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Could The Art of Story Telling play a role in B2B marketing?

June 6, 2011

Having recently attending an interesting seminar at the TFM&A event in Manchester, I came away with a signed copy of John Sadowsky's book Email, Social Marketing and The Art of Story Telling” which as an email marketer, I was really looking forward to.The main thing that struck me after reading, is the simplicity of the whole “storytelling” and "story sharing" concept and how it links so integrally to the rise of social media, yet is perhaps still not being fully exploited in the B2B sector. So,I thought I'd scratch the surface of some history and theory about storytelling, whilst also pondering on the role it might play in B2B marketing.

First of all, it's interesting to think that humans communicate primarily through the telling of stories, not through data or information sheets and yet, when it comes to B2B marketing content, we tend to forget this basic principle and instead have the tendency to send our prospects statistics and ‘soul-less’ information. If we take a look back, every culture in the world began with a group of people sitting around a fire telling stories of the incidents and heroic acts, which transformed and created their world. From a social gathering in the remote outback of Australia, to the flickering pixels on your TV set, storytelling has remained a fundamental pillar of every culture. So, in our world of information overload and the instant wisdom of Google - perhaps nowadays it's a case of whoever tells the best story wins, in both the B2C and B2B sectors?  We all love a good story and in very simplistic terms, stories talk to the heart, while information talks to the mind. But, can we appeal to the emotions in B2B marketing, enough for a story to be shared enough to go viral.

Whilst pondering this issue, I came across Dan and Chip Heath’s book, “Made to Stick“, in which they suggest that all great B2B content should try and include the following 6 elements to become "sticky" in order to become remarkable & go viral. 1. Stories 2. Simplicity 3. Unexpectedness 4. Concreteness 5.Credibility 6. Emotions. They also add that some common elements of a good B2B story are:

  • Transmittable – byte size content focusing on a single context, is easy to communicate by word of mouth or social media. Don’t try to tell all of your stories in one go.
  • Tangible – with clear results. Imagine the impact of before/after adverts.
  • Remarkable – content with an element of surprise, without statements and industry jargon, which talk to the clients/prospects in their language.
So, once you have your "sticky" story, there are a few ways to tell it - from my experience, this will usually be product or solution based. A couple of the more common forms of this are testimonials, customer success stories or case studies.These sorts of `User Stories' have far more credibility than company generated stories and so if you’re not already doing it, you need to find potential advocates and ambassadors to tell your story and make them part of your business culture and journey.
Or,consider trying `Product Stories' by turning your clients into advocates by involving them in product creation. A great example of this that I like, is Pampers nappies. After launching their slimmest, driest nappy ever, they were then inundated with photos of nappy rash and complaints from parents asking for the old nappy back, as the new one simply didn't deliver! Pampers quickly decided to embrace the feedback and invited parents to join their product development team and to share stories on social network communities about the development of another new nappy!
Perhaps the most common problem with creating a compelling B2B story, is the inability for a company to describe what they do in  simple language and to bring that description to life with a story. Sometimes companies are afraid that storytelling will come across as unprofessional, or maybe they don’t think that it’s appropriate to tell them, in anything other than a face to face meeting.  However, I think that a story can be a really powerful way of illustrating the value of your product and is often the way that your prospects and customers will explain what you do to others. In the digital world, it's very apparent that stories are being used more and more, simply because people naturally love to share them and social media provides the perfect mechanism for this. People on Facebook and Twitter share their life events, photos, videos and links to interesting stories. Then they sit back and wait for the reaction as to how people comment and if people “liked” their stories. Nobody posts stuff , just for the sake of posting. We all post to watch the reactions to our life stories..
It will be interesting to see how B2B marketers start to use email as an easy platform for story telling, with the help of social media, it's "tell tale" best friend. I would be interested to hear your thoughts, or go ahead and share any examples of great "sticky" B2B content!

Posted by Rebecca McCormick
Social Media


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