Once upon a time… in marketing

February 3, 2020By C8 ConsultingInsights

Storytelling is a powerful way to reach the audiences that matter and bring a brand to life – and it is as relevant in B2B marketing as B2C. Our Associate Copywriting Manager Helen Hopper looks at the importance of storytelling in B2B communications and what makes for a good tale in marketing.

Humans are narrative beings. From our earliest days we seek and respond to a good story, as every parent who has read and re-read their child’s favourite tale at bedtime can attest. Throughout history we see examples of stories used as a vehicle to spread important messages – from Grimm’s fairy tales to the Bible. Stories are one of the most powerful tools in our communications toolkit, not least because of the authority they give to the storyteller.

This is where stories fit into B2B marketing strategy. It’s tempting to think that, in the B2B environment, prospective buyers are more focused on facts and figures rather than “feels”, but clients don’t relinquish their humanity at the office door. If you’re feeling the pressure of cyberthreats, you’re looking for reassurance that a security tool will protect you; if you are trying to reduce your environmental impact, you want inspiration about how to do it; if you are going through digital transformation, you want guidance. These are all emotive demands, and storytelling is the communications medium that allows vendors to meet them.

When it comes to the written word (we’ll look at visual storytelling in another blog), there are two primary story mechanisms at our disposal. The first is the classic customer case study. Sharing the story of someone who has successfully used your product or service gives prospective customers insight into how it works in the real world, providing that reassurance and inspiration they are seeking. Credible client endorsement is immensely valuable, directly for sales teams and indirectly with the media. Journalists – who are themselves trying to build an interesting story – almost always prefer sharing insight from genuine customers with readers to quoting company spokespeople in isolation. (You can check out this blog post for more about what journalists really want.)

What makes a good case study?

While each customer story is individual, there are some basic principles to cover to make a case study more valuable to readers (and journalists):
Relevance – the ideal case study customer needs to represent a typical client in that field. If the application is too niche, it won’t resonate and has lower value than a story that has readers nodding along in recognition.
Integrity –  don’t shy away from a “warts and all” story – readers know everything doesn’t always go entirely to plan and there’s more value in admitting a problem and showing how it was resolved than creating a story that’s too good to be true.
Colour – capture the personalities involved. Encourage participants to speak frankly and use their natural tone of voice in quotes. There’s often a temptation to formalise language in written work, but usually, the more colourful the contribution, the more likely it is to get used. If you’re lucky enough to have a client with charisma, make sure they get their moment to shine – it’ll pay dividends. This piece from the FT demonstrates how a lively client can grab the headlines, even if the topic – in this case printers – is not so exciting.

The second vehicle we use to tell the brand story is a thought leadership article. Here the aim is to build the profile of both author and organisation by exploring a topic relevant to the industry. By providing a personal insight based on expertise and experience in the sector, the writer seizes the authority of the storyteller, while offering guidance and instilling confidence that the business has leaders who know what they’re talking about.

What makes a good thought leadership article?

The three basic principles can be applied just as effectively to thought leadership pieces:
Relevance – is this really something people need to know more about? Why? Why now? What is the background to the issue and how will readers benefit from knowing your opinion? Are you adding to the debate or merely recycling it?
Integrity – we (and the readers) know that ultimately you want to make your business more successful but thought leadership is not a direct sales vehicle. Showing a breadth of appreciation for your market, not just through the prism of your own offering, adds credibility and stops readers from being alienated by feeling they’re being sold to. Your relationship with your audience has to be built on giving them genuine value, or it won’t flourish and they won’t keep reading your work.
Colour – don’t be afraid to own your opinion (but do be prepared to defend it) and use a style that is authentic to your character. Your thought leadership articles need to complement your other brand-building activities, such as conference presentations and webinars. If your written style makes you sound like you’ve swallowed a thesaurus, but your natural speech is informal and chatty, it’s best to stick with a tone of voice that you’re comfortable with.

Of course, while you have all the ideas and expertise in your head, you might not have the confidence – or time – to get it all down on the page. That’s why C8 offers our clients a complete copywriting service. We’ll help you shape your ideas and share them in your own style, so that you can build your brand and support your business goals at the same time.

We can turn our hand to testimonials, making sure they deliver the results you need by connecting with the challenges your customers face and showing how your solution works in the real world.

If you need help telling your story to the audiences that matter, get in touch and we’ll help you make the most of this powerful communications tactic so you and your business can live “happily ever after”.