Commentary

Outlining The Art Of B2B Storytelling

Did you know a B2B marketer can be a great storyteller?

When most people think of B2B marketing, they tend to think of product marketing and positioning.  I would argue B2B is one of the most important places to practice the art of storytelling and when you do it well, you are more effective than all of the competition.  A great B2B storyteller can create something far more powerful than even a B2C marketer can do.

Storytelling is based on a very clear structure.  To tell a great story, you start with a world and a character.  In the case of a B2B marketer, that world is a category and the character is your brand.

You can have a broad category to work with, but the trick is, your audience needs to be able to see themselves in your world to have context from which to evaluate your brand.  The best B2B brands in the world do this and they do it well.  Your brand has to represent itself as a trustworthy, credible and practical inhabitant of that world.

This is why it can be hard for B2B brands to enter into new categories.  They don’t spend enough time establishing themselves there, and simply assume their brand value will carry over.  Your brand needs to provide a clear solution or a clear perspective that the target will understand in the context of their current world and once they do “get it,”  you can transport your audience into a different world, so to speak.

Once you’ve established the world and your character in it, you need to map out the arc.  The arc begins with the statement of wants and needs for your target in that world.  This is then followed by the obstacles that lay before them and how your product can help them meet their wants and needs and overcome these obstacles.  

This is more traditionally what B2B marketers focus on.  This is the art of positioning, but through a different lens. It’s not simple product marketing, which is typically “features” and specs that amount to a position, while this model is more about the target as the central focus of the story and your product aligning with them.  

Once you’ve crafted these elements of the story, you move on to the story structure, or what some people call the customer journey.  This is a series of activities where you will find and engage with your target.  The story will be told over time, through frequency of exposure and either a successive story or repetition.  This becomes a media-oriented conversation because you either guide them down the path, or repeat the message looking for it to break through the clutter.  

The last piece of the story is what most people refer to as the creative, but in this context is the visual language and grammar of your brand.  You have to know how to say what you want said and how to show what you want shown.  

This is something that evolves over time, because you start with a hypothesis, then test different visual styles and copy writing to determine what resonates the best.

Too often, B2B marketers lack creativity in their creative, meaning they focus on stats and product marketing messaging.  It’s more about the benefit and a new way of delivering that message.

That leads me to the last element of a great story: the feedback.  In marketing you have qualitative and quantitative feedback to aggregate and make your determination.  

The best stories are reworked, rewritten and reshot over time.  Each time the story is told,  the storyteller refines it a bit more and builds on what worked the previous time until they end up with a story that will resonate for years to come.

This last piece is why data is imperative to a great story, providing real-time feedback on a story so it can be refined.

Are you practicing the art of storytelling in your efforts?

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