Heath, 63% of participants tested could remember stories—but only 5% could remember a single statistic.
That illustrates why brand storytelling is so effective. It humanises your organisation, even when you’re competing in a sea of competitors. By telling a convincing story about how your team solves problems, you can engage your audience and foster brand loyalty more easily.
Storytelling can also boost your content marketing results. According to Search Engine Watch, it can improve your conversion rates by up to 30%. This is because stories are a very effective vehicle for organisations to demonstrate their understanding of customer pain points.
For this reason, companies (especially those in highly technical industries) should try to weave storytelling into their promotional assets. If done right, it can even serve as a basis for effective customer acquisition and retention.
What are some key storytelling techniques?
Stories give people a framework to make sense of the world around them (and yes, this even applies to B2B decision-makers).
For a story to be effective, it needs a structure. One that’s compelling and easy to follow.
This means there needs to be a clear beginning, middle, and end.
Most marketers follow a three-act structure. The first act is the setup, which is where you set the scene and provide some basic context (who, what, where, when, why?).
Then comes the second act, where the character experiences a series of conflicts. If the character is your customer, they might be day-to-day challenges that prevent the character from performing their job more effectively or efficiently.
In the final act, all conflicts are resolved. This is the time to position your brand, product or service as the solution to their overall problem.
You can, of course, deviate from this structure. For example, you might want to add a short ‘abstract’ at the very beginning to give readers an idea of what the story is about. You can also provide a closing note to the narrative for emphasis. This is called a coda.
Case in point
The ‘About’ page on your website is the perfect place to make use of narrative structures. Instead of dull descriptions accompanied by a company timeline, create a compelling story that shares insight into your company’s origins, its achievements/obstacles, and where your organisation is at now.
Show, don’t tell
This age-old literary technique isn’t just appropriate for fictional books; it’s essential for your marketing content.
If you’re talking about an existing customer, be sure to actually include their quotes. B2B buyers can be naturally sceptical—so the more specific you are, the better.
Also, instead of simply stating that your product or service helps your target customers, you can bring your B2B communications strategy to life by supporting your claims with clear examples, success stories, and proof points.
But this doesn’t mean you should overwhelm your readers with too many facts and statistics, either!
You should always use facts and statistics to help you tell a story—not the other way around.
Even science agrees. Cognitive psychologist Jerome Brunner suggests that we’re 22 times more likely to remember a fact when it’s wrapped inside a story.
Case in point
Your landing pages are very important pages on your website because they allow you to target your audience and increase conversions by offering something of value (like a free product demo).
You can put this ‘show, don’t tell’ technique to practice by highlighting what sort of results a customer can expect from using your product. For example, you can include a savings calculator and demonstrate the results in the form of a story.
Make your customers the ‘hero’
Most stories have a hero. Someone who triumphs over adversity and is rewarded for their accomplishments.
Some companies, understandably, try to make themselves the hero in every story they tell. After all, as a marketer, that’s probably how you want people to remember your brand or product.
This is a mistake!
Remember that your B2B buyers are businesses, too. They have their own brands, products, and solutions. So they definitely won’t want to hear about a story that revolves around you.
Structure your stories in a way that makes your target persona the centre of the narrative—and position your brand as the mentor that will help them overcome their problems (and their customers’ problems).
This will let them form a much stronger emotional connection with your story.
Case in point
Case studies are another place where your storytelling can come to life. But the way you frame your story is key.
If your case study subject is the founder of a tech company (and you’re a cloud services provider, for example), you don’t want to say ‘our product improved productivity by 20%’. The better way would be to say: ‘X company managed to do XYZ using our product’.
Establish yourself as the underdog
As mentioned earlier, most of your storytelling should be centred around who matters most: your target personas. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make your company stand out.
One effective storytelling technique to consider is to establish your brand as the underdog.
The benefits of this technique aren’t to be underestimated. Framing yourself as the less-established player in your market can affect your buyers’ decision-making in subtle but powerful ways.
In fact, in a study conducted by Harvard Business Review, 71% of participants preferred brands with an underdog brand story over brands that don’t.
Still, it’s worth noting that underdog positioning isn’t suitable for all brands. Market leaders and established firms should steer clear of it; otherwise, people may have a hard time believing your claims.
However, if you’re a new startup with a challenger brand and an ambition to disrupt the market, leveraging an underdog narrative can be a very powerful storytelling tool.
Case in point
Many B2B organisations publish positioning eGuides. They inform their reader about specific business challenges (and how to solve them). But most importantly, they’re designed to help you raise awareness of your brand’s position in the market. This is where you can weave in elements of your underdog story.
Declare a mission
By ‘mission’, I’m not necessarily talking about a corporate social responsibility mission—I mean a core purpose that your organisation actively lives by every day.
For example, if you’re a B2B data analytics company, your mission might be to eliminate data silos around the world and bring businesses closer to their data.
In the eyes of your customer, being on a mission elevates you above others. According to business author Simon Sinek, the most successful businesses are able to communicate their ‘why’—their very core belief and raison-d’être.
In his Golden Circle model, Sinek proposes that your brand messages should lead with ‘why’, not ‘how’ or ‘what’.
He theorises that communicating the passion behind the ‘why’ is a way to engage with the audience’s limbic brain. This is the part of our anatomy that processes feelings such as trust and loyalty, as well as decision-making.
In contrast, talking about the ‘what’ only engages their neocortex—the rational part of our brains.
Case in point
Storytelling doesn’t only apply to external branding; you can also incorporate it into your internal branding strategy.
You can use this storytelling technique to inform your mission statement, which should inspire them and provide a sense of purpose.
By declaring an overall purpose and articulating a differentiated value proposition, your employees (not just your customers) can emotionally connect with your brand.
What are some examples of B2B storytelling?
Microsoft is one of the biggest advocates in the world when it comes to using storytelling as a brand-building tactic.
In fact, they’ve launched an online platform called Microsoft Story Labs, which is dedicated to showcasing employees from all departments (from researchers to developers to artists), highlighting their success stories at the company.
By providing in-depth profiles of the people behind this massive corporation, Microsoft humanises its brand and positions the company as a place where unique and gifted individuals work.
An excellent example of making your target audience the hero is Google Ads’ Adwords Stories campaign. This video series highlighted owners from local small-to-medium businesses, who all shared stories about how they got to where they are today.
This video, in particular, illustrates how New York deli Zingerman’s managed to transform into a national business using Google Ads. Notice how Google only plays a tangential role in this.
Most of Cisco’s branding messages revolve around the future. One major exception was the company’s multi-channel ‘Never Better’ campaign, which emphasised the point that there has never been a better time for organisations to digitise, no matter the industry.
A highlight of this campaign is the skilful storytelling in Cisco’s advert (starring Ewan McGregor).
In the advert, McGregor congratulates humankind and tells a story about the history of human accomplishments as he visits various organisations around the world—allowing the viewer to insert themselves into the story.
Stories are the oldest form of mass communication—we’re hardwired to resonate with them.
B2C companies have long been able to use them to connect with customers. And although B2B marketers face a different set of challenges (i.e. the need to influence business decision-makers by appealing to their logic), there’s still a largely unseized opportunity to engage with buyers’ emotions. For this reason, simply publishing good content isn’t enough. Now more than ever before, it’s time for B2B organisations to leverage the power of storytelling.
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