Once upon a time in B2B: turning the page on storytelling

Storytelling isn’t a difficult thing to sell to B2B marketers – infact, most don’t need any sales pitch at all. They are already bought into the notion, hook, line and sinker. But acknowledging the potential doesn’t mean you’re an expert overnight. So what does storytelling success look like? This was the focus of our recent B2B Marketing Leaders virtual roundtable

It’s not difficult to fathom why storytelling is such a compelling topic. Inherently, it’s about creativity, and appealing to our emotional mind, rather than a rational one. And in a profession which is (still) struggling to cast aside the mantle of ‘the colouring-in department’, it's refreshing to so openly be able to embrace our creative side, and not be encumbered by fussy things like data.

Storytelling has never been so popular or potent in B2B marketing, particularly in an era of much increased uncertainty, stories with familiar themes make us feel safe and give us something to relate to on a human level. But just because it’s popular, that doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone is getting it right – and that’s what we sought to explore in this B2B Marketing Leaders virtual roundtable. As ever, attendees represented marketers from a broad range of backgrounds and industries, which made for a fascinating and broad-ranging discussion. Here are the standout conclusions and takeaways.

1. There’s a hierarchy or different maturity levels to storytelling

This ranges from expert ‘I think we’re doing it, but not sure’ to ‘we have a storytelling council’… and everything inbetween.

2. Attitudes to storytelling outside marketing varies

Often it's not the board that is the most sceptical, because they understand the importance of brand, but the product owners/leaders, who just want stuff to be produced about their area of interest and fast. They don’t really care about narrative and can’t see the bigger brand picture.

3. Crises can create inflexion points to reinvigorate your storytelling

To start taking storytelling seriously, you need to engineer a crisis with current marketing… or at least an inflexion point where people realise that they need to change. An example is to do a comparison of advertising with your competitors and see if people can tell who is who and who is you without the logos.

4. Storytelling is the means, not the end

Generating ROI from storytelling must always be the objective, but it can be elusive. Failure can lie in getting carried away with the beauty of the story and not keeping the ultimate business objective front-of-mind. There’s no universally applicable to ROI on storytelling or template which marketers can adopt. Sometimes great ideas just don’t work.

5. Customers are the protagonists of great stories, not your brand

The brand is the enabler, not the subject – a Yoda character (from Star Wars), not a Mowgli (from Jungle Book). It’s about them (the customers) not about you (the brand).

6. Humanity is at the heart of great storytelling

It’s not about facts and figures or case studies… although these can be useful along the way.

7. Great storytelling begins at home

Storytelling is just as effective at internal communications as external – if not moreso. Your internal message isn’t just competing with other internal communications, it's competing with everything external also. Great storytelling allows you to cut through the noise.

8. Don’t confuse great content marketing with great storytelling

Brands that are great at content marketing aren’t necessarily great at storytelling – whilst the two overlap, there’s a significant difference in skillsets, output and success criteria.

9. Not all stories are good stories

When storytelling becomes properly embedded, best practice will become as much about saying ‘no’ to some, as it will be saying ‘yes’.

10.  Shout it from the rooftops

Great stories go beyond a single channel – they should be deployed across multiple channels and potentially for a protracted period to achieve maximum potential.

About the B2B Marketing Leaders programme

B2B Marketing is running regular roundtables to help CMOs, marketing directors, VPs and other B2B Marketing Leaders to navigate the coronavirus crisis and prepare for what comes next. For more information on the programme go to our website.

If you’d like to join one of these sessions, email sarah.casswell@b2bmarketing.net