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7 min read

Why storytelling works in B2B marketing

B2B marketing

Humans love a good story. We have for pretty much as long as civilization has existed. The oldest story we know of is The Epic of Gilgamesh, which is roughly 4000 years old, and there are plenty of people who know and enjoy the story. A good story stays with you, long after you’ve first heard it.

Tapping into our love of stories is pretty much marketing 101. A piece of marketing that tells a great story is one that’s engaging and memorable. It might not still be watercooler talk 4000 years from now, but it will stick with people for a while.

In the B2C world, this is pretty much business as usual. Some of the greatest, most effective advertisements of all time are built around effective narratives that tell emotive, empathetic, or even amusing stories.

For B2B, things are a little different. For decades, many B2B organizations have had the misconception that since you’re advertising towards businesses, telling a story would make an organization look “silly” or “lightweight”, instead of a “super-serious-trustworthy-business”, relying on the idea that just communicating features and costs would be enough to convince people of the value of your offerings.

This would be great if you were marketing towards hyper-logical, rational beings. But that’s a mistake we often fall into because the term “B2B” dehumanizes the audience. At the end of the day, you’re not really marketing to a business, you’re marketing to the people who work there.

And for those people, the majority of them love a good story.

In this article, we’re going to look at how thinking about B2B marketing in terms of storytelling will help you create more engaging, interesting, and memorable marketing, whether it’s individual tweets or full-blown campaigns.

In this article, we explore how B2B marketing and storytelling work in terms of:

Narrative structure

In one of the earliest pieces of literary study, Aristotle’s Poetics, the wise old philosopher dude outlined the basis of dramatic or narrative structure: δέσις (desis) and λύσις (lysis), which translate into something like “binding” and “unbinding” respectively, although in most modern literary criticism they use the terms “complication” and “dénouement”.

All of this is a pretty roundabout way of saying that the basis of storytelling is “here’s a problem, here’s how it was resolved”. While it seems simplistic, you can break down pretty much any story, no matter how complex, into those simple terms.

Example 1

The problem

The Big Bad Wolf keeps blowing down the Three Little Pigs’ houses to try and eat them.

The resolution

One of the pigs builds a house of bricks so the wolf can’t knock it down and eat them.

Example 2

The problem

Two Italian families keep getting in fights that are wrecking the city and preventing Romeo and Juliet from dating.

The resolution

Lots of people get killed in the crossfire, and the teenagers wind up killing themselves, leading to the city rulers and families deciding enough is enough (we didn’t say the solutions were always “nice”).

The problem/resolution structure is the core of storytelling. Complexities in the plot are just extending the time it takes to get between them.

This approach to storytelling should be one you take when it comes to your marketing. Think about what problems your audience is facing and how you can be the solution to their problems.

Example 3

The problem

A company is struggling to collaborate effectively after switching to remote work.

The resolution

Your project management software will allow them to share projects and processes more effectively.

With a basic story at the core of your marketing, you can then spin more complex narratives (when necessary) or think about variations on the story to tell in different ways, while still having a reference point to go back to and make sure you’re still telling the same basic, consistent story. Whether it’s a single tweet, a short video ad, or even something massive and complicated like a whitepaper or event, you can always be asking yourself “how are we telling our core story?”

This will keep your marketing consistent and make sure you’re always focusing on the values your products will deliver to the customers.

Art of storytelling with trust and truthful conversations
We all love a good story. Yet it is an art to master the skills of good storytelling and to lead the process with impactful and truthful conversations. Here’s how a good story framework can be mapped to the buyer journey.

Stories put people first

All stories are about people. Even the ones that have animals, aliens, robots, or even living toys are about people as we put human attributes and emotions onto them, to make them more relatable and understandable.

Without those human connections, it can be very difficult for people to form the emotional connections that are important to great stories.

The same goes with B2B marketing. If your brand and its marketing are completely faceless and devoid of any people, then there’s no one there for your audience to empathize with, or even imagine how they would fit.

Just listing all the features of your products and services isn’t including people at all in your marketing, which means that your audience won’t be able to imagine how they can benefit from the features. It puts an extra step into their consideration of your offerings, as they have to construct their own narratives in their heads of how those features can help them.

By creating a narrative of how those features have helped people (whether it’s hypothetical or based on an actual case study of one of your customers), you remove that extra step and present someone else’s shoes that they can easily step into and imagine how the narrative would apply to them.

Can historical marketing theories enhance B2B marketing?
In this article, we’re going to look at two absolute classics of marketing theory and see how they hold up in the modern world of B2B marketing.

Stories are memorable

A great story can stay with someone for their entire life. Whether it’s a simple nursery rhyme, a classic Hollywood movie, or a pageturner of a novel, a great story is instantly memorable.

Do you know what isn’t memorable? A big list of all the features your organization offers.

Even the simplest narrative makes your marketing more memorable.

Experiencing a story takes its audience out of their day-to-day experiences by making them think about something new. No matter how simple, it breaks up the humdrum, and those moments of disruption are always going to be more memorable than something that’s just the norm.

Your marketing should do the same. If it’s an email, it should stand out from the emails that they normally read. If it’s a tweet, it should stand out from the tweets they might see when scrolling through. And the easiest way is to tell a fresh story.

Stories can inspire sequels

With thousands of years of literary tradition, no story really exists in a vacuum. Each one is inspired by others, either directly or indirectly.

The first story you tell with your marketing can be the launchpad for other stories. You can evolve the narrative, create spin-offs and sequels until you have an extensive narrative universe that your audience can really immerse themselves in, increasing the odds of them forming a connection with your brand and becoming your customers.

You can also inspire others to tell their stories in connection with your brand. If you’re putting out stories about your customers’ successes, your other customers can be inspired to get involved with the narrative and provide you with user-generated content (UGC), whether it’s telling their success stories on social media, or helping you produce case studies around them. And these kinds of narratives and content are cited as among the most valuable to B2B buyers.

But without you telling stories to inspire them, your customers aren’t likely to do the same.

The importance of trust in B2B marketing
A lot of B2B marketing revolves around building trust. This includes both leads, so they’ll trust you enough to purchase from you, and current customers, so that they’ll continue to purchase and hopefully become advocates for you.

Final thoughts

Utilizing storytelling in your marketing doesn’t mean you have to go out and become Shakespeare or write the next great novel with your content. It just means thinking about what you’re trying to tell your audience, and finding interesting ways to do so.  

It might take a fair bit of research and empathy on your part on what your customers actually need from you, but once you have that locked down, you can develop stories about how you can help them reach their goals.

How are you telling stories with your B2B marketing? Let us know on the B2B Marketing Community!

Written by:

Will Whitham

Will Whitham

Will has written copy and content both in-house and agency-side for a broad variety of brands, industries, and international audiences. He's the host of the CMO Alliance podcast, CMO Convo.

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Why storytelling works in B2B marketing