Content forms the backbone of every brand strategy with varying objectives- be it brand awareness, generating leads, or building a community. The key is to create content that drives results.
Going a step ahead of this, most brands dwell on the fact that they’re creating content, leveraging content marketing, and yet not getting a good ROI.
It’s important to understand that there is N number of brands in the market, working in the same industry as you.
To break through the noise, you need to listen to your audience and create relevant content, yes, but what more can you do?
“Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make but about the stories you tell.”
Us, humans love stories. We are surrounded by them and can’t get enough of them because they give us a sense of motivation and relation.
Since time immemorial, grandmothers used to narrate stories to children. Similarly, the brands need to narrate stories to the audience to extend an emotional appeal.
Let’s understand this with an example,
Brand X, an automobile company markets its product the same way every other brand in its industry is doing,
‘Our car provides immense luxury with extraordinary features and a special XYZ feature, the best in the market.’
Brand Y, an automobile company creates an ad with a pinch of storytelling,
‘You’re tired, you’ve been working hard, and you want to cheer yourself up. Hard work is a part of our life, hustle takes us forward, but it’s also important to reward yourself to keep the fire burning. Our car can be the best reward for you; its XYZ feature adds brownie points to the luxury you deserve.
For once, do something for yourself because you can, and you deserve it.’
From which brand are you more likely to buy?
Brand Y, probably because it didn’t explicitly sell itself, targeted your pain point, used it to evoke emotion and then, tried to sell you the product.
Let’s dig deep into the world of storytelling and explore why it’s important for your B2B Content Marketing strategy in 2020.
- What is storytelling?
- Types of stories.
- Components of storytelling.
- 7 reasons why storytelling is crucial for your B2B content marketing strategy.
- 6 tips for effective storytelling.
- Examples of storytelling being a success.
What is Storytelling?
“Your customers feel before they think.” – Dan Hill
HubSpot defines storytelling as the process of using fact and narrative to communicate something to your audience. Some stories are factual, and some are improvised to explain the core message better.
More than a marketing strategy, storytelling can be understood as an art that does not have a definitive guide; it comes and goes with practice and understanding your audience.
It’s like selling a product not for its features but for the story behind its creation. It caters to the ‘why’ element of your brand.
Storytelling as a part of content marketing is powerful because stories weave people together; it establishes a sense of belonging where people can relate to the story. It ignites imagination and takes the reader beyond what the brand is saying by extending emotions.
Types of Stories
Your brand objectives and goals determine the type of story you wish to narrate.
It can be of the following types:
These stories mainly create content around the common pain points of your audience by providing solution-oriented content. It aims to make difficult concepts easy and helps in establishing your brand as a thought leader in the industry.
2. Case Studies
How you help your clients says a lot about you as a brand and so communicating this information to your audience may help them understand your services and working process better. It showcases the ‘before’ and ‘after’ of a brand and your efforts, which led to the desired goal.
Creating content on the trending topics in your industry can help convey your opinionated message to the audience. It requires connecting the piece of news to your brand to present a story that aligns with both.
4. Behind the scenes
Questions like how your brand was created, what values it holds, what failures did it experience, and which challenges it faced can act as a powerful marketing strategy.
This is because you’re letting yourself be vulnerable in front of the audience, working as an open book. One of the most essential factors of gaining your audience’s trust is telling them everything about you, and what’s better than telling them you are behind the scenes story?
You can do a mix of all these stories and align it with your goals.
Pro tip: Use a project management tool like Monday to collaborate on what stories to work on, how to publish and promote them to keep the process consistent.
Components of Storytelling
HubSpot’s diagram shows why it’s important to keep the customers at the center of your content marketing efforts. You serve them, and they serve you.
Like any other narrative, storytelling as a part of B2B content marketing is also composed of 3 important components that make up the story:
The character could be the brand or audience; hero or villain. Every story needs at least one character which forms the crux of the narrative. It acts as a bridge between the message you want to send across and how the audience perceives it.
This character is important because, with this, the audience will be able to experience the story first hand by putting themselves in his/her shoes. This will only happen when your story is relatable and compelling.
The conflict is the problem your character is facing; it’s similar to your audience’s pain points. Without conflict, you won’t have a story because it’s the primary medium of conveying the message determined by how the character overcomes this problem.
It elicits emotions in a way that relates to your audience.
The resolution determines whether your character solved the problem or failed to do that. This marks the ending of your story with a conclusion which aligns with the message you want to send to your audience.
Resolution is critical because it’s a major contributing factor in deciding if your audience will give in to your Call-to-Action (CTA).
While your story may have a particular intent, not many people will understand it the way you intended, leading to negative reviews. But, that doesn’t mean your story is bad, it just means that it doesn’t bode well with everyone, and it doesn’t have to because it’s meant for a particular audience; your target audience.
Handle negative reviews with a chin-up, because your story is unique to you and you decide how to tell it to the world to create an impact.
Why Storytelling Is Crucial for Your B2B Content Marketing Strategy
By now, you know what storytelling is, what kinds of stories you can tell, and what it is composed of. The next big thing is to understand why it’s essential for B2B marketing.
Research suggests that B2B buyers are more likely to buy a product/service if sold through an emotional appeal rather than explicitly based on its features and functionality.
This makes storytelling an overlooked yet crucial factor, one which can set you apart from the competition,
Let’s explore more such reasons:
1. Storytelling Helps Customers Relate With Your Brand
Customer-centric content achieves success in all forms of marketing simply because customers are the center of your business; you listen to them and serve them content which compels them to put faith in you.
Before selling, your audience must relate to your brand; here is where storytelling comes in. Content or stories that focus on your brand will outright fail, but the moment you bring in the customer, make him the hero of your story, and solve their pain points is where you win.
These stories encompass the ‘why’ element of your brand. Because in the end, we want to see/buy something which motivates us or gives us a reason to move ahead. Be it your success story, failure story, sob story, happy story- it’s important because if you want your customers to invest in you, you need to ensure that you’re ready to invest 10 times more than them.
It all revolves around giving your customer something to relate with. Storytelling can connect your audience and your brand through whichever message you want to communicate.
When your brand gets authentic and vulnerable through stories, people can easily relate to it. Not just the brand, but they also connect with the people behind it because we are emotional beings.
To tell stories that relate to your customers, you need to understand them. Once you do, you weave a story that doesn’t highlight your brand but their problems.
When you tap into their emotions to motivate them, it drives action. This story acts as a humanized version of your brand because, in the end, B2B or B2C, the most important relationship is H2H- human to human.
Slowly, they start recognizing and relating with your brand as emotions bind you together.
2. Storytelling Helps You Break Through the Noise
If you’re a brand that provides team communications tools, there will be many others in the market offering the same services or maybe services at a lower price than you. So, how do you stand out?
In a world full of traditional marketing, saturated content marketing, and ad blockers, your customers see messages in the form of blogs, videos, and emails from numerous brands throughout the day.
To create and promote content that compels them to stop, read, and take action, storytelling is a great way.
While your services may be similar to that of your competitors, it’s how you tell your story that differentiates you. Stories leave such a powerful impact on people that they may forget the product you created, but they will always remember the story which moved them.
The moment you start seeing your audience as humans than just customers/buyers, you will be able to craft much better content. Emotions form the basis of your story, and if you, out of all your competitors, leverage it the right way, it can benefit you massively.
Brands focus on their product or customer service to be the USP, make your story the USP, and focus on your audience, the engagement, and the leads will follow.
If you need one thing to make you stand out, storytelling is the key.
3. Storytelling Simplifies Your Message
It’s difficult to understand a context sometimes, but it’s easier when it comes to a story.
For instance, take your math class, did your teacher ever give you a story example to explain a complex equation, with the help of which the concept became much clearer than before?
Stories make complex processes easier to understand. What might be simple for brands may be difficult for a common man to associate with, and so, stories act as a resolution to relay the concept better.
Just like kids’ stories have a ‘moral of the story’ that tells you what kids can learn from it- be it about honesty, respecting elders, or listening to their parents- B2B brands can also use stories to give a particular message to their audience.
This message will be personalized, humanized, and in the form of a story that relates to the audience and aims to solve their pain points. It will provide simpler breakdowns to an otherwise complex concept.
If you have a complicated product or an unfamiliar service, the best way to put it in front of the audience is through a narrative that breaks down the abstract concepts into simpler ones.
This shows that you’re not just interested in selling your products/services, but you’re going the extra mile to ensure your customers have the best understanding of what you’re trying to tell them.
4. Storytelling Helps You Build a Community
A brand which wants to leave their mark in the industry cannot just sell their products or services; they need to sell experiences. And to sell experiences, you need a story.
With every message you put out, from a WhatsApp forward to a YouTube video, everything should be backed by an authentic story that wraps the message.
Your story needs to carry emotion, certain values, and a powerful message, but it also needs to address the needs of the audience.
Thus, it answers these questions:
- What message do you want to send across?
- How do you want the message to be perceived by your audience?
- What value do they get from engaging with your content?
- Which brand image do you want them to hold?
- What kind of impression should they have of the brand?
- What adjectives define your brand- for example, is it quirky or luxurious?
All of these questions help you understand your audience, and storytelling needs a bit better.
Through this, you will not only create quality content but also actively participate in initiating a dialogue with your customers, engaging with them, and knitting like-minded people together. This community will be your loyal customers, who will always be excited about your stories and voluntarily engage and promote it.
Stories bring people together, so when you sell an experience, you establish a deeper connection with your audience, which goes beyond the content you create and the product you sell.
Over time your brand will build trust with this community such that they will happily buy your product or pay for your services. Having so much faith in you, this community will act as brand ambassadors and brand advocates for years to come.
5. Storytelling Builds Credibility
Just because you need to use storytelling, it does not mean that you cook them up. To connect with your audience and build a relationship, you need to unleash your brand’s true values.
When a prospect searches for your brand, they take a step towards understanding your business. For this, they need some social proof to back them up and tell them that you’re the best at what you provide.
Although this can be done through reviews, testimonials, and case studies, there is nothing special because every other brand is displaying it to build credibility. Now, if you let a story describe how you helped a client, how they benefited from your brand, and the results your efforts yielded, they would be able to relate much better.
There is nothing better than your previous customers convincing your prospects to invest in your brand.
Today, everyone searches for customer reviews or asks their friends or colleagues for recommendations about a brand before investing their time or money. If you give them all of it in an easy to consume yet compelling manner in the form of stories, they are more likely to put their faith in you.
Great storytelling builds trust in your brand and builds credibility, which is fundamental for maintaining long-term relationships with the consumer.
6. Storytelling Makes Your Brand Human
70% of B2B buyers purchase when they see personal value in your business.
Brands are increasingly focusing on more and better ways of promoting their product or service to an extent where people buy from them, but it’s a profit-driven approach.
Let’s face it, story or no story, your customers know the final action that you want them to take is to invest in your brand, so you will have to go beyond the mindset of making profits. The customers need you to show how you will add value to them.
In B2B, when your customers are businesses, they need to be profoundly convinced because they are more or less aware of your sales and marketing tactics, so it’s difficult to hard sell. Here, storytelling can set you apart.
Behind the face of a brand in a B2B company, there are humans who are conditioned to emotional relationships and interactions. They need to be convinced that your product will help them in an unmissable and effective way.
Through stories, your brand starts feeling more human and less machine, and that is when you start attracting customers by the hundred, but that’s a long journey.
The days of cold selling, pitching, traditional marketing, and ads are gone. Yes, people still do that, and many succeed in it, but it’s time we move forward and think of new ways of doing things. Something which connects us in more ways than money, something which makes us human.
The top 10 companies in the Global Empathy Index, happen to be the most profitable and fast-growing brands of all time, why?
Because they use human emotions and let that guide their brand rather than mechanical information and hard selling.
Storytelling encompasses how your brand aims to make a change, how it positively impacts people’s lives, how society can benefit from it, and how it transforms people for the better.
While for a B2B company, all of this might sound a bit much. You must be wondering if it will show your brand in weak light, but the opposite will happen. People will feel connected to you and will want to associate with you.
Remember, when you’re different, you stand out, and that’s when your empire starts building itself.
7. Storytelling Moves People
We know that storytelling is backed by emotion; this means that it certainly has an impact on the audience. Imagine crafting such compelling stories that it moves people, motivates them, and inspires them to take a positive action towards their lives.
Stories have the power to influence people, and if yours can provide them a drive for motivation or something which completely changes their perspective about things, your brand wins automatically.
When you create a narrative around your brand, not only does it carry an emotional appeal, but it also markets your products and services.
Good storytelling can thus be a win-win situation for both your audience by giving them something to take inspiration from and for your brand by building customer trust and driving sales.
At present, consumed with ‘marketing’ tactics, there are very few brands that use inspiration as their driver of success. Most brands are competing in the race of ‘who does the most ad spend,’ when you can persuade and move your customers at zero cost through storytelling.
Here, you can take advantage and use storytelling as the tool which inspires people and through which you can benefit multifold too.
6 Tips for Effective Storytelling
Storytelling can massively help B2B businesses grow, and you realize its importance in 2020, but can any and every story derive results?
No, the storytelling process is not just limited to crafting stories. It involves understanding the target audience, identifying their pain points, crafting an emotional story, creating and delivering it.
All of these factors combined to determine if your story will touch humans and boost your brand.
Let’s look at some best practices for creating compelling stories:
1. Show, Don’t Tell
When brands tell customers about themselves, what they do, and how they’ve helped people, it doesn’t build a lot of credibilities. This is mainly why customer testimonials, reviews, and case studies work like a charm because there are customers behind them instead of self-claimed notions.
Through storytelling, whichever format you use- be it videos, images, slides, texts, or podcasts, the audience gets to know about your product indirectly. You portray a story, and through it, they develop an understanding of your product because you showed them.
Here, the idea is to identify the consumer’s underlying problem and show it by keeping emotion at the core.
You show the problem, emphasize it, and then come up with a solution. As the character in your story overcomes the problem, the audience also experiences a similar victory because they make themselves a part of it.
So, let the story do all the talking by showing the audience what your brand really is.
2. Use Emotions to Keep the Audience Engaged
There is a lot of content out there, and people are consuming more and more of it every day. If you choose storytelling as your means to break through the noise, use it to keep the audience engaged.
The human attention span lasts almost 7 seconds, which means you need to grab them in the first few lines of your story so that they’re hooked to it.
Creating such content can be quite a task, but if you understand your audience, it will be easier to execute it. Your story is based on your audience. When you observe their pain points, how they like to consume content, and which emotion backs your story- it can be very impactful.
It all lies in understanding your audience, evoking emotion, and keeping them hooked, so they’re compelled to take action.
Remember, B2B is a different market than B2C; it consists of businesses that want to be convinced that every dime they spend is worth it. These businesses won’t give in to stories unless they evoke emotions; it should move them.
While emotions are an important part of storytelling, the content needs to be framed properly. Even if you have a great story, unless the content highlights it, the story won’t matter. Here is a complete guide for writing good quality content.
3. Keep Your Story Concise and to the Point
This ad billboard of IKEA is simple yet compelling enough to relay the message in one go.
Your story evokes emotion, but the last thing you want is for your audience to be confused about the message you were trying to convey. Turning the content around and including unnecessary things will only give birth to doubts; instead, use minimum information to create a story that is to the point.
The idea is to convey the message most efficiently, so the audience grasps it accurately. Keep it simple yet engaging.
Your story does not have to be a 20-page case study; it can just be a 3-minute video that uses a character who guides the story, faces conflict, and reaches the resolution. In 3 minutes, you can convince the customer, your brand is worthy of their attention.
Being to the point prevents saturation among the audience. If the story gets too long, it becomes dull, and if you want to hook the audience till the end, it’s imperative to keep it crisp and concise.
4. The Story Should Align With Your Brand DNA
Your brand DNA determines your brand core values, beliefs, mission, tone, and voice. If your story does not align with your brand DNA, the audience will never be able to relate to it.
It goes beyond selling products/services or engaging your audience, it’s about reinforcing your audience to understand what your brand composes. Hundreds of brands run after brand awareness as a significant objective of content marketing, but they fail to focus on storytelling. Even if they do, it lacks a strong backing by its brand DNA.
This DNA represents your brand, so its context must remain the same across different stories, formats, and channels. This consistency helps your audience understand who you really are.
5. Humanize the Audience’s Challenges
The ad on the right is by Apple when they launched their iPod, it highlighted the problem of less storage space by directly giving a solution of 1000 songs in your pocket, one of the best forms of conflict-resolution.
You know you can solve the audience’s problems, but you don’t know how to deliver it in a way which keeps it engaging, what do you do?
Humanize your audience’s challenges. When you give a random description and its solution, people are less likely to relate to it. But when you address their problems in real-time to show how your product/service helps them solve it, you win the battle.
This is important because it tells the audience that your brand is an active participant in solving their problems by highlighting their everyday struggles.
With such a story, the audience will be able to experience it first-hand relating to the character and the brand that comes out as the knight in shining armor!
6. Use Different Visual Mediums
This landing page by Slack, a team communications tool shows a visual story where people are at ease communicating through this tool for better work efficiency.
You can show stories in any format, but it’s always good to combine visual representations for maximum user engagement.
For example, if you’re writing a case study to show one of your client success stories, use graphs, pie charts, images, videos, and more to keep the content from being monotonous.
Especially when your product/service is complicated, making use of different visual media can relay the context much clearer.
Storytelling mixed with videos can be a great part of your content marketing strategy this year.
Socially Infused Media has compiled a great list of tools you must try for designing and managing visual media, to make your stories stand out.
Examples of Storytelling Being a Success
We’ve seen how stories can impact individuals and how powerful they can be as a part of content marketing. Stories weave people together and considerably, attract potential buyers and loyal customers.
Let’s see some examples of brands who leveraged storytelling the right way:
Microsoft, one of the largest technology companies in the world, is a huge believer and advocate of brand storytelling. Their campaign on Microsoft story Labs featured employees from different departments of the company. It included everyone, from researchers to artists.
This campaign helped the audience relate to the brand much better. It provided them an insight into what it’s like on the inside of a huge company.
It clarified the idea that it’s not just a company but a corporation of sharp-minded individuals who are highly talented at what they do. They went beyond their products to show the behind the scenes of the company. This resulted in better client-employee-brand engagement and understanding.
The best professional platform, LinkedIn leveraged storytelling in a unique way in a campaign, ‘Picture yourself’ where they created inspiring stories about some of its members.
The main idea behind this campaign was to use the extensive knowledge and experience of successful professionals to help LinkedIn’s audience more.
This campaign helped them create incredibly insightful business advice and knowledge, which tremendously increased LinkedIn’s brand value as a professional platform.
Google ads, earlier known as Google AdWords, is an online advertising platform developed by Google, which has benefitted millions of companies worldwide
They created a series of 2-minute videos called ‘AdWords stories’ that featured small businesses that used the platform and told their stories on how it had a significant impact on their business.
This innovative way of displaying client reviews and testimonials by targeting small businesses on video managed to increase the credibility of Google AdWords as an advertising platform by great numbers.
Through this campaign, Google did a great job of making the customer its hero and used it to attract thousands of more customers.
One of the most successful tech giants, Intel, aimed at making technology easier to understand through storytelling. They collaborated with Toshiba, an electronic product producer, to come up with an interesting video campaign that involved a series of short films called ‘The beauty inside.’
These short films were interactive and allowed the audience to actively engage and participate by relating to the characters and being at the forefront of the story.
A leading tech company that develops networking and telecommunication equipment, Cisco is an advocate of storytelling. Their products are complex, hence using storytelling to simplify it for better understanding is the right approach.
One of their stories, ‘Sea change,’ beautifully explained how a yacht could competitively win in a race with the help of Cisco powered technologies.
They made use of images, texts, and videos to relay the concept to the audience so that they’re able to understand the new technologies Cisco has invented and how it can help them.
Wrapping It Up
Storytelling as a content marketing strategy can do wonders for your brand. The amount of content in the world has risen, which has drastically reduced dwell time. People are now very selective in spending their time online because of the vast sea of content.
Here, stories are the need of the hour.
Just like any other strategy, storytelling is also a part of a marketing strategy. The best way to go about it would be to create a marketing plan which outlines your path to storytelling success.
Brands are not just about products/services; they’re about experiences, clients, employees, history, product values, etc.
Storytelling makes the brand human, a way to create a deeper connection with your audience
Let your stories do all the talking.
All the best!