You may have heard of “storytelling.” You may realize that “storyteller” is becoming a common job title in marketing. You may think: WTF?
“Storytelling” sounds like a twee term for “copywriting” or “marketing strategy.” And honestly, that’s not entirely untrue. But it’s absolutely true that selling products, today and always, is about telling a story that spans the buyer journey. If you tell a story that is relevant to your prospect, you stand a decent chance of gaining an customer and ally. Smart B2B companies use content to draw a prospect into a narrative that has a happy ending for everyone—the prospect gains a solution to their problem and the business gains a customer.
This meta-story itself is nothing new—people have been weaving compelling tales to propagate ideas, and eventually sell products, since we discovered fire. But in digital marketing, where you are using words, images, videos, events—anything you can (strategically) throw at an audience—to sell, the storytelling aspect of marketing becomes much more obvious.
So what’s your story?
Your business has a story, probably more than one. The story might be easier to tell and more obvious for a B2C company, but B2B can tell a good story, too. Every story is interesting to someone. As a writer and strategist, I once had to develop a marketing storyline (a narrative/big idea upon which marketing could plot tactics and content) to sell mainframe computers. This was not in 1973—it was in this millennium.
Who buys mainframes these days?
Lots of businesses. For lots of reasons. It’s actually an interesting story. Will I tell it to you now? No. But trust me. Even mainframes have a compelling story and a compelling reason for people to buy them in the 21st Century.
So whether you are selling trips around the world, hamburgers, or computers that have been around since before you were born, your business has a great story to tell. You just need to find it. Here are five things to keep in mind:
The buying journey is the story
Your narrative should follow the buying journey through the marketing funnel. It has a beginning (discovery/awareness), a middle (learning/consideration), and an exciting conclusion (decision/buying/conversion). However, not everyone makes a linear journey so the story should still be compelling if someone picks it up midstream.
YOU ARE NOT THE HERO
The story is not about your company. Or your product. It’s about your customer, their struggles, and how they can triumph in the end. You are a supporting character helping them find the way. If you tell a story about your company and your products features and how awesome and world-changing you are, your campaign is like a bad first date. Halfway through coffee, your date will go to the “restroom” and never come back.
Character development is key
Before you write a compelling storyline, you need to develop your characters. In other words, you need to know who you are, and who your customers are. Without a sense of character and how each side relates to the plot, your story is as two-dimensional as a piece of cardboard. Round it out as much as you can by knowing your business and your audience.
It’s okay to bury the lead
Your story is about getting people to realize that they can’t live without your product. But just as the story isn’t about you, it isn’t about sales either. The amount of time buyers spend researching a solution before talking to sales varies by market, but today’s B2B buyers probably don’t want first (or even second) contact with you to be a sales call. If your story has 10 chapters, your company and product make an entrance in about chapter 5, and sales shows up around chapter 7. Until then? Nurture and build trust with education and awareness.
Rewrite is encouraged
You may find that your story sucks. It makes no sense for your customers, or it’s just not working. Unlike a hardcover book, you can change a marketing story. You can refine your message and your characters. You can introduce new content. You can even scrap the whole thing and start over, budget permitting. But the only way to find out how to make it better is to get it into market.
Your story never ends
Your marketing story never stops with a conversion. There are sequels and volumes, retention, renewal, cross-sell, upsell, new products and audiences, a whole extended universe of opportunity where stories connect and support one another and you never know when an old friend or favorite character will crop up again. Your story is organic and has a life of its own. Tell it with confidence and watch what happens.