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The Alchemy of B2B Storytelling: 3 solid strategies

Deputy CEO of The Guardian David Pemsel’s mindset that “creativity is marketing, marketing is creativity” is a useful one, as it reminds marketers to reposition their work in the environment of the artists – the designers, photographers, writers, creators and storytellers that inspire such emotional connections and responses to their work. But whilst the B2C world has readily adopted this thinking, B2B brands have traditionally found this road to be less well-trodden. And that’s because, to be frank, it is often tougher for B2B brands to “tell stories”, let alone in an authentic and dynamic way. What kind of “story” could there be for a business brand? Customer success? Boring. Case study? It’s been done. So what’s left that’s out of the box? What can B2B brands offer as “content” to emotionally engage – or to surprise and delight – or to teach our prospects?

I’ve often seen the pressure of ‘producing’ get in the way of great execution when it comes to B2B content marketing. As Commercial Director of Odeon & UCI cinemas Andy Edge summed up at his recent talk at Marking Week Live, you just need “a clear idea, brilliantly executed.” Take the recent John Lewis Christmas advert The Bear & The Hare (indeed any of their Christmas adverts), or the award-winning Guardian short Three Little Pigs. Both pieces are examples of stellar storytelling because they have a clear, simple idea executed with flair and originality, and an on point tone of voice that provokes an emotional response, and ultimately a conversation, with the person on the other side. But what kinds of ideas work for B2B brands? While a ‘Bear & The Hare’ might not really resonate, there are some foolproof ideas we’ve seen work well when they’re executed simply:       

1) Focus on the story that’s bigger than the product or service that you provide. A fantastic example is the much heralded Volvo Trucks Van Damme advertisement. What worked so well with this piece of content was that, to showcase the precision and stability of their truck’s new steering system, Volvo’s music, cinematography and story showcased a moment of awe-inspiring beauty and agility. And it only took them 75 seconds.

2) Look to the horizon. At Raconteur, we publish at least five titles a year that start with the words “The Future of” such as The Future of Retail or The Future of Healthcare. Forecasting or sharing a window into the future, but anchoring that in solid numbers, data and trend analysis, tells a story because you’re helping people envision something, and inciting or inspiring them to play a part.

3) Tackle real issues that affect real people. By zooming into their lives, and the problems they face, or the jobs they do, you can examine or project high-impact situations and how to make improvements for the better. Take General Electric’s What My Mom Does at GE commercial for instance – it’s a great example of a B2B brand sparking imagination using the lives of their employees and their families. It just goes to show that being a B2B brand doesn’t mean that you can’t engage with this type of approach.

Hollywood script consultant Pilar Alessandra was recently interviewed by the CMI about successful storytelling and turned the tables on marketers by commenting: “I think that screenwriters can learn a lot from brand storytellers! There’s a desire to connect with an audience that’s exciting on the web. Well-crafted online stories start big and get even bigger.” The climbing number of high-quality examples is proof that marketers are becoming great curators and producers of content. But the reality is that imagination and inspiration have to start internally, with the team responsible for the project. No-one can expect their audience to be inspired or engaged without something to spark that.