In B2B, nobody cares about your brand story – so help them write theirs instead

Storytelling in B2B is big business

And why not? We all believe in our brands, and we like the idea that we’re doing something with real meaning – especially in B2B, where that’s not always apparent.

We’re not just at work, we’re on a mission, and the idea that people buy your “why” not your “what” enables B2B marketers to show that in a way that’s creative and satisfying – for themselves, for senior managers, and for shareholders too.

It’s no wonder it felt like every speaker at B2B InTech was quoting Simon Sinek. And, as a copywriter, it’s no wonder that tech brands are happy to pay me to run workshops, to get to the heart of their brand’s “story”. It makes perfect sense, except for one thing.

For the most part, your customer doesn’t care about your story. They're too busy writing their own.

“You must learn the ways of the Force, if you are to come with me to Alderaan”

Obi-Wan Kenobi, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

Every time I run a brand messaging workshop, I start with one key question:

“Tell me about your customer.”

Because here’s the thing. When you do it right, a B2B brand story isn’t your story at all; it’s all about them.

Looking around my office, I don’t know why our CRM suppliers started their company, but I do know which of our leads I’m most excited about. I don’t care if Skype is a disruptive force in digital communications; I just wish it worked. I don't have a train ticket to London because it reminds me of Isambard Kingdom Brunel; it'll just let me write while I move.

In B2B, your customer doesn’t even think about your story, and they don’t care about your mission – except for the part where you help them to complete their own.

They’re the hero of this tale. And that means you’re not.

If that sounds a little disingenuous, coming from someone who writes brand stories, it really shouldn’t. Because not being the hero doesn’t shut down your ability to tell a good story about your brand – in fact, I’d argue it makes the whole thing much, much more interesting.

“I’m in the mood to help you, dude”

Genie, Aladdin

Pantalaimon, R2-D2, Garth Elgar, Luna Lovegood, Rupert Giles. Sometimes the coolest and most beloved character isn’t the hero. They’re the one who helps. Who enables the hero to win the day. And – crucially – who represents the audience in the story.

(Seriously; have you ever noticed how the whole of Star Wars is told from Artoo and Threepio’s point of view?)

That’s important, because I’m not saying that just because it’s not your story, there’s no story. Or that you shouldn’t tell it. And I’m certainly not saying there’s no scope for you to look good in the process (think about it: how often does a character who’s not the hero end up stealing the show?).

But I will – respectfully – say this:

In B2B tech, your brand is not, and never will be, Luke Skywalker. You’re not Beowulf, nor Harry Potter, nor Bilbo Baggins. And sorry, but you’re not even Tony Stark (however good your tech may be). If you’re on a mission to change the world, nobody really cares.

And that’s OK. Because your customer’s story has lots of important (and frankly more exciting) roles for you to play:

  • You can be Obi-Wan: presenting Luke with the legendary weapon he needs to fight his nemesis, and instructing him in the mystical skills he'll use to save the day.

  • You can be Samwise: totally devoted to Frodo, and grateful to go far beyond the call of duty to ensure the mission succeeds.

  • You can be Willow: interpreting arcane knowledge and new technology so Buffy knows exactly where, when and how to kick vampires’ butts.

  • You can be Sirius: offering Harry a longed-for home, and working quietly behind the scenes to ensure he has exactly the right help at the right time.

  • You can be Gandalf: seeing the hobbits’ potential greatness, warning them of growing dangers and charging them with a sacred quest.

  • You can be Azeem: firing flaming arrows into the gunpowder you concocted, so Robin Hood can rescue his friends from certain doom – and calling others to join his cause.

…and hundreds of others besides.

None of these characters are the protagonist in their story – but they all have a story to tell. It just so happens that the main thrust of their most interesting story is what they helped someone else to achieve.

In the same way, the only story that ultimately matters for your B2B brand is the story of your customer – the important thing you help them to do, and how that makes a difference to their life, their job, and their business.

“I can't carry it for you, but I can carry you and it as well. So up you get! Come on, Mr. Frodo dear! Sam will give you a ride. Just tell him where to go, and he'll go.” 

Samwise Gamgee, The Return of the King

So when you tell your story, let your customer be their own hero... and yours too.

Let them own their achievements, and celebrate their successes. Be dedicated in your focus, and generous with your praise. Because being in business is hard, and the challenges they face can feel overwhelming. It’s a hell of quest; no wonder it’s where their focus is – and if you can give them what they need to succeed, that’s what they want to hear.

That still gives you plenty of room to be great. Your software solution can be as important as Luke’s lightsabre – or Excalibur, if you prefer. Your tech team can be as supportive as Fezzik the giant, climbing the Cliffs of Insanity. But make your brand part of a bigger saga, not just your own.

In B2B, people don’t care about your story, but they do care an awful lot about the role you can play in theirs.

“Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi; you’re my only hope.” 

Princess Leia Organa, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope