It’s already 2022 and content is still king.
However, unless it tells a great story, “king content” has little sway when it comes to inspiring action.
Done right, brand storytelling transforms complex concepts into something tangible.
It spins facts, figures, and pain points into a narrative that resonates on an emotional level.
Unfortunately, B2B content has a reputation for being dry, dull, and unrelatable.
Here, we’ll explain how brands can nail down the narrative and inspire customers, regardless of industry.
What is a brand narrative?
How to identify your brand’s narrative
Storytelling offers something often missing from sales collateral and product-focused content - the human touch.
B2C brands have long understood the power of storytelling - reaping bottom-line benefits by building human connections.
By contrast, B2Bs tend to forget that the “stakeholders” and “decision-makers” they target are also consumers. They binge watch Netflix, listen to podcasts, and prefer Instagram feeds to e-books.
Deloitte’s 2021 Global Marketing Trends advises brands to start thinking about themselves as human entities ASAP.
That means focusing on creating content that both reflects and supports the values of the audience they serve.
Here are a few basic tips for getting started.
Know your brand
Storytelling should communicate your promise to customers, employees, and society.
What are your values? Why do you exist? You need to get real clear on what your brand is all about.
You might look at B2C brands like Ben & Jerry’s, Glossier, or Tom’s Shoes as examples, here. All have a clear “thing,” or identity at their core, permeating every blog post, live stream, and UGC campaign.
To establish a clear “thing” like the top B2Cs, it helps to create a brand persona that you can use to establish a consistent throughline across every story you tell, every video you produce, and even your logo design.
So, consider what your brand might be like if it were a real person.
How might your brand behave in different situations while maintaining a recognizable identity?
As an example, think about how an actual person might adapt their clothing or language based on the situation.
While they might act differently on a first date than they might during a funeral or a Zoom call with a potential client, certain characteristics, values, and traits stay the same regardless of the context.
Ultimately, your brand persona gives you a set of parameters for maintaining an authentic voice whether you’re responding to a crisis or filming a series of YouTube tutorials.
Know your audience
A great B2B story uses empathy, conflict, and suspense to capture audiences’ attention and compel them to take action.
It should help customers understand why your brand exists, who it helps, and how it solves problems.
And, it should explain these things in a way that aligns with the customer's unique challenges, goals, and preferences. To get this right, you’ll need to know exactly who you’re talking to.
One of the main reasons B2B content doesn’t resonate with readers is, it often takes the concept, “business-to-business” way too literally. Messages sound as though they're coming from one monolithic enterprise to another, rather than a conversation between individuals.
Technically, yes, the business is the customer. But, “the business” can’t feel pain points. Nor is it capable of making an informed decision during the vendor selection process.
The point is, creating content that aims to address an entire organization is as worthless as speaking to the building that houses its servers.
Know what makes a “good” brand narrative
Okay, we’ve made the case for why B2Bs need to step up their storytelling game.
But, what does a “good B2B story” even look like?
In this context, stories work best when they stick to the “basics.”
Meaning, they should have a clear beginning, middle, and end and present a conflict, a challenge and, finally, some relief by landing on a resolution.
Keep in mind that people are more memorable than ideas, so you’ll also want to be sure that the customer is your protagonist.
Your role is to help the “hero” overcome that major obstacle.
Use empathy and persona-specific pain points to put the reader in the shoes of your protagonist and get them invested in the story.
You’ll also need a villain, though, in B2B, your villain isn’t exactly the school bully or rival love interest.
Instead pain points are the enemy and may come in the form of “poor pipeline visibility,” or “customer churn.”
Finally, you’ll want to land on a call-to-action. Unlike Harry Potter or Cinderella, B2B stories should end with a call-to-action that guides readers toward a logical next step.
Use storytelling to nudge B2B buyers toward the right decision
According to Gartner, buyers have no problem finding good information about potential solutions, the problem is, they’re super overwhelmed by options. As a result, buyers are finding it increasingly harder to trust vendors, thus making it harder for sellers to close deals.
These days, valuable content helps users make sense of their options and confidently arrive at the “best” possible solution. It should:
- Answer questions
- Identify the information that matters most
- Anticipate necessary changes
- Point buyers toward the “right” information
Another report, this one from Demand Gen Report found that relevant content is huge for early engagement - 70% of buyer respondents said the most important element of a supplier’s website was relevant content that speaks directly to their company’s needs.
Where does storytelling enter the mix? Again, this links back to the idea that stories put abstract concepts in context.
For example, Webflow’s live stream videos do a nice job of presenting what they do from multiple angles.
There’s a segment that lays out the onboarding process, feature-specific tutorials, plus Q&A and behind-the-scenes material that gives audiences a better sense of what they’re all about.
Use emotions to connect with your audience
According to LinkedIn, brands that understand how to produce the right emotional response at the right time--and at scale--have an advantage when it comes to overcoming the long sales cycles and large, diverse buying committees that rule the modern sales landscape.
Who says B2B content can’t bring the drama?
Sure, B2Bs aren't known for serving up bone-chilling ghost stories or steamy romances.
But, the buyer's journey is fraught with all kinds of emotional highs and lows.
As CEB Practice Manager, Karl Schmidt told Google back in 2013, business buyers face numerous risks that could alter the course of their career. There’s interpersonal conflict, social pressures, and yeah, a whole lot of cash on the line.
Here are a couple of examples from real brands that have mastered the art of using audience emotions to drive action:
Complicated product? Use visuals to cut straight to the point.
GE’s Instagram feed offers one approach, using compelling video content and photos to demonstrate the real-world impact of their complex projects.
In this example, a GE assembly mechanic takes viewers behind the scenes, explaining the production process for commercial jet engines in a relatable, visually compelling manner.
Focus on the end-user benefits.
Presenting the benefits of something like cloud services can be tricky.
The average person might understand that this technology is valuable, though they may not grasp why it’s valuable or how it works. There's also a sense of fear among some buyers that the cloud is inherently risky.
In this example, Amazon showcases the benefits of its cloud services solution, AWS Cloud from the perspective of a curious little girl.
It’s cute and conveys that sense of child-like wonder which is effective for both alleviating fear and getting potential customers excited about the potential gains offered by this technology.
Use data for impact
A recent LinkedIn-Edelman study advised brands to earn trust by developing thought leadership content that demonstrates a deep understanding of the customer.
The aim there is to highlight the value of their offerings in the context of the customer’s current reality.
Stats and citations do more than fulfill an obligation to back up claims or give credit where it's due, combined with the right emotional triggers, stories can deliver a one-two punch that gets real results.
As a storytelling tool, data allows you to anchor the story in the customer’s reality, create tension by quantifying the impact of inaction, and make the benefits of your solution feel real to the reader.
Present data-driven success stories
Salesforce’s Success Stories page is a great example, offering in-depth features about clients who have used their products to transform their business, pointing toward specific results that communicate the impact to readers.
Here’s one example that does a nice job summing up the value of digitizing business processes:
Get interactive: Use storytelling to drive participation
Interactive content extends beyond virtual “try-ons,” branded filters, and lead generation tools. tools—spanning a wide range of formats, goals, and platforms.
Effective interactive content moves away from talking at the audience and aims to create an experience where the customer plays an active role.
“Interactive” content takes many forms, though the common thread is that these stories give customers the chance to engage in a two-way dialogue with brands.
In the pandemic era, virtual events and live Q&As are the go-to strategies for sharing knowledge and connecting with customers “face-to-face.”
Though interactions can also be a bit more passive.
According to the Content Marketing Institute, infographics are the most popular type of interactive content, which provide an engaging way for brands to break information into bite-sized, visually appealing chunks.
This example breaks down the most popular content on the web, with clickable links to each resource:
You might also try building a community on Slack or LinkedIn. Here, you might encourage your internal subject matter experts to lead the charge, engaging with the audience in a way that advances your narrative without getting too promotional.
Buffer’s Slack community allows professionals to connect in real-time through its 20+ community channels. Participants can share advice, ask questions, and exchange GIFs in a range of channels that cover content marketing, video, blogging, social media, and more.
For B2Bs, brand narrative isn’t just “nice to have,” it’s an essential part of building an effective content strategy.
Done right, B2B storytelling does more than rehash the same key selling points. It’s about breaking through barriers, overcoming obstacles, and watching your hero triumph over the impossible. Working with a team that understands this is crucial for marketing success.