Your B2B content is missing one thing. You.

David McGuire of Radix Communications reveals why the most lasting B2B stories mean sharing part of yourself.

Until recently, I thought great B2B content focused solely on the reader, and their needs. That brands focus too much on themselves. That the customer should be the hero of every story.

Reader, I was wrong.

Three B2B stories that dug deep – and connected

When we came to compile our list of the best B2B content of 2018, three pieces stuck out for me – precisely because they changed my mind about what powerful content looks like.

Each one connected by sharing something deeply personal. And when we think about emotion in B2B, when we talk about human-to-human communication, we have to take a deep breath, and consider what that humanity really entails.

Because real, human connections aren’t just about humour, joy and success. Sometimes they hurt.

The business impact of private grief

The first story that brought me up short was told by Tektronix senior marketing director Sally Wright, during her B2B Ignite breakout session “Staying human in a corporate world”.

You don’t expect to find yourself in tears at a conference about B2B marketing. But as Sally retraced the twists of a lifetime balancing her work and personal lives – and particularly when her story met a sudden, cruel bereavement – I was not alone in unexpectedly finding something in my eye.

Amid a lineup of star speakers, it was Sally’s jawdropping bravery in confronting such a painful and personal event – in front of an audience of strangers and peers, mind you – that had the lasting impact.

And that’s far from the only personal story to resonate in a business context.

A startling personal admission

In September, Chris Marr took the Content Marketing Academy’s podcast on an arresting, 12-minute detour, to mark Dundee’s first Pride march and public event.

A departure from the usual marketing tips, challenges and thought leadership, “Pride: A Personal Story” recounts a moment that – despite the upbeat tone and emphasis on learning and personal growth – still clearly causes Chris to feel guilt and shame.

In an online world of closely managed personal brands and hair-trigger social media responses, sharing a personal story that hinges on a moment of intolerance (however clearly the storyteller has moved on in the years since) is an astonishingly bold thing to do.

Poking fun at difficult situations

There are, of course, many ways to share a personal story. Sometimes the benefit of hindsight gives the opportunity to turn a once-difficult scene into a source of fun. And that’s what Siemens’ Pauliina Jamsa has been doing in a series of LinkedIn articles based on her own workplace mistakes.

From agile project management to working with virtual teams, Pauliina gleefully ram-raids her own career history, scattering awkward moments and personal failures with abandon.

“I made these mistakes so you don’t have to” is the message – and judging by the responses, Pauliina’s readers are clearly grateful for the benefit of her experience (even while quietly cringing at the embarrassment they reveal).

Powerful content goes against the grain

All these content pieces are memorable because they shock us. And they’re shocking precisely because they reveal things we’re supposed to keep private.

We’re supposed to project a positive image at all times. We’re certainly not supposed to admit to struggling with diversity. And we’re supposed to – somehow – keep the effects of personal grief away from our professional lives.

As a result, stories like these are rare in B2B. Perhaps if they were commonplace they’d be less affecting. But they work because of more than just their scarcity – and I can think of three immediate reasons:

1. They work because we know what the storyteller is risking

We appreciate that these stories are not shared lightly. We’re aware there’s a personal cost in telling us, and because of that we respect and value the story. We recognise the bravery in doing something so unconventional, and because of that we pay attention.

As Andrew London’s brilliant blog post If content doesn’t cost you anything, it isn’t worth anything says: “If hitting ‘publish’ doesn’t feel exposing, it’s probably not going to make much of a splash.”

2. They work because there’s something in it for us

This is not carte blanche to disregard your audience entirely. In the best examples, the storyteller is sharing for our benefit – to teach us something – rather than simply for personal attention.

Pauliina is helping us to avoid common marketing management mistakes. Chris is challenging us to examine our own values and be more open to discussion. And Sally is showing all of us in B2B marketing that our lives are so much bigger than just the office.

3. They work because we’re human too

The “pratfall effect” dictates we feel more positive towards a person or brand who shares a failure – but in B2B, our connection with these stories goes far beyond just that.

We’re surrounded by shiny content, from big monolithic brands. And even when skilled copywriters make them sound approachable and engaging (ahem), we still crave something human. Something real. Because the truth is, on the inside, we’re vulnerable too – and recognising vulnerability in others speaks to that. We don’t just understand the story; we identify. We feel it.

Human-to-human content is about more than a bit of personalisation and a quirky tone of voice. It’s about acknowledging our shared human experience in all its fullness: the triumph, the heartbreak, and the butt-clenching embarrassment. Isn’t that what being human is all about?

This is the bit where I sign off by wishing you a happy festive season, and a refreshing break –  especially if this time of year opens old wounds, or reminds you of someone you’ve lost. If there’s one thing these stories have taught me it’s this: you’re far from alone.

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