When science fails, try storytelling

In Stockholm, there are some mornings when you just want to close your eyes to stop the gloom. But you fear the ice. Give it half a chance and it’ll lock your eyelids. You’ll be as blind as the rest of them.

She knew she shouldn’t be there. But to be anywhere else was impossible now. And so, she resigned herself to another day on the street. The icy mist was the only thing lower than her mood.

With a sign at her side which simply said; ‘skolstrejk för klimatet’, Greta Thunberg settled in for another day of trying to save the planet.

And what, you may well wonder, does all of this have to do with B2B marketing?

Well, like so many of us B2B marketers, and maybe you included, Greta Thunberg recognised that even when you know you’re right, making change happen is never guaranteed.

We may have certainty that whatever it is we are offering can make peoples’ lives better. But getting people to bite, is another thing altogether.

Depending on where in B2B you work, you may see this problem manifest itself in one of many ways.

If, like me, you’re lucky enough to spend some of your time working with people in science and technology, you’ll be all too familiar with this perennial problem. We can prove we’re right, but a hard wall of inertia stops anyone ever actually doing a great deal differently.

And, as we strive to convince people, we loop ad nauseum through all the classic tactics. Data. Graphs of every shape and flavour. Thought leadership. An occasional foray into sponsoring content.

What happens? Nada. Diddly-squat. Everything remains the same. Because facts alone don’t motivate change.

We know it shouldn’t be like this. But like this it is. So, we’d better deal with it.

Whether through accident or design, Greta Thunberg stumbled on a rarely acknowledged truth. Science alone rarely changes the world. It takes good stories to do that.

And so, she became the story. A plucky hero cast into a seemingly irresolvable quandary. A protagonist of change aiming to clash seven-and-a-half-billion heads together, and to get us all to do something half a century worth of scientists had failed to do. Act.

Let me be clear here. We are on the same side. I am not saying we don’t need data. I am not saying we don’t need science. What I am saying is we need to find the right way to present all the clever stuff people with brains far larger than our own create. I believe storytelling is the right way.

No scientist ever enters their profession thinking: ‘I hope I discover some cool stuff, but I don’t really give a toss whether it makes a difference.’ They become scientists to make a better world. Our job as marketers is simply to help the world understand what they do. And why it matters.

Although I’m focussing on science here, these same issues apply wherever you work. Stories motivate change. But it’s one thing to know that; it’s another thing altogether to know how to make them work in our own little corners of B2B.

There are, I think, three stages to making it happen:

First, there must be substance.

These are the key facts which make your story work. They’re essential, but they can’t do it all. This is where most data and science stories stop. ‘We’ve got facts. That’s enough right?’

Nope. You must show people you get their ‘big problem’, and what’s more, you’re here to guide them to the answers they need.

Second, there must be sparkle.

A few tricks stolen from the book of stories can miraculously shift the mundane into the must-read. This is where it starts to get fun. You can shift time. You can make people laugh. You might even make them cry. Try doing that with a data sheet.

And third, there must be a compelling structure.

We must lead our audience through our narrative in the right order. Getting people to act, means taking them through the action first. That means a story of conflict, and characters who resonate, flowing to ultimately answer the big question our people face.  

We must invite people to take a clear call to action. Where we directly ask our audience to do something. That might mean you invite them to read more about your new big thing. Or you could ask them straight out to buy something. Like this:

Book a spot on our next B2B Storytelling course

If we don’t work through these stages, we’re stuck with the status quo. Because no one ever changes unless they’re forced to. And that’s fine if you’re happy where you are. Your competitors would probably love that too.

The reality is, whether we’re trying to save the world, or simply sell more widgets, a few good stories go a long way. 

So, back to our hero. Did Greta save the world? Well it’s a little too soon to say, but she’s certainly shaken things up. She’s done more than the legion of lab coats who preceded her in trying to solve the same problem. Why? Well, I think the story helped.

And what of your own challenge, how are you going to start making change happen? I hope one of the steps will be booking on that course I mentioned. It would be great to see you there and to help you think about making stories work for you and your customers.



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