Last updated: 12th July 2019
We all love a good story.
If my software company told you we helped businesses with their accounting, you’d forget us just as fast as you landed on our website after a Google search.
But if I flipped the switch and told you that we’re a software company who’ve helped 1,500 small businesses generate 20% more profit using a secret our founder discovered while running another company, you’d be impressed… Right?
People are curious and nosey by nature–which is why content marketing and storytelling so well together.
It’s no surprise why 41% B2B content creators say “becoming a better storyteller” is on their priority list:
But there’s more to crafting a good story than an explanation of how your company started, or expanding on something otherwise unrelated that happened in your personal life.
Here’s why you should be telling stories within your content–and the low-down on how to tell effective ones.
The importance of storytelling in marketing
Before we dive into the details, let’s iron-out why storytelling is a great way to give your B2B brand a unique twist.
You need to get in on the B2B storytelling action because:
Stories provoke emotion
Along with relatability, stories provoke emotion. Whether it’s anger, happiness or frustration, stories make people feel something–and if the focus of your B2B content marketing strategy is to boost sales, you might just hit the jackpot with storytelling.
That’s because buying decisions are 20% logical and 80% emotional.
In addition to this:
- A study by the NY Times found that emotional articles were shared more often
- Using scarcity and urgency helped one entrepreneur boost sales by 332%
- Playing to specific types of emotion can boost your chances of ‘going viral’
Stories improve engagement rates
You want everyone who lands on your content to extract value from it. To make that happen, you’ll have to engage your audience and make sure they’re spending time on your website.
GrooveHQ ran a simple A/B test to determine whether storytelling helped with engagement.
After publishing two blog posts (one with storytelling and one without), they discovered readers spent 520% more time reading the content containing a story:
But why does this happen? Sue Wills, Co-Founder of Hoot Marketing, says:
“It boils down to being human. In a world where we are so busy, the best messages are the emotive ones: they make us laugh, sad, inspired or energised to make change. People will stay longer listening to you or watching your content if you walk in your audiences shoes or tell a story where they want to walk in yours.”
Your brand becomes more relatable
Many B2B brands struggle with relatability. They forget that readers are real people with real lives, resulting in a huge output content that only a robot would find interesting.
That’s not gonna get you far… Never mind generate great results.
Combat that by using storytelling in your content marketing–no matter whether you’re writing white papers, social media content or blog posts.
Why? Because it proves to your audience that you know what it’s like to be in their shoes, which builds trust. And we all know how important trust is in purchasing decisions.
A study by Pennsylvania University found that people are more perceptive towards stories than they are to dry statistics and facts–meaning you should be using storytelling and content marketing to make your audience listen to the content you’re pushing, rather than let it slip through their radar.
Stephanie Riel, the brand storytelling expert behind Riel Deal Marketing, thinks:
Storytelling is important for B2B brands because it helps your potential and current customers better understand your business.
By sharing elements of your brand story including customer testimonials, what problem your product or service solves, or your business’ “why” you are giving that target audience the ability to get to know your business brand better.
It sets you apart from competitors
This point is pretty obvious, but I wanted to mention it anyway:
There’s no better way to set yourself apart from competitors than to tell a story unique to you. After all, nobody can tell your story like you can. Why shouldn’t you be using that to your advantage?
(Maybe that’s why companies have the power to increase the value of their product/service by over 20 times when telling their brand story well.)
What makes a “good” brand story?
Are you convinced to start using stories in your content? Before you rush off and write about the first entertaining experience that comes to mind, you’ll need to make sure you have the strong foundations of a good story.
So, what makes a “good” story—one that helps with relatability, emotion, and engagement?
A good brand story is:
1. Entertaining: I know, this one is pretty obvious, but your story needs to be entertaining. It’s the best way to keep your audience engaged and read the next paragraph.
2. Relevant: If you’re a software company, don’t tell your audience how your pet dog saved your life. It’s an entertaining story, for sure—but your audience might be left questioning “why does this matter?” when they’re reading it. (Which isn’t what we’re aiming for.)
3. Unique: Earlier, I mentioned how nobody can tell your story like you can, and why that’s a competitive advantage. Yet that’s not possible without a story that’s unique to you or your business.
4. Memorable: Brand storytelling is a proven way to set your business apart. But if you’re telling the same story as every Tom, Dick and Harry (or in this case, your competitors), there’s no reason for people to remember it… Or you.
5. Relatable: Can your audience imagine themselves in your shoes? If so, you’re onto a good story. For example: If my audience were small business owners, a “good” story for my brand to tell wouldn’t be based around how my last company raised $4 million in their Series A round of funding. Instead, I’d pick a story that told them how I prevented my small business from failing within the first six months.
How to effectively use storytelling in marketing
By this point, you should have a “good” story; one that ticks each of the five boxes we just talked about.
Are you ready to tell the world about it?
Here’s how you can tell brand stories effectively within your B2B content.
1. Know your audience inside out
…AKA, the first part of any new strategy you’re going to follow.
Before deciding on blog topics or even content formats, you’ll need to know what makes your audience tick to create content they’ll take notice of.
You should already have a buyer persona doc which includes every shared trait of your ideal customer. But don’t fall into the trap of building these personas around your ideal readers.
You want to generate sales from your marketing strategy, right?
Make sure you’re building campaigns that speak to your ideal customer, rather than your ideal reader.
A B2B buyer persona typically includes:
- Job titles
- Company size
- Qualifications and/or education
- Challenges or ‘pain points’
- Goals and motivations
…I know what you’re thinking: “Elise, why are these important for storytelling?”.
The answer is simple: Every piece of content you’re pushing out needs to be relevant to your customer. The same applies for stories; if you’re telling stories about your pet dog and your audience are savvy CEOs, they aren’t going to be interested.
Your entire storytelling campaign would be a waste of time. (There’s a reason why 47% of companies who exceeded sales and revenue goals consistently maintain their buyer personas.)
So, when you’re developing a “good” story, think about how your experience relates to your target audience by looking for common denominators.
For example: When you started your accounting SaaS company, did you struggle to file receipts—so much so, that rectifying them cost $10,000 in accountancy or legal fees?
That’s a fantastic story for two reasons:
- Your audience of small business owners are likely worried about being stuck in the same situation.
- You’ve got an easy piece of content to sell your SaaS product, purely because it’s the tool you created to solve the problem.
Talk about a double threat.
2. Map your story to your buyer journey
There’s a right time, and a right place, for stories.
You need to make sure you’re positioning your story to people most likely to be receptive to it. But surprise, surprise: Finding your sweet spot lies within your customers—this time, by taking a look at their buyer journey.
The buyer journey details the flow in which your typical customers end up on the purchase confirmation page.
Here’s an example:
Take special notice of the types of content your audience consume when they’re lingering within each stage. Where does your story fit in?
Putting that into practice, let’s take the same receipt-filing story the accounting SaaS company shared. Chances are, their story won’t be relevant to people visiting their website for the first time, or lingering within the Stranger or Visitor stage.
Why? Because they’re likely visiting to learn more about accounting, and aren’t necessarily ready to take action—even after reading your story.
Website visitors in the Lead category, however, know they have a problem. They might be exploring ways to store their receipts more effectively.
Your story would sit perfectly here for two reasons:
- They know they’re struggling with filing receipts. (You know this because they’re already browsing related content on your website.)
- You’re giving them a solution while telling your story: Your product.
Why not use those stories as your ammunition to take them to your purchase confirmation page–or turn existing customers into repeat purchasers?
3. Write the story replicating your audience’s language
It’s time to move on to writing your story.
You’ve got the idea in your head, and you know where you’ll position your story in your buyer journeys.
But how do you write a story that you audience actually read?
These days, people spend just 37 seconds reading a piece of online content. A surefire way to push that average across your website is to stick with your business jargon—and worse, assume your audience like it.
You should already have an understanding of how your ideal customers speak through your buyer persona research.
But as Copyhackers founder and copywriting expert Joanna Weibe told me:
“There’s no such thing as knowing your customers too well.”
The best example I could find of this came from Soulcycle’s Instagram page. They tell a story of how people feel when they’re taking a class—keeping it real, and replicating the same words their audience naturally use:
I’ll bet that’s more engaging than stuffing the same post with “bicycle” instead of “bike”, sprinkling vague words like “energized”, or addressing their audience as “customers”, as opposed to “loyal riders”.
4. Add relevant, supporting data
Once you’ve found the perfect way to tell your story, let your audience know you aren’t the only one who’s experienced it by explaining how other people (your customers) struggled with the same thing.
To do this, you could:
- Call out for case studies about another person, similar to you, who’s experienced a similar thing
- Use DeepDyve to find relevant research studies on the same topic
- Reference industry statistics
- Ask influencers in your niche to comment on your story
Let’s go back to the SaaS accounting example.
They’re telling a brand story on their receipt-filing mistake, so it makes to mention that 42% of employees they didn’t reclaim the money used for expenses because they’d lost their receipts.
That hits both of their ideal customers’ pain points: Losing money, and storing receipts so tax season is easy to manage.
Using data in your content marketing boosts your credibility, too.
It proves to potential customers that your story isn’t just a one-off issue that only you battle, and gives them a sense of community—which is crucial if you’re telling a story with the aim of making a sale.
Fancy more B2B storytelling goodness?
We all know that storytelling builds connections. However, now that we’ve gotten to grips with the benefits of getting it right, there’s no better time to add storytelling to your list of to-do’s.
But if you fancy learning more about B2B storytelling in content, have a listen to my interview with Tech Demand.
…If my strong Mancunian accent doesn’t burn your ears, that is: