Stories are one of the most powerful drivers of emotion, perception and action on the planet. Great stories move humans in a visceral way and they have the power to compel a desired action by the teller. B2B storytelling has become a prominent part of the marketing mix, though the skill is embraced in a variety of industries. Storytelling plays an impactful role in a number of environments:
- Education – The best teachers use carefully thought-out narratives to carry make a lesson stick in the classroom. I still remember a story told by my high school Chemistry teacher about a poverty-stricken little boy who found himself on the wrong side of the fence in a war-torn country, face-to-face with an armed soldier. His words still echo in my mind: “Soldier, Please Don’t Fire.” To this day, I cannot forget the lesson of orbitals and SPDF configuration.
- Law – In a courtroom, lawyers weave stories to convince a jury of guilt or innocence. Anyone who has watched an episode of Law & Order can get a sense for the power of stories, no matter which side or the courtroom you’re on. Juries – and the public – can be compelled to deem someone innocent or guilty from a strong story, regardless of the facts.
- Business – Stories prove to be a critical element of business, regardless of role or title. A CTO looking to get executive buy-in on a new company-wide technology relies on her storytelling ability to educate peers and gain support needed to launch. Similarly, a startup founder must tell an engaging story in the form of a pitch deck to gain traction and funding from investors.
Shift in Marketing & Sales Dynamics
B2B Storytelling is fundamental to marketing because the emotional response that stories elicit can ultimately impact business performance. This emotional response is tightly coupled with the rational thinking that also drives sales, and B2B organizations must embrace both elements to be successful in business.
Research shows that B2B decision-makers are dynamic and changing, interacting less with traditional sales people and relying more on their own research. According to an Accenture study on B2B procurement, 94% of B2B buyers do online research at some stage in the buyer’s journey. Add to that the fact that 59% of buyers prefer online research over talking to a sales rep and you have set the stage for why online storytelling is critical. Buyers have grown weary of sales reps that push their own agenda without taking into account the unique needs of each buyer. Some consider this a loss of power for companies looking to increase sales but I posit the opposite.
Smart marketers now have a better opportunity than ever to engage with – and successfully sell to – buyers who do their own research. The dynamic of traditional sales has shifted, sure. But that can be used to any company’s benefit with proper analytics and a solid content marketing strategy.
Analytics as a Foundation for B2B Storytelling
B2B buyers are doing their own research on their own timeline on their preferred channels. Marketers can meet that challenge by discovering what those unique preferences are via tracking and analytics. Tapping into insights about your website audience with Google Analytics is a great start. On which pages are visitors spending the most time? Which blog posts and topics see the most engagement? Is LinkedIn a top referring source? The answers to these questions are the foundation upon which great storytelling campaigns are built. You can gain insights into:
- Topics that resonate with your audience
- Preferred channels of engagement (LinkedIn, Quora, partner websites)
- Whether your calls to action are compelling
This information can be turned into a buyer/audience persona that drives your B2B storytelling strategy (read more about personas). Personas include demographic info, company info, top buyer challenges, top buyer needs, preferred sources of info and potential rebuttals. This key part of a content marketing strategy helps you hone your narrative(s) to directly address decision makers and what they have express is important to them.
Analytics also provide insights you can use to build your distribution and amplification strategy. Once you’ve identified where and when decision makers are consuming content, you can forge a plan that puts your tailored content in front of the right eyes at the right time.
Make Your Case
Marketers stand to thrive – and boost qualified leads and sales – if they can execute a great story backed by solid analytics. Once the framework of a story is established from analytics (and the greater content marketing framework is in place), marketers can begin to craft their narrative. A company usually has one main “brand narrative” supported by smaller narratives around certain products, services or missions. These pieces all add up to a grander content marketing strategy.
And content marketing is what this post is really about, because content marketing and storytelling are one in the same: the answer to the evolving dynamic in B2B buying. People want valuable, informative, useful information and will visit, return to, and ultimately buy from companies who provide just that. It’s in the data:
- Marketers that provide valuable content backed by an intelligent strategy see 7.8 times more site traffic than those that don’t
- Content marketing is 62% less expensive than traditional marketing and can result in roughly 3 times the number of leads
- 60% of people are compelled to actively seek a product after consuming content about it
The stats go on forever. The verdict is in: if you’re not honing your B2B storytelling skills and putting them to good use as part of a comprehensive content marketing program, you’re leaving money on the table.