Businesses Are People Too: Using B2B Storytelling to Set Your Brand Apart

11 mins
#Marketing
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In the past couple of years, we’ve been hearing the same question more and more. Our B2B clients and prospects are asking us:

“Everyone is creating video content these days. How will getting a video make us stand out? How do we get a positive ROI on video?

Being creatives at heart, our gut answer is simple: 

Tell a great story!” 

But this is easier said than done. More importantly, it’s where lots of B2B marketing falls short. 

Many B2B companies just don't understand the power of storytelling in B2B marketing. Because they're selling to other businesses, they assume that all that matters is product features and the bottom line.

This is simply not true.

If you're a savvy B2B marketer that already knows this, this article probably isn't for you. If you want to know why B2B storytelling is so important, read on.

In this article, we’ll:

  • Show you why storytelling is so important in B2B marketing
  • Discuss some important factors to consider when creating B2B stories
  • Explore how to create compelling stories for B2B 

Why Are Brand Stories So Powerful in B2B Marketing?

B2B stories are memorable - and shareable

There’s a nonstop stream of new products and services on the market, but it seems like each new product is nearly identical to its competitors. How do you pick between Clickup, Asana, Monday, Airtable, or any other host of project management apps?

It goes even deeper than this. The strategies that used to work to set products apart are becoming the norm. Blogs, newsletters, free trials, social media posts, competitor comparison charts - these are just table stakes now. 

Strategies, features, and content can all be copied by competitors. But no matter how similar two products are, only one brand can own a story

Watch the video from Lucidchart below: 

This ad has gained nearly twenty million views on Youtube and Facebook (with nearly forty thousand comments and over two hundred thousand likes). 

With a bare-bones production budget, and without even mentioning their product, Lucidchart has guaranteed the viewer will think of them whenever they think of flowchart apps. 

If another brand copied Lucidchart’s theme, not only would you immediately think of Lucidchart, your impression of the copycat brand would actually deteriorate. This would play on you at the emotional level since us humans tend to get upset when we feel someone is copying someone else. 

Compare this to when one of your product’s features gets copied by a competitor. You might personally feel morally outraged, but your potential clients won’t even bat an eyelid. 

B2B storytelling sets brands apart

Granted, we’ll admit this isn’t the best example. Even though it’s entertaining, there isn’t that much of a story driving it. But we like Lucidchart's video so much that we decided to keep it. It does a great job of showing how a creative yet simple idea can make a big impact. 

Our next example is going to be a little better. 

This single video ad has captured over 1 million views on Youtube!

You’ll notice Slack didn’t lead with their product’s functions or features or benefits. Instead, they created a simple and unique story that gets the viewer interested right away. 

Let's dig in a bit into how they did that.

First, they actually started with an opening clip similar to one you would see on a sitcom. If you look closely, the team at Sandwich Video actually made a very clever choice. 

By including a dry shot of an office building with simple text overlayed, they're actually making a subtle reference to the office. As well, the jazzy stringy soundtrack is thematically similar to Seinfeld's theme.

Subtly suggesting two of the most popular sitcoms of all time is going to create positive associations with the viewer right away. They're both going to be unconsciously put in a better mood, and pay more attention to what's coming up next!

Next, instead of jumping straight into a problem the team is facing, they go with a human touch: A real person is looking at you and telling you a story about something that started six months ago. This triggers your feelings of empathy, caring, and connection, making you more invested in what's about to happen.

Then they go on to the actual problem the person is facing. Again, they make a subtle but clever decision here. Every story needs their main character to have a problem or a challenge to face. Instead of simply saying that the team was having problems communicating well, he instead says that the tools they were using 'are just fine'. Breaking the viewers expectation of how we would respond to the email is one of the ways to make the story stick, plus it gives the viewer the feeling used in theatre where they know the characters' problem but the character doesn't. Now the viewer is interested in how this problem is going to show up, and feels like they're in on the joke.

Now that the ad has actually capture the viewer's interest, they can go on to show how their product solves their users' problems and all the features it has. At this point, the viewer is much more likely to be engaged in the video and remember it, and more unconsciously they'll have a better time relating to the problems that Slack solves.

How has this worked out for Slack?

We don't have the data to see the actual ROI on their campaign, but it looks like they have integrated B2B storytelling into their DNA. They use it throughout their marketing, and if you look, the videos they create that grab the most attention are the ones that have stories at their heart. 

Here’s a video with 15 million views:

Again, simple story: an office of animated animals wants to develop a new product.

Even this more recent video got 500k+ views within a month of being published.

The protagonist here is 'us', It shows how a collection of relatable stories of the challenges of going through the pandemic get generate interest and awareness.

Good stories drive B2B sales

The power of storytelling can show up even when you’re not looking for it. 

Wistia created an experiment to see what impact the production budget and advertising platform had on sales of one of their products. They spent $111,000 developing three promotional videos (with the team at Sandwich Video again!).

They originally wanted to see what impact production quality had on driving actual installations of their product. They tested their ads on Facebook and Youtube, in a variety of formats and sequences, and then looked at their KPI of cost per install.

 After running their ads, they ended up concluding: 

Good storytelling matters far more than production quality.

The kicker - they weren’t even looking at this variable to begin with!

B2B business decisions are more emotional than we think

We often think of businesses as huge, impersonal entities. But we forget that businesses are fundamentally made up of people. Many marketers assume that B2B content marketing relies less on emotional connection than B2C, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. 

Google and CEB’s Marketing Leadership Council found that B2B purchasers are more emotionally connected to brands than B2C buyers, as they explain:

“While it may seem surprising at first, this high level of connection with B2B customers makes a lot of sense. When a personal consumer makes a bad purchase, the stakes are relatively low. Best case, it’s returnable. If not, it might require an explanation to a spouse. Business purchases, on the other hand, can involve huge amounts of risk: Responsibility for a multi-million dollar software acquisition that goes bad can lead to poor business performance and even the loss of a job. The business customer won’t buy unless there is a substantial emotional connection to help overcome this risk.”

In other words, an emotional connection is more important in B2B sales because the stakes are higher. Whether the client is at the active evaluation phase or already in the loyalty loop, they need to feel like they’re making the best decision available. 

One reason for this misjudgement is the empathy gap, which is "The tendency to underestimate the influence or strength of feelings, in either oneself or others". 

Often, when we imagine a corporate agent making decisions, we think of a person in a suit coldly analysing spreadsheets, to make the optimal decision. We might even think of ourselves making decisions that way! But unless you're dealing with a quant on Wall Street, there's probably more emotion involved than you realize. As Joseph Sugarman will tell you (or any decent copywriter), people make decisions with their emotions first, then justify it with logic. 

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At their core, people respond with emotion first, and logic second. There’s no better way to appeal to the emotions than with a good story. In fact, research shows stories cause our brains to release oxytocin, which leads to deeper emotional engagement and connection.

Listing how a product works is easy, sharing its features and benefits a little harder, but creating a compelling story is tough. It’s what makes great videos stand out and be memorable, which leads to prospects remembering you and clients returning.

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