The 3 most common B2B storytelling frustrations – and how to overcome them
Joshua Morse identifies the three most frequent hurdles to storytelling in B2B marketing, and explains how to get over them to unlock the power of telling stories
“Drain the swamp! Drain the swamp! Drain the swamp!” America’s storyteller-in-chief careers down a carefully choreographed line. His rallies are a mash-up of wrestling and pantomime, and they unleash storytelling perfection.
Now, I promise we’ll keep things B2B, that’s why you’re here after all. But first, indulge me briefly. Whatever your views of Donald Trump, and mine are unpublishable, his ability to tell a tale is dazzling.
He achieves personification of intangible political and social issues by attaching them to his opponents. This gives his audience a pantomime villain to hate on. And it makes him – troubling metaphor alert – the sweaty, spandex clad wrestling hero of their dreams. Reporting for service and ready to piledrive villains through the deck.
His storytelling fosters a common purpose and unity between him and his people. It understands his audience's worldview. The message is framed exclusively for them. Here is a man who can’t disembark Air Force One without first firing a salvo of tweets at whoever is in his sights that day. Yet he achieves solidarity with his audience most politicians can only dream of.
Trump’s diplomacy by Twitter is reminiscent of the challenge we face as B2B marketers. Despite breaking many of the rules of good storytelling, he achieves his goal, by getting enough of the basics right.
You won’t have missed the fact that everyone, and everything, seems to revolve around storytelling these days. No longer an abstract concept from ad land, it’s bread and butter stuff. But the challenges in making it work for B2B are real.
"Despite breaking many of the rules of good storytelling, he achieves his goal, by getting enough of the basics right"
How can you unlock the power of storytelling to help you sell in B2B?
From the New Testament to the Marlboro man, Shakespeare to Star Wars, nothing grips us like a tale of triumph over adversity or the promise of a better life, no matter how false that promise ultimately transpires to be.
The best stories tap into our most primal urges. Yet as marketers too often we just hoist the megaphone and shout about the benefits our products bring. We’re faster, we’re cheaper. We’re stronger, we’re prettier. But benefits alone don’t disrupt happy people enough to make them change their loyalties.
I run a storytelling course with B2B Marketing where, naturally, B2B marketers like you come for a few pointers on making stories work for their brands.
Many delegates come with common frustrations which hold them back and our job on the day is to turn frustration to action. Let’s run through a few of those frequent concerns now.
We might start the day with a simple example to get people thinking, like how things started in their business back in the day. Every business began with a single idea. The founder’s story showing what caused that idea to spark to life, the challenges in making it a reality and the legacy that leader leaves can make for compelling stuff. That doesn’t mean we need the chronological chapter and verse of a full life story. A single detail can tell it all.
One example I love using is Deloitte. This is a beautiful and rare example of a company still carrying its founder's name and doing roughly the same thing it began life to do. In 1849 William Deloitte created a way to protect investors in the Great Western Railway from fraud. It went well, to say the least, and before long the shareholders were asking for external audit to be mandatory by law.
Placing their story in the rush of railway mania puts us in mind of stovepipe hat wearing Victorian engineers, chomping cigars, and declaring anything is possible. It also immediately shows that Deloitte has the track record to be relevant in modern emerging markets. As you know, today Deloitte does many things, all of which build back to this founding story of protecting investors.
On our course, at this point a delegate may reasonably think, well that’s all very interesting, but our company is extremely diverse. This wouldn’t work for us.
How can I find a coherent story when we do so many seemingly unrelated things?
The part of our brains which makes ‘gut’ reactions, the limbic brain, operates without words. It is an emotional decision-making tool which pre-dates language. It is here that we decide what we like, love and will spend money on before our logical mind splutters into action. If you start with hard facts rather than emotion, you are already set to fail.
One route with a diverse business is to find a common theme which unites your mission. Take 3M. A bewildering array of technically innovative products are united in a common theme: ‘Science. Applied to life’.
This is summed up by a beautifully straightforward value proposition: ‘Science… is just science until you make it improve the world’. From here 3M hang stories which build into this big message. They talk of mission and purpose before facts and figures.
Now our delegate might think, okay – but our pace of change is too fast, we can’t talk about vision, ours is still emerging.
"Unlike Donald Trump’s approach, of presenting himself as the hero, the best stories are told about us, by our customers"
How can I find a story for our continually evolving brand?
If you work with tech, by the time something’s printed it’s probably old news. But somewhere in the back story there might be an interesting event to hang things off. Something which though seemingly novel alludes to an overall theme. Like thinking differently.
The world’s largest international multimedia news provider, Reuters, reaches more than one billion people every day. Naturally it talks about the clever ways it makes that happen. Deep in the past is one seemingly novel way to show they’ve always been prepared to think differently to outsmart their rivals. It’s not something they shout about, but it’s a detail I love. Before opening an office in the City of London in 1851 transmitting stock market quotations between London and Paris using the then new Calais to Dover cable, Reuter had previously used pigeons to fly stock prices between Aachen and Brussels. The pigeon service only ran for a year before that gap in the telegraph link was closed. This early ability to think differently serves as evidence of a founder prepared to do all that’s needed to serve his client, principles which I’m sure stand true today.
What’s stopping you from telling more stories?
We’ve just worked through three very common issues which come up on our course, but there are hundreds more. As a group we share our challenges and frustrations, and we crack them one by one.
You may also have spotted that these examples all come from within the business. Unlike Donald Trump’s approach, of presenting himself as the hero, the best stories are told about us, by our customers.
Creating ways for your customer to talk of their interaction with your brand, and the difference you make in their lives, is remarkably powerful. When prospective customers see people just like them whose problems have been solved, they can easily relate and will see a reason to buy.
On the course we talk about ways to help your customers tell those stories, and to help you write about your customers, especially where people feel they don’t know their customer well enough.
We also work through scores of tips and tricks you can use to inject a little life to your stories, and a fool proof methodology you’ll return to time and again. Why not book your place now? I hope to see you there.
Discover the power of business storytelling, grab the attention of potential clients and inspire them to do business with you. This course will arm you with a stack of storytelling techniques, supported by real-world B2B storytelling examples from companies including Salesforce, Barclays and Deloitte.