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The Emperor's New Clothes

Now, I may be alone in thinking this – and I hope for the sake of our industry that I’m not – but this ‘story-telling’ malarkey is nothing but a trendy new wrapper for that staple of the marketing toolbox, the case study.

Advertisers have been telling ‘stories’ for years. Zippo ran an ad over 50 years ago entitled “The amazing story of a Zippo that worked after being taken from the belly of a fish” and who can forget “Have you ever wondered how the man who drives the snow plough drives to the snow plough?” Bringing products to life in an interesting and engaging way is nothing new and I’m not sure that an industry that is positively awash with buzz-words is best served by the creation of a new one.

The B2B marketing industry doesn’t need ‘story-telling’. It doesn’t need fancy consultants and keynote speakers to tell us how to win over hearts and minds. And it doesn’t need to explain its philosophy in order to get customers to open their wallets.

But there is one thing it does need to do pronto.

If we are going to engage with our audiences, differentiate and humanise our brands and give ourselves a bit of personality, then we have got to stop talking multi-syllabic business bullshit. I don’t know anyone who professes to want to write it, approve it or read it, and yet it is positively everywhere. The web is littered with reams of vacuous prose promising cost-effectiveness, efficiency and “enhanced visibility across heterogeneous solutions-based architectures” and it needs to stop. It ain’t funny and if you think it makes you sound clever, you’re kidding yourself.

Because even if you follow the “problem-solving, human interest and topicality” formula as referred to in your article but insist on writing your “stories” using the obscure and confusing language that blights our industry, you won’t have advanced the cause of B2B marketing by a single jot. “This is the story of The Three Small- to Medium-Sized Porcine Dwelling Solutions Providers?” I don’t think so.

When I write, I try and use everyday language that assumes no level of knowledge. Even if I am writing about complex stuff, I believe it is my duty to make it comprehensible to everyone. And occasionally I will do some real “story-telling” such as the “One and Zero” campaign we created for Business Objects. The creative took the form of an actual story book, complete with pictures, and it pulled like a train. It also won the gong for Best Creative at the B2B Marketing Awards.

So, let’s not get carried away in the belief that “story-telling” is the panacea we’ve all been looking for. Let’s just find something genuinely interesting to say and write about it in words that people might actually want to read.

And if we could all avoid using the word “leverage”, I’d be very grateful.