Allegories, fables, fairytales, myths, and parables. What do they all have in common? They’re stories, but they also influence us. Some teach moral lessons, others explain the world around us. Stories entertain, but they also inform. As humans, we make our points through stories. Storytelling is so ingrained in us that it’s older than recorded history. How do we know that? Because the first written records include oral traditions committed to writing. Human memory is tied to storytelling. Consider how mnemonics, mind palaces, and songs are used to easily remember information.
It’s the same today.
Storytelling Marketing and Changes in Communication
Your prospects, B2B and B2C, are increasingly inured to traditional, self-promotional marketing. Especially the younger generations who have spent their life subject to the increasingly freemium ecosystem of information and entertainment. Everything has ads. Television, YouTube, software, apps, video games, even computer operating systems. Worse yet, these younger buyers and influencers don’t want to talk on the phone and sending cold emails could put you in danger of violating the CAN-SPAM Act.
For years marketing has been undergoing a shift in communication. Gone are the days of talking at someone, now you have to talk WITH someone if you want them to listen. The new era of marketing is about being helpful, building a relationship, and creating a sense of empathy and commonality. Have you seen an automobile commercial in the past decade? They’re abstract vignettes about personal values like family, safety, prestige, or freedom. Those personal values just happen to be enabled by a particular make and model of automobile.
Well, when they’re not waxing about made up awards they purchased like “Best in Initial Quality.” You can read more about that specific piece of marketing ephemera in this interesting article by Vox.
B2B Doesn’t Have to be a Boring Story
But, what if I work for an industrial B2B brand?
OK, but you do sell products or services that people buy, correct? So those products and services must have at least some perceived value to the people who buy them. Where there’s value, there’s an opportunity for storytelling. There are no boring subjects, just boring writers. That being said, sex appeal and adrenaline don’t work for everything. It would be the equivalent of trying to make every story into an action movie.
Boring subjects? Disney created a blockbuster movie franchise from a dioramic boat ride.
The Effect of Storytelling Marketing
It sounds interesting, but what is the effect of storytelling on marketing? Isn’t that just a marketing buzzword people throw around? Bad marketers with eyes on your pocketbook, sure. Professional marketing partners want you to succeed and keep you happy, not dine and dash. To put a fine point on the power of storytelling marketing let’s look at Rob Walker’s ebay experiment.
Journalist Rob Walker developed an experiment to test the power of emotional storytelling marketing on material value. He purchased $128 of goods (read: junk) from a local thrift store. He then tapped writers to spin an emotional story for each item. Then, he listed the items on eBay with the story to see if they would sell. And they did, for over $3,600.
Storytelling marketing improved the value of the items by 2800%.
That’s because storytelling creates a connection between you and your audience. It wasn’t junk people bought online, it was history and people and a story. Turning a piece of junk into a conversation piece. Good storytelling marketing engages your audience on an emotional level. That emotional connection is tied to the way we make decisions as humans. It’s the gut feeling we use to make judgements. We make decisions based on emotional feelings and rationalize the decision with logical information and impress preference bias on the choices we make.
So, creating a way to relate prospects to your brand is key. This is even more important in the B2B space and its heightened emphasis on relationships. “On average, B2B customers are significantly more emotionally connected to their vendors and service providers than consumers.” The quote is from a “Thinking with Google,” piece on the emotional connection of B2B customers.
Why Storytelling Marketing is Important to B2B Industrial Companies
Connection is incredibly important in the B2B space because of the high stakes involved. A B2B purchaser isn’t making a low-stakes, $50 online purchase. They are making a purchase decision often encompassing tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars. The B2B purchaser needs to feel a connection and a sense of trust with the vendor. They need that “gut feeling” they’re making the right choice. And the more similar your B2B offerings are to the competition the more important the relationship, trust, and gut feeling becomes. In fact, the majority of B2B purchasers will pay MORE for the same product/service to do business with a brand they feel connected and trust to do right by them.
Storytelling Adds Authenticity
Use storytelling marketing to show your authenticity, to be unique, and distinguish yourself from the competition. That also means not pretending like your brand is perfect. You can immediately make yourself more human and relatable by shining a light on your brand’s struggles and failures. This allows your audience to peek behind the branding curtain and opens opportunities to use social proof like client and employee testimonials to better effect.
In addition to making your brand seem like a collection of real, relatable humans and not a faceless institution, storytelling marketing can help demystify complex B2B industries. Most people don’t know anything about software analytics. If you present those prospects with a wall of analytic numbers, trends, and graphs it may as well be written in a different language. When you make the effort to show your understand that you ease the prospect into trusting you. You work to make a client believe you have a vested interest in their success. Work to put your prospect at ease you’re not trying to dazzle them with information and trade jargon for a quick payday. Reinforce that you want a long-term happy client relationship.
Getting Started with Storytelling Marketing
You can begin your storytelling by following Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle. Most communication is done from the outside and moves inward. We start with the most factual information and move into the less factual and concrete information.
What do you do?
“How do you do it?”
“Why do you do it?”Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle
But for storytelling marketing you should build inside out from your ideal prospect’s point of view. For example, maybe you run an online store and your overseas audience often drops off and doesn’t complete transactions because of slow website speed.
- Why: You need to a better website experience for your international customers to stop losing business.
- How: You need to increase the loading speed of your website.
- What: You need a CDN (Content Download Network) partner for your website.
Starting with the Why gives your story the problem and context right away. Don’t tell me I need a CDN then tell me how it helps and bury the lede of why I should care at the end. First, address my problem and why it’s a problem, then how to fix it, and THEN show me your solution to the problem.
It helps to build your story with a template. This six step template makes it easy to come up with storytelling for your B2B company.
Six Step Template
- Create a Protagonist. It could be a real client like in a testimonial, or a cartoon gecko.
- The Problem. Have a problem to solve and really focus on the pain points for the affected.
- Raise the Stakes. Inflame the problem and show it getting worse.
- The Turning Point. What changes to make the future potentially brighter (Hint: It’s your product/service).
- The Montage. Show the protagonist struggling, but making progress.
- Sunshine & Rainbows. Show the positive end result and how your brand’s offering was key to it all.
Like any good template, format, or rules they’re made to be broken to great effect once you know what you’re doing. Such as this masterpiece of storytelling for a Thai bug spray where the main character is the bug.
B2B Storytelling Marketing Tips
Show Don’t Tell
The most fundamental rule of storytelling next to focusing on the most interesting part of the story. Automobile advertising doesn’t focus on the paperwork your have to fill out when buying a car.
Forego Buzzwords and Generalities
Spend time elucidating the specific and unique benefits of your offerings. Even if your offerings are almost identical to competitors. If you say it first, it’s what you do. For a more dramatic explanation see this scene from the pilot episode of Mad Men.
Personify and Materialize the Intangible
If you don’t have a product to show, make a product to show. Progressive has a store of insurance boxes. The Forest Service has Smokey the Bear. Allstate has a museum featuring their most outlandish claim coverages. Mucinex created a family of cartoon phlegm. Or, the Mac vs PC commercials with Justin Long. Sometimes all you have to do is create a tangible stand-in to set you apart from the competition.
Social Proof Works
How much do you trust someone who tells you they’re the best? How much more do you trust it when someone else tells you that person is the best? Other people singing your praise is the best marketing you can’t buy. Client testimonials, employee testimonials, and customer reviews are powerful. Third party vetting is why online reviews are the standard for today’s consumer product research.
Showcase Your Brand’s Mission
Returning to Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle, why do you do what you do? What are your values, your mission; what important causes does you support? TOMS made a name for itself by donating one pair of shoes to those in need for every pair sold. Many people buy TOMS specifically because they believe TOMS and by extension they are making the world a better place. You are probably familiar with Anheuser-Busch’s disaster relief canned water donations. But, what about 3M’s 15% Culture? The company encourages employees to dedicate 15% of their time to experiment and pursue their individual ideas on how to make 3M better.
Storytelling Marketing is a Skill
Like any other marketing discipline, storytelling marketing is a learned skill. It’s a mixture of science and art that’s refined through experience. If you’re interested in storytelling, but feel like you don’t have a creative bone in your body it’s time to partner with someone who can help tell your story.
Bold Entity is a firm believer in storytelling and its benefit for all businesses. Together we can discuss how to tell your story, contact us. Or, you can see some of the work we’ve done to bring other brands alive.