Storytelling Is The New Black

How An Old Tactic Makes Your Brand Human

Storytelling has experienced somewhat of a recent renaissance as marketers are looking for better ways to connect with their audience. The term “storytelling” itself gets thrown around quite often in marketing departments without much thought to what it truly means.

There are several interpretations to storytelling, but I think the simplest definition is: storytelling builds emotional connections between your business and audience. One great example of storytelling is the recent ad that Dodge created called “God Made a Farmer.”

It is a two-minute spot sharing rich images of farming, trackers, dirt, you feel the sense of how backbreaking farming is without ever stepping foot on a farm. It is not until 1:48 that you realize this is an ad for the Dodge Ram, a pick-up truck. The video alone on YouTube has garnered more than 15 million views. Think about that. This was an ad spot that people were willing and wanting to watch because Dodge’s agency, The Richards Group, painted the picture through storytelling.

But how does this relate to the corporate marketer? After all Dodge is a multibillion-dollar brand with plenty of resources.

Like many of you, I have sat in marketing meetings with internal stakeholders and heard from the team they need more datasheets or other “needed marketing assets.” From my perspective, “a datasheet with more people photos that allegedly look like your customer” isn’t going to make the difference. The issue is not the datasheet itself, but that the datasheet doesn’t paint the picture for the prospect of what she can expect from your product or service. In fact, Forrester reported that 70 percent of the content B2B buyers read and study before making a purchase decision is actually found by themselves; as opposed to being given to them by marketing or sales. You need to tell a consistent story as to why prospective customers should buy from you.

Most Stories Follow A Consistent Structure:

  • Setting – the location where your story takes place.
  • Characters
  • An event to start things rolling
  • Development
  • The Climax
  • The Ending

Setting: Where Your Story Takes Place

You need a setting. Maybe it is a customer who was in crisis. Maybe it was a client who needed help achieving new goals. Whatever it is, you need to take the reader through the trials and tribulations. We like to read about how people failed and were redeemed.

Think back to the Dodge example, the ad vividly shared detailed photos of the farmer. The dirt on his hands or the scenes of the landscape. The setting is the set up. You need to paint the picture to the reader of the scene. If this were a case study, what was the challenge the client faced?

Characters: Make Your Brand More Human

Not to be trite, I often see many websites with more sales sheets than client success stories or case studies. Storytelling allows you to put your customer in the limelight. Share their successes and challenges. At Hobsons, we began using video to share industry insight by the folks (clients, employees, pundits) who have been in the market and shared their experiences.

Social Media is another opportunity to connect with your market. If your followers are not re-sharing your content, then you are missing a huge opportunity to engage and connect. When you think about content you share on social media think in terms of your ideal client. What do they want to share? What type of information they need? What do they want to hear?

Most folks want to share photos, stories, links to articles that will help or teach them something new. Be the source of information people want to engage with. Charity: Water does an amazing job of telling the story of how bringing clean, safe drinking water to people in developing nations is connected to their donation. I love the page about sponsoring a water project that in great detail shares what a contributor’s donation actually is used for. Fantastic use of images, details to tell their story and how it contributes to the greater good.

An Event To Start Things Rolling: Let Clients Be The Lead In Your Storytelling

Stories can have multiple actors, but your company doesn’t need the lead role. I believe one of the best ways to tell your corporate story is highlighting your clients through earned media opportunities. Earned media, as defined by the Altimeter Group, is user-generated content created and/or share by users. This could be trade publication articles, blog posts, tweets, or reviews. Why is it important? Earned media, in theory, is unbiased and unsolicited. When folks go to Google and search for your company, they can find all kinds of reactions and social shares that are unfiltered and not corporate speak.

This is more than telling customers about your product. People will remember a story more than your products. Two years ago, I added our clients to our public relations efforts in terms of highlighting them telling their successes using out products rather than our experts. Risky? Maybe, but I would anecdotally say we actually have more coverage by highlighting our clients as more customers are sharing those stories. Better yet, when they are meeting with sales, prospects are mentioning they say X client and how they are using our products – Win.

Development: Think Like A Movie Director

In terms of storytelling I think development should be about teaching people something different. I watched Argo and was mesmerized. My favorite scene is when the embassy workers were shredding the “classified documents.” Where are they going to make it? Would the “bad guys” go to get the documents? I was hooked for 2 hours. Not only was the movie compelling, but the director did a fantastic job of telling the story. Storytelling isn’t just for the movies. Just because you’re in a B2B market, doesn’t mean you cannot be compelling.

The Climax: It’s About The “Ah Ha” Moment

The climax of your story needs to have the moment where the reader is at the edge of their seat. So for B2B marketers, the climax is “the ah-ha” moment in your success story or case study. The moment when your client realizes that your product or services was the lynchpin in their success.

The Ending: Storytelling Is Innate In Marketing Or Public Relations

After all, Storytelling is PR; it essentially boils down to connecting organization and people through a story. It is your role to paint a cohesive and consist story about your organization. And think about, it is in our human nature to share and respond to great stories. Traditional methods are no longer as effective to reach your market. According to Corporate Executive Board recent research, 58 percent of B2B customers are researching and gathering information before they every engage with your sales team.