When the likes of giant consumer brands like Coca-Cola announce it is evolving from a manager of brands to a ‘sharer of stories’, you know something big is up. But if ever there was an industry that needed to get its head around the power of storytelling, it has to be the complex world of B2B marketing. Here’s why:
We live in what can only be described as the ‘opt-in-culture’. The only messages customers, decision makers and influencers will see and hear are the ones they choose to see and hear. Add to this the fact we live in an ever noisy and changing world, and you can start to understand the argument for getting back to a style of communicating that has stood the test of time: storytelling. Ever since we were children storytelling has been hard wired into our minds as something powerful, visual, engaging and emotional.
One of the distinguishing characteristics of B2B marketing is the complexity of the products and services that companies make. It never ceases to amaze me how complicated B2B companies make their own internal articulation of the value they deliver through the products and services they sell.
The internal rigour that goes into the creation of multi-tiered value propositions, audience messaging and multi-channel execution is staggering. Yet, what is often missing is a simple storytelling platform on which everything else makes sense. It’s no wonder therefore that as our lives get ever more complex, B2B brands that tell engaging stories create the cut through and emotional attachment that triggers awareness and desire for their products and services. The art of storytelling is the number one skill B2B brands need to master in order to connect with their customers and drive desire, demand and advocacy.
One of the truths of the modern business world is that differentiation at a product level is an extremely tough challenge for all but the out-and-out innovators in every market sector. New battlegrounds have emerged around customer service, the customer experience and now around trust, social purpose and compassion.
Is it any wonder the corporate brand is back in fashion? Social media and social responsibility are forcing companies to shift attention from their products to themselves like never before. Storytelling has emerged as an alternative to brand, weaving stealthily into its backyard and performing many of its functions. Marketers now wax lyrical about ‘getting the story right’, where they once spoke of ‘brand’.
A brand’s story helps the company stand apart by explaining what it stands for and why, and providing a consistent thread to the messages and experiences it delivers. Stories are built around some fundamental principals; context, conflict and resolution form the narrative structure; heroes and villains create the character structure and insights, personas and setting form the plot structure.
From PowerPoint presentations to case studies, banner adverts to whitepapers, trade events to email marketing, direct mail to marketing research, tender proposals to advertising; whatever the B2B content tactics you rely on, all of them can be improved if you start to think of them as storytelling opportunities. The quality and engagement levels of your investment in content-driven marketing can be radically enhanced if you focus on the role of storytelling in your marketing communications.
In summary, storytelling is the universal human currency, now given unprecedented circulation and impact through the social web. Stories are practiced by every culture on the planet. And while no one really lives or loves a brand, our lives are given shape and meaning by stories, making them far easier to live by.
This is especially true in the area of brand culture and employee engagement. Your employees should be the authors, storymakers and storytellers of your company. They are the trusted and authentic voice that connects you with your customers. So next time you’re in need of inspiration in your marketing think about the story you want to tell and weave your messaging and products into the story.