Jonathan Helm

Mirror, mirror on the wall… how to be the finest storyteller of them all

Posted on 11th December 2017 by Jonathan Helm

Many B2B companies are focusing on account-based marketing (ABM), marketing automation and data-led optimisation, as methods of delivering more relevant and timely marketing to their customers and prospects. Although it’s crucial to forge a genuine connection with your audience over time, in a noisy marketplace, your brand and core propositions still needs to stand out from the crowd.

While data can be used to improve interest and persuade your audience, you need to use it in a meaningful way – that starts with having something compelling to say.

The wealth of data organisations can collect from their customers in contemporary marketing has led to an overemphasis on its importance against other elements of marketing. Companies globally are falling over themselves to play catch-up in the ever-shifting sands of Martech to get ahead of their competitors. But customer based data can mostly only be used to optimise what you’re already doing.

There can only be a benefit to your customers from marketers using their data if the data itself is going to be used in a creative and interesting way. The principles of marketing have not changed – you still need to engage with your customers in a creative way to establish either a rational and emotional connection. For data and facts to be the key to your prospects, we need to use it to power a story.

And for your story to stand out, it needs to be a ‘man bites dog’ rather than a ‘dog bites man’ story – interesting, valuable and newsworthy. As B2B marketers, it’s up to us to craft stories that engage our audience and encourage action.

 

Stories that stick

What springs to mind when I mention a red cape, a dark forest, and a wolf in grandma’s clothing? How about mean stepsisters, a glass slipper and a pumpkin carriage, or star-crossed lovers from feuding Italian families hurtling towards a tragic end?

You may not be able to remember what you had for dinner two days ago, but it’s likely that you recognise these stories instantly, and that you can still retell a version of them even if it’s been years since you last read or heard them.

Endlessly told and retold, these stories have been passed down through generations and crossed geographical and cultural boundaries. They’re robust vehicles for meaning, perfectly shaped to travel through time.

 

Stories that sell

We only need to think of the much-hyped Christmas adverts produced by major UK retailers to see how storytelling can be an extremely effective marketing tool. Who could forget John Lewis’s tear jerking ‘man in the moon’ ad from 2015, or the epic journey of the Waitrose robin in 2016?

In B2B marketing, meanwhile, great stories are thin on the ground. B2B brands don’t always believe that they have interesting stories to tell, and they don’t always recognise the potential for connecting with business audiences through storytelling.

But this isn’t true. Our work with Korn Ferry creating a ground-breaking analysis about the Future of Work showed that B2B brands absolutely have a right to claim important issues and create insight that power intriguing stories about the world which flip commonly held beliefs and make lasting impressions.

And the stakes are high. If a brand fails to tell compelling stories, it will struggle to stand out from its competitors, and is likely to have trouble connecting to its target market.

 

What’s your story?

When we talk about storytelling in the context of B2B marketing, we’re not just talking about the story of your brand, but the stories your brand can tell. Storytelling can be used to hold brand strategies together, create blogs, and everything in between, making it a crucial part of the marketing toolkit.

But you need to keep your story grounded in reality and ensure it meets commercial objectives. Here are the key elements to consider when starting to build your narrative;

Expertise

What does your company have the authority to speak about? The stories you tell need to connect to your sector, your internal skills and expertise, unique attributes, and your market knowledge.

You have to be communicating from a position where you are seen as a reliable source of information – but this doesn’t mean you can’t tell new stories. In fact stories can cut through assumptions and change perceptions. Arcadis used their expertise in building cities to cross international boundaries with the Sustainable Cities Index – creating a narrative that was relevant globally.

 

Evidence

What facts and figures do you need to shape or support your story? Surveys, economic modelling and opinion research can provide evidence to add detail and credibility to your story. Ultimately your audience needs to have reason to believe in what you’re saying.

Our New Internationals campaign for RSA for example, used opinion research to prove that there’s no longer any such thing as a ‘local business’, which formed the basis of a story about SMEs that are ‘born global.’

 

Endurance

What rings true enough with your audience to engage them in a lasting way? Some stories evolve and shift with the times, taking on new meanings and becoming legendary. Creating something which resonates deeply with your audience can create a hotly-anticipated annual property, telling an updated version of the story each year.

Our work with global accountancy firm Haines Watts asked a very important question to small business owners – are they in it for love or money? From this, Man Bites Dog ran several campaigns, riffing on different story elements and creating an ongoing platform for discussion.

 

No ideas?

Struggling to come up with a winning idea to power your marketing strategy? At Man Bites Dog we create idea-led thought-leadership marketing campaigns and strategies which connect with audiences on a global level and drive commercial success. Download our free No Idea guide for more help with generating a big idea that can form the basis of a story, or get in touch today and set us a challenge.

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