Once upon a time, there was a blog post that set out to achieve what its creators wanted. It promptly fell flat on its face and never lived thereafter. Does this depressing story describe your efforts at creating an engaging blog or any content for that matter? No matter how great your product is or how revolutionary your service is, it's not going to sell itself.
You have to craft a story around it because that's what people buy at the end of the day. It's a well-established fact that we buy emotions, not logic. In the B2B inbound marketing world, with its technical bent and almost black box-like products, storytelling often goes abegging in favor of pushing product features.
While crafting a melodrama around your product is a touch excessive, you do need to frame your service or product within the context of a narrative. That's what engages both the emotional and logical sides of your prospect's brain. Here's how you can incorporate powerful storytelling when describing your product's USP and delight your prospects' need to hear a good story.
Sinbad the sailor woke up one morning on his ship, saw clear skies, yelled at his underlings, ate something, and at night, went to sleep. The next day, he woke up to find a giant monster attacking his ship, swung from the mainmast onto the top of the monster, slew it, and swung back onto his ship to the cheers of his sailors. It's not hard to figure out which of these days makes for the more exciting story.
All great stories involve us emotionally. To do this, they follow a template that has been used over and over again by great storytellers. After the initial groundwork is laid, a conflict appears. The conflict leads to the climax, which in turn leads to resolution (or the lack of one.) It's an easy formula you can apply to your content. Even if your reader is aware of the psychological trickery you're using, most people are powerless to ignore it.
Before jumping in to describe why your product is amazing, set up a conflict. Dive into the issues your prospect faces and draw out negative emotions. B2B content doesn't need to be as emotional as B2C content, but you don't want to come across as a company without a pulse. Your product must make its first appearance at the climax.
If you’re looking for a more concrete framework to guide your storytelling, consider borrowing a narrative from the 7 basic plots. As author Christopher Booker explains, every story that has captivated us over the years adheres to 1 of 7 basic plots. Sharegain, a securities lending technology company, uses this framework to guide their approach to content development.
"Humans are hard-wired to understand and connect with stories," explains Richard Hudson, content manager at Sharegain. "B2B content marketing must have a narrative behind it. Without one, you're just throwing unconnected ideas at your audience and hoping they stick."
Much like a hero that appears on the horizon, your product should solve the problems your prospect faces. This means you need to know your prospect's problems inside and out. Often the persona creation process focuses too much on where the prospect can be found instead of what their pain points are. This is why it's helpful to focus on a person, instead of a persona.
Get Your Voice Right
So how well do you know your customer? You know their titles, the roles they play at their jobs, and their day to day activities. However, do you know what tone you need to adopt to appeal to them? How aggressive do you need to get when pushing your product, irrespective of where the prospect is in the funnel?
Persona creation is great, but it's far more beneficial to focus on a person instead. This allows you to cut through all the noise and reduces the time spent researching. Instead of trying to gather as many prospects as possible at the top of your funnel, drill down to your best prospects. These are the people you know will benefit from your product, even if they don't know it as yet.
By focusing on a real person, you'll be able to view real examples of the content they share, what they like, and dislike. Follow them on social media and get to know them. Your universe of prospects will be small, but once you get to know the tone of voice your content needs to hit, your storytelling is going to make a powerful impression.
Flipping the funnel (as the ABM crowd puts it) in this manner isn't suitable for every business out there. However, many B2B businesses lose out by failing to consider the prospect of applying a targeted content strategy like this. It's far easier to delight one person with your story instead of trying to delight millions.
Your sales team should work side-by-side with you in crafting your story. They're the ones who need to face your clients, so it makes sense to align their needs with the story you're presenting. Besides, you should present a unified voice when your prospect comes calling. Aligning B2B sales and marketing is a challenge. However, start by agreeing on the tone your stories need to take and work forward from there.
As technology improves, products in the B2B technology and FinTech space are becoming increasingly opaque. Content marketing does a lot to dispel the black-box-like nature of these products, but it's challenging to fully explain what your product does. For example, a technical lead at your target company might understand the genius behind your product, but unless the non-technical CFO or CEO understands it, you're going to have a hard time selling it.
Using metaphors and comparisons is an excellent way of helping your prospect relate to your product. A good example of this is the way Sharegain explains its solutions. According to Hudson, while the company creates content for each stage of the buying journey, every piece is underpinned by the same narrative.
Sharegain describe themselves as bringing the "Airbnb moment" to securities lending: the company's solution allows investors to "rent" the securities they own and earn money on them, just as easily as a homeowner renting out a spare room. It's an elegant way of describing what the company does without diving into the technicalities of securities lending.
Another way to relate to your prospects is to make your clients the hero of your stories. This is what real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle did by launching their Ambitions content hub, which spotlights customer stories. JLL plays a support role in these stories, and by allowing their customers to speak in their own words, JLL manages to relate their stories to their audience easily.
Jill Kouri, the CMO of JLL, took her storytelling a step further and highlighted her team, bringing an even more human face to her company. The result was storytelling that was extremely human and aligned perfectly with JLL's prospects.
This wouldn't be a marketing article without a mention of a CTA somewhere in it. While stories are great, you need to give your audience an easy path if they want to take further action. The CTA you choose depends on the purpose of your content. If you're targeting deep funnel prospects, a strong CTA makes sense. Top of the funnel prospects need a gentler touch.
Whatever your approach is, make sure you're measuring conversions and relevance. Page scrolls, CTA clicks, and bounce rates are just a few metrics that will help you figure out the relevance of your content to your audience.
4 Steps to Great Stories
B2B content does not need to be dry and yawn-worthy. You can engage your prospects' emotions through great storytelling. These days, with consumers demanding more personalization and expecting tailored content, incorporating a story into your content is the best way to drive interest in your product or service.