5 stellar examples of emotional storytelling in B2B marketing
Is storytelling an abstract concept or concrete tactic in B2B marketing? Alex Clarke presents five B2B examples to help you decide
Once upon a time in a dark, foreboding land called B2B, a number of very special people were scorned for different ways of thinking. Those people were the wordsmiths, the creatives, the videographers: those who wanted to tell a story.
Traditionalist marketers scoffed at their assertions that the sector needed to evolve and adapt in order slice through the inane advertising noise. Yet these pioneers were persistent, and eventually wrestled control from the marketing ancients, leaving the B2B world basking in a warm, ethereal glow of creativity and colour.
And they all lived happily ever after…
You get the message, and whether or not you believe in the concept of ‘storytelling’ in B2B, it’s incontestable that B2B messaging has adopted a much more evocative and complex (in the best possible way) tone in recent years.
With help from the boffins, here’s our pick of the top emotional storytelling campaigns in B2B from recent years.
The Fearless Girl – State Street
So powerful was this early 2017 campaign – which installed a statue of a young girl directly in front of Wall Street’s infamous charging bull – that two of our marketing experts selected it as their favourite campaign.
“The campaign itself resonates incredibly well with everyone, going far beyond Wall Street where it started,” explains Ashling Kearns, UK&I and Benelux marketing leader, Salesforce. “It’s a powerful statue, a commanding image, and in an incredible setting, which was quickly embraced as a symbol of female empowerment and gender equality.
“The campaign is drenched in meaning, drawing attention to the importance of equality across every industry.”
Despite recent controversy surrounding the campaign (State Street were forced to pay a $5 million settlement fee following gender pay disparity findings within its own ranks), many would argue the original power of the marketing campaign still stands.
As Graham Dodridge, founder of Silver Agency, points out: “The statue has received a mixed reception by social commentators, but will continue to stimulate debate about gender diversity, far beyond the original brief, for years to come.”
And Salesforce’s Ashling adds: “As a woman working in tech – a sector that also has a gender imbalance – the importance of a diverse workforce is particularly close to my heart.
“The benefits of a diverse workforce are widely documented, and The Fearless Girl campaign encapsulates much of what I’m passionate about, in a very engaging way.”
The Longest Night – Philips
“I don’t like ‘storytelling’ as a buzzword. It’s very easy to say you’re a ‘storyteller’, and it’s predominately used interchangeably with ‘good copywriter’,” asserts a sceptical Dan Squire, marketing propositions manager at The Marketing Practice.
“If I wanted to produce a brilliant piece of visual marketing like The Longest Night by Philips, I don’t think the starting point would be hiring a ‘storyteller’. I’d start by talking to sales – because they’re the people who know the customer best.”
Dan explains the power of Philips’ campaign lies in the pertinent topic it’s tackling, rather than a thinly veiled sales pitch, which undertows many modern-day B2B marketing campaigns.
“The Longest Night doesn’t focus on Philips’ products, staff, or even its customers. The fisherman at the centre of the video, Páll Pálsson, isn’t the person who will buy Philips’ products. The real target is the healthcare provider who treats people like Páll.
“Philips could have produced a piece of marketing about how much money their products would save customers. Or how much more efficient their workloads would be. But they could only make a video like this by finding out the emotions that drive customers.”
Creating something so visually striking and evocative can often come at the cost of the campaign’s original objectives, with the marketers involved becoming lost in an esoteric cycle of abstract complexity, but as Dan explains, Philips cleverly weaves a simple, yet dominant, message into its campaign.
“If we reverse-engineer the thought process behind the video, it’s based on one piece of insight: everyone who works at a healthcare provider is driven by a desire to help people. Whatever their other business or logistical challenges, it’s all driving towards that one goal.”
The Wolf – HP
Celebrities, eh? While their power in the B2C world is unrefuted, they remain a divisive issue within B2B. Yet, as Simon Fraser, creative director at OgilvyOne Business explains, emulating B2C is no bad thing.
“First of all, I have no idea whether HP’s campaign worked. I hope it did because it's a B2B campaign that looks like a B2C campaign.”
With a somewhat sinister Christian Slater fronting the campaign, and film trailer vibes seeping out of every facet, this video immediately stands out, as Fraser explains.
“It’s big, original, cinematic, and fronted by someone recognisable – and let’s be honest, that’s what we all aspire to, isn’t it?
“Any opportunity to escape from stock shot hell and instead dive into something daring. This is a great example of taking subject matter which could be communicated in a predictable way and flipping it on its head.”
B2B campaigns, especially those focusing on data and tech, can often get bogged down in semantics, with onus placed on explaining technical information – a surefire way to lose your prospect’s attention.
It’s the dark, witty tone of the piece that appealed most to Fraser, as he explains. “It doesn't drone on and on solely about data, it talks about ‘good stuff’.
"Better still, the overall tone is resoundingly negative, something few clients will tolerate. It’s all about losing information and getting hacked and having a really bad day, with no reassuring ‘But with HP you can…’ coda."
He adds: “It credits the audience with some intelligence and lets them draw their own conclusions. And that makes for much more engaging marketing."
The Heist: Cautionary Tales – BLP
By and large, the financial services sector is one that’s nigh on impossible to permeate, with the kingpins of the law sector – the so-called ‘Magic Circle’ – among those hardest to topple.
That was the challenge facing BLP’s marketing team, who were tasked with advertising the firm’s expertise at helping risk officers plan for and manage regulatory risk.
So, the team created a series of Hollywood movie-styled videos called ‘The Heist – Cautionary Tales’. Inspired by the Ocean’s 11 film, each video presented a ‘cautionary tale’ based on a real-life regulatory nightmare that BLP’s target audience could immediately relate to.
Being bold is not something you can usually attribute to the marketing activities of law firms, so this alone should generate plaudits for the BLP team. The campaign successfully targeted a typically risk-averse audience, through a novel use of storytelling that didn’t feel too amateur, but conversely not too polished as to be unrealistic to BLP’s audience.
FairlTales – Advanced Business Solutions
What better example of B2B storytelling than one inspired by the undeniable birthplace of weaving a compelling yarn: fairytales.
And it was the world of make-believe that inspired UK-based software provider Advanced Business Solutions to adopt this quirky approach to content and create the campaign ‘FairlTales’.
And suddenly, traditional folk tales such as Jack and the Beanstalk and Cinderella were being thrust into the digital age, spliced with a modern twist to generate humour, but also cut through.
Illustrations were created instead of using stock photography, and the messaging was kept deliberately non-sector specific in order to maximise the campaign’s reach. Of course, if needed, Advanced could adapt certain stories to specific sectors: for example, Jack and the Beanstalk was ultimately angled towards the finance sector.
With a relatively small budget, this campaign takes a unique approach to narrative (especially within B2B), is supported by smart creative, and has the scope to be built on indeterminably – after all, there’s no shortage of fairy tales out there to draw inspiration from.
You can now get your hands on a copy of FairITales this Christmas, with all proceeds going to The Prince’s Trust to help disadvantaged young people in the UK. If you know any children who would love a book of truly modern fairytales, (or any adult B2B marketers looking to see some truly brilliant creative), you can order a copy online for just £10.