We’ve all been there: Trapped in a seemingly endless conversation with someone who jumps around between present and past to dredge up some miniscule detail they accidentally left out. With such little tolerance for poor storytelling in our personal lives, that impatience is only magnified in the professional arena.
Although the lens is slightly varied between personal and professional, the concept is the same: Nearly 50% of B2B buyers prefer working with brands that tell a strong story. Unfortunately, B2B is infamous for neglecting to build emotional connections with prospects and buyers.
“We’ve all been exposed to inconsequential storytelling,” explained Miri Rodriguez, Storyteller at Microsoft, in her #B2BMX: NLA opening keynote. “Traditionally, storytelling in B2B just passes us by; it doesn't grab us or touch the heart. Storytelling is an experience that you get to design with intention and empathy; it’s the emotional transfer of information, opinions, assertions, etc. through a character, plot and conclusion.”
In fact, research from cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner indicated that information conveyed through a story will be remembered 22X more than any piece of information. And, according to Brenda Caine, VP of Content Strategy for Content4Demand (C4D), a B2B content strategy and creative agency, humans naturally gravitate toward storytelling.
“The way we learned things before we had writing was through stories — it’s the most instinctive and basic way for understanding and remembering things,” continued Caine. “Storytelling has a logical sequence and makes sense to people; when you tell a story, it adds context people can understand. Most times when you’re taking about the solution you offer, it’s disjointed because it’s focused on one aspect.”
With that in mind, there are two facets to storytelling: Brand and content. Brand storytelling refers to how a company conveys and adheres to its ethics and values, while content storytelling tells a unique, cohesive story across multiple assets.
Brand Storytelling: Embodying Values & Conveying A Company’s Mission
Although brand storytelling is more visible on the B2C side (see: Nike’s “Just Do It” and Modelo’s fighting spirit), there’s just as much room for success in B2B. To get started with formulating a strong brand story, Rodriguez suggested practitioners highlight:
- How their company’s mission is reflective of the target audience’s values; and
- The steps their brand takes to embody those values.
The first step to creating a strong brand story is empathizing with target audiences, as empathy has become, “a critical attribute in a brand to connect with audiences,” Rodriguez explained. To that end, she added that there are three levels of empathy:
- Cognitive, which includes viewing the target audience as less than a demographic and more as a human;
- Emotional, which consists of thinking of ways to humanize a brand in customers’ eyes; and
- Compassionate, which includes checking in with audiences to feel, understand and reflect on their feelings, especially during turbulent times.
Then, practitioners are tasked with defining their audience, which includes analyzing the space where buyers live and understanding it before creating content and experiences. From there, Rodriguez explained that the next step revolves around ideating how to best convey brand values to target audiences. As organizations start building different ideas and spaces around story concepts, she recommended strong collaboration between colleagues to understand different perspectives.
Next, it’s time to prototype content by deducing what storylines might work. This “low cost, low effort” experimenting, according to Rodriguez, parlays right into stage five: Testing the story to see how it resonates with audiences. Testing primarily revolves around determining if the story accomplished its goal and works best with an organic approach alongside paid advertising.
“Audiences want to have information and details on a brand’s values and beliefs and understand how that brand embodies them,” said Rodriguez. “Brand storytelling breeds the opportunity for you to package your values in a way that makes your audience want to buy your products. Your stories should create curiosity and encourage prospects to learn more.”
Content Storytelling: Weaving A Narrative Through Assets
While brand storytelling focuses on helping companies project how they uphold their value and mission on the world, content storytelling takes a more granular focus by constructing a story across various content formats. With 73% of buyers indicating they consume more than seven pieces of content when they’re in a buying stage, “you should have a narrative across all your content assets,” said C4D’s Caine.
“When I ideate or recommend content to C4D’s clients, I put a storyline on top of it; there’s always an underlying theme or story that we're going to tell throughout our content,” she continued. “This helps all campaign assets stick together and reinforce your message; it helps your story hit home and become more memorable.”
In a world where 39% of buyers want organizations to curb the sales messages embedded in content and 37% want personalized, relatable content, relating to audiences on a personal level is crucial. To start creating a strong narrative, Caine suggested marketers break down the story by each stage of the content journey by:
- Creating awareness of a problem in the early stages;
- Talking about the problem and coloring in how to hypothetically solve it during the middle stages; and
- Waiting until the later stages to introduce how a specific solution can solve the problem.
“Storytelling makes your content personal and humanized, and in B2B, we’re so prone to forget that people are people, and they don’t stop being people when we’re marketing,” said Caine. “We must relate to them as humans, and storytelling is one of the oldest ways that we relate to people.”