Don’t let the tale wag the dog: build your story, don’t tell it

Everybody’s telling stories about storytelling. It’s the new black. But to ensure the tale doesn’t wag the dog, I believe you need to factor in one of the biggest challenges in B2B: time.

I believe instead we should be focussing on story building, and here’s why.

We all know that sales cycles in B2B are usually lengthy – months rather than days or weeks, sometimes even years. But the concept of storytelling is that of a one time shot: I tell my story, and you hear it, so my story is told. Some time soon I’ll tell you another one.

That fits in with the obsession in much marketing with rapid lead generation. Quick, let’s create a white paper or some other form of content, drive suspects to it and capture the data. We’ve now hit our leads quota for the quarter – whew! We told a story, it attracted attention and we delivered an RoI.

Of course this is a simplistic caricature but you get the point. It’s tactical, not strategic. A stone has been thrown into a pond, caused a few ripples – and then the pond became calm again.

Instead I advocate story building – or StoryBuilding (to make it seem much more substantial I’ve added capitals). Because I am a former broadcast journalist for me the analogy for a story is a 2 minute TV report rather than a novel. We’re all too busy to read too much.

It has to have a headline, to grab your attention. When I worked at ITN many years ago we called these the Bongs! The simple sentence which summed it all up and which had to go between the bongs of Big Ben on News At Ten. If we had to write one of those for your proposition, what would it be?

Then there needs to be a version which is News In Brief. This would fit into a short news bulletin and tells the essence of the story, with the most important statement first and working downwards from there. It’s also a great elevator pitch or the opening paragraph on a web site or bid document.

But the real storybuild comes from what I call the Narrative Themes. These are the three or four big ideas which you stand for and want your marketplace to associate with your company or proposition. This is the framework from which to create the 3 C’s of sales and marketing: content, collateral and conversation.  It results in the fourth C: consistency over time, each story reinforcing the big narrative themes.

In my view the next step is to develop different versions of the 3 C’s for those at different stages of engagement. Snacks for those browsing at the top of the pipeline; more detailed versions for those being nurtured or deciding to dive in a bit deeper; and bespoke versions for those who already buy from us – ie existing customers.

By having a strong narrative framework for content and collateral creation, it becomes easier to plan to create multiple versions which are more narrowly focussed. I advocate that less is more: fewer stories, more versions.

Storytell like crazy, but develop an architecture that means every story fits into a clearly defined structure. Design the dog first, then add the tale.  

I'll be exploring this in more detail at my session 'StoryBuilding: a framework for your go to market story' at the B2B Marketing Conference on November 5.