The Storytelling Issue

Navigating the modern B2B marketing landscape

Volume One / Issue 3

Are you sitting Comfortably?

Before we dive into the wonderful world of opportunity that is B2B storytelling, let’s address why this topic needs our full attention.

The reason is simple, really; the B2B buying journey is changing. Businesses need to urgently adapt their marketing strategies to mirror the needs of the modern B2B buyer to ensure they cut through the noise and remain competitive in an overcrowded market. Storytelling, when harnessed properly, can be an effective tool in meeting this challenge head on.

To deliver impactful stories, B2B companies must understand their audiences, be able to navigate a multichannel and rapidly evolving marketing landscape and, crucially, articulate their own brand purpose and value proposition with consistency and authenticity – without which their communications will likely fall flat and be rendered meaningless.

Humans are not ideally set up to understand logic;they are ideally set up to understand stories

Roger C. Schank

Share this article:

Chapter One Unchartered Territory

Today’s B2B buyers are not as predictable as they once were and are typically viewed as more independent, transactional and fickle. Millennials and Generation Z have come of age, and now play a key role in the B2B buying journey. Whether they are the main decision maker or an influencer in the buying process, their opinions and consumption patterns count.

But it’s not just a generational matter – all B2B buyers are now more in control over the buying process than ever before, and businesses need to fully understand their target audiences and what makes them tick, including their pain points, interests, browsing habits, preferred channels and purchasing behaviours.

Traditionally, the B2B buying process saw businesses doing 80% of the work for buyers – with many serving up a platter of generic sales spiel in the hopes that a proportion of those reached would take interest. Now, it’s the other way around – with B2B buyers doing 80% of the groundwork themselves – navigating a wealth of information across multiple channels, at their own leisure. With a myriad of touchpoints for B2B buyers to jump between, the traditional 4-step sales funnel is no longer a viable route to success; the sales cycle is unpredictable and getting shorter. Sales and marketing strategies therefore need to evolve to cater to a non-linear journey, where buyers may decide to engage and purchase at any given juncture.

With access to more information than ever before, B2B buyers are also increasingly exposed to brand communications; with each person typically seeing over 10,000 adverts a day, compared to around 2,000 adverts in 1984.

B2B buyers are doing 80% of the groundwork themselves — navigating a wealth of information across multiple channels, at their own leisure

Meanwhile, technological advancements and legislative developments, for example the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), have made it more difficult for companies to directly target and engage with audiences. The need for providing high value, thought leadership and differentiated content has, therefore, never been higher. Today, content needs to stand out from the crowd and speak to customers in a way they cannot ignore.

In today’s omnichannel digital landscape, businesses also need to know where their target audiences like to consume their content. Take the world’s second largest search engine, YouTube, as well as WhatsApp and Instagram, for example – these platforms are not typically seen as B2B channels, but not sharing content, using popular mediums like video, across these platforms will signal a missed opportunity for businesses hoping to engage with a new generation of buyers. YouTube offers incredible storytelling potential and is one of the best ways to engage with Millennials and Generation Z B2B buyers.

Chapter Two Facts tell, stories sell

Stories form part of our everyday lives. We love listening to stories, telling stories and remembering them. Storytelling is an integral part of human culture – not only providing context or analogies to give something meaning and help make sense of complex ideas, but also helping us to connect with one another on an emotional level.

We learn a great deal from stories, and pass our learnings on to others, as we have done so for millennia. Storytelling can tap into people’s primal instincts; subconsciously we react to the stimuli of hunger, anger, fear and attraction, before the rational part of the brain has a chance to assess the situation.

So, it’s no wonder then, that storytelling can be harnessed as a tool for engagement within marketing. B2C marketers are already well versed in storytelling; using it effectively within their communications, first at the top of the sales funnel to help generate awareness and then across multiple touchpoints to engage with audiences emotionally at any part of the buyer journey to help drive brand affinity.

B2B marketers, on the other hand, have not been so quick off the mark. While it might be argued that it is easier to tell a story within a B2C context, B2B stories can be just as compelling. And this is good news, as B2B buyers increasingly want their B2B buying experience to mirror that of their experience in the B2C world.

Emotional authenticity is crucial for marketing, and especially important to the Millennial and Generation Z demographics that are shaping the future of the B2B landscape. According to Forbes, 84% of Millennials don’t trust traditional advertising; craving authenticity over flashy sales tactics. True authenticity is about being consistent with brand messaging and narrative storytelling can, at the same time, support engagement with a brand by injecting personality and providing an emotional connection with target audiences.

People don’t buy what you do;they buy why you do it.And what you do simply proves what you believe.

Simon Sinek

Share this article:

Enjoying this issue?

Sign up to be notified when a new issue comes out.

Sign up

Chapter Three It starts with 'why'

According to best-selling author Simon Sinek, the successful businesses of this world communicate their ‘why’ – their core belief and reason for existence – before defining how they will achieve their purpose, and what they do to fulfil this goal. This concept is best explained by Sinek’s ‘golden circle’ model.

People don’t care as much about a business as the business cares about itself; they will only buy into it once they understand and resonate with its reason for being. Start-ups often do well when it comes to engaging with their target audiences as they typically don’t expect engagement, they tend to explain why they exist before directly promoting their products and services, in a bid for acceptance.

By defining an overall purpose and articulating a clear, differentiated value proposition, brands can emotionally connect with their target audiences, and appear less like soulless corporate giants that are only in it for profit. People that buy into a brand’s mission will want to be part of its journey and feel invested in its success.

A powerful story can help shape a company’s ‘why’ and, with the help of a solid plot to deliver a clear underlying message used consistently across multiple touchpoints, be used to create a coherent customer experience and drive brand affinity.

Chapter Four Telling your story

So, we know that storytelling can arm businesses with an effective tool for customer buy-in and brand loyalty, when done properly. But where does a B2B company start when it comes to narrative storytelling?

Well, firstly, the importance of developing a plot has never been greater. A typical storyline, put simply, is made up of an introduction, a build-up, a dilemma, a resolution and a conclusion.

But there are seven key plot types that can be used within B2B marketing to help engage target audiences and deliver distinct narrative experiences. These include:

B2B brands need to decide which plot will best articulate their purpose, allow them to put the customer at the centre of the narrative and present their value proposition in a meaningful way.

Adobe is an example of a B2B brand that used a tragedy-based plot to target its audience in a video called ‘Mean Streets.’ It went viral as a result of its bold and shocking theme and because of the connection it made with the audience. In the video, a man desperately attempts to buy “clicks” from a dodgy looking character so he can get through his next “quarter,” and is subsequently arrested by the police. While tragedy-based, Adobe’s plot weaves in relatable moments that evoke humour, while culminating in the downfall of the main character due to his poor choices. And because Adobe positioned its services as a solution to the character’s problems, it cleverly demonstrated its value proposition in a non-commercial way.

Aside from deciding on the right plot for the job, B2B marketers should consider the top 10Cs when developing a memorable narrative story:

Context: You need to set the scene

Customer: It’s about them, not you

Connect: Find an emotional way in

Conflict: There has to be tension

Characters: Heroes and villains

Crescendo: There has to be a resolution

Consistency: Across all devices and platforms

Conversion: Move them to action

Commitment: It’s not a quick fix

Creative: Make your story stand out

Let’s shine the spotlight on a few of the key Cs:

Customer

Customer centricity is vital within storytelling. Casting the customer in the starring role will ensure they are front of mind and will ensure that content resonates with them. Being truly customer-centric today means going deeper than just offering a product or service that the buyer wants. It’s about truly recognising how customers think, feel and behave, and then delivering the most optimised and personalised experience possible across each and every touchpoint.

Let’s shine the spotlight on a few of the key Cs:

Conflict

To generate conflict in a B2B story, companies need to understand the pain points of their audience. What worries them? What stops them from getting things done? What is preventing them from getting the most out of their money? Developing a story that plays on these painpoints and creates emotional triggers can build the tension needed for a gripping storyline.

Let’s shine the spotlight on a few of the key Cs:

Consistency

Delivering a cohesive customer experience will pay dividends. As mentioned, authenticity is key in b2b storytelling – driving an emotional connection that can lead to conversions and brand loyalty. Without consistency in their brand purpose and messages, businesses become less credible and are at risk of damaging their reputation in the eyes of the customer or prospect.

Let’s shine the spotlight on a few of the key Cs:

Commitment

There is no quick solution to consistent and impactful storytelling in B2B marketing – it takes time and hard work. But once on the right track, businesses will be able to continue to deliver meaningful, engaging content and optimise the B2B buyer journey.

If you don’t feel it,you won’t remember it.

Robert Dickman

Share this article:

Happily Ever After?

Now is the time for B2B marketers to be brave. Businesses can no longer rely on stuffy marketing tactics and the production of content with no strategy, purpose or customer in mind.

Storytelling might be an old trick, but it works. B2B companies that embrace the art of storytelling and deliver a coherent customer experience across today’s omnichannel and crowded marketplace will be able to create engaging content and provide the human connection and emotional resonance needed to generate more conversions and build brand affinity; achieving long-term customer loyalty.

Share this article:

Keep up to date

Sign up to be notified of any new articles coming out.

  • By entering your email your agreeing to being contacted by BDB regarding The Knowledge articles.