Storytelling in marketing in 2021 seems to have become a concept as ubiquitous as “content”.
Funny that, especially when “telling stories” is usually associated with something most parents do for their children, something naughty children indulge in to avoid getting caught, or what happens in the pub any night of the week.
Working for a media outlet at the news/features/comment end of the business (as I used to) was known as journalism rather than storytelling, though the stock in trade was – indeed – stories.
That said, the business of storytelling is serious-enough for alan – the Raconteur B2B marketing agency – to look more closely at it as a legitimate tool for marketing communications in B2B technology.
As part of a recent webinar, Bryan Glick – editor in chief at Computer Weekly – called storytelling “the purest form of sharing human experiences” and a “narrative that engages an audience at an emotional/personal level” that gives B2B technology buyers “confidence to talk to you as a supplier”.
In addition, content creator Nick Levine couched it in classic storytelling terms: “a protagonist going on a journey to solve a problem.”
Kirsty Waller, vice president UKI marketing at Sage described the “emotional connection” it creates with an audience while “articulating your purpose as a company, brand, people and products”. However, your story has to be “grounded in insight and understanding of the audience” to be effective.
Making purpose part of your storytelling
Has storytelling in marketing increased in importance in the past 12 months-plus of Covid-19 pandemic?
Yes, said Kirsty Waller, citing the many Sage customers that have “amazing stories” to tell of “adapting and changing business models to survive and thrive”. These stories, Waller added, remind Sage of its purpose and role in helping businesses build back after lockdown:
“In the B2C sector, purpose has been driving businesses for much longer – Tesla sells cars, but the story is around renewables; Patagonia sells clothing, but the story is about how they want to save the world. The B2B sector also has responsibility for how we tell the story of what and who we are and how we help,” she said.
Storytelling marks out of 10 in B2B tech?
So, with all the talk of storytelling and its value to B2B tech marketing, exactly how well have B2B tech marketers done historically?
Bryan Glick feels that performance has been traditionally poor, with its focus on new products/new versions/features and functions, generally delivered in jargon-filled language.
“Now, technology buyers expect to be addressed in their own language, so a lot of tech companies have a lot to improve. I’d encourage any tech marketer to read press releases to see the impenetrable language. It’s an opportunity to stand out using simple language the buyer understands. Get out of some old bad habits and stand out from the crowd!” he said.
And that, Glick added, would include confining the word “solution” to the tech marketing scrapyard.
Clearly, Kirsty Waller empathises with this from in in-house marketing perspective, having already fought the battles about features/functions and benefits in marketing communications.
“People in B2B are still people with their aspirations and we don’t think big enough about the benefit we provide…tapping into the emotional reasoning behind what people buy,” she said.
And storytelling is not just about long-form content or video case studies, Waller added, but
having customers tell their own stories as more powerful than companies talking about themselves. This also means having the courage to let people share honest opinions rather than wanting to “control the narrative” at every point.
The idea of influencers in B2B tech marketing has a very simple, erm, solution (sorry Bryan) according to Bryan Glick: “The best influencers are your customers – one CIO talking to another CIO, telling the story in their language.” The challenge is the story you’re going to tell at different stages of the buying process.
Interestingly, this editor-in-chief asserts that “not everything has to be a story”. By that, he means there’s still a place for tech data sheets and lists of technology features/functions.
What makes a story worth telling?
Despite the eternal challenge of B2B tech companies getting wrapped up in their technology, Glick notes that every story is [or should be – my addition] a human interest story. Even storage virtualisation deserves to have a human interest angle for the IT buyer (yes, you read that correctly).
“Computer Weekly is, ultimately, writing about change. Storytelling is about making change more understandable and less scary based on the experiences people have had,” Glick said.
And when thinking about the types of stories to tell, Waller points out the typical trap for B2B marketers: segmenting audiences in a way “that makes sense to us”, such as by employer size or revenue.
Instead of making assumptions based on arbitrary criteria, she recommends – well – talking to customers: Sage has set up a programme of sharing support and service calls across its organisation to understand better what customers are talking about on day-to-day basis, getting under their skin and identifying what more the company could do to help them.
And if you’re still wondering whether it’s worth boarding the storytelling “train”, Waller has some, erm, sage advice: “Start small, introduce new things and test/learn. Monitor the impact it’s having by putting things out there and seeing what engagement you get.”
Does your business need to make more of its B2B storytelling to support marketing and PR activity? Contact Metamorphic PR.