Everyone loves a good story. Your customers are no exception. And that means, in the crowded world of B2B content, every business has an ace to play – whether or not they realize it.
Over the years, I’ve had numerous discovery meetings with small business owners, in industries ranging from tech to tooling to finance. When I inquire about their content needs – i.e., “is there a particular mood or tone you would like to convey on your website?”– my question is often met with a resigned shrug. “Well, our business is pretty boring.”
Not so fast.
Done right, storytelling marketing can breathe life and much-needed emotion into an otherwise “boring” brand message.
To be fair, there may not be as much creative wiggle room for highly technical products in niche industries. But here’s what’s REALLY boring: a brand that it totally void of human emotion, personality or lasting impact. And that’s where storytelling marketing can really help you shine. Here’s a look at why you should make stories part of your marketing strategy, plus some simple ideas to get started.
Science Proves That Our Brains Love Stories
The effectiveness of storytelling isn’t just a marketing theory. It’s rooted in extensive scientific research that suggests our brains are “predispositioned” to connect more emotionally with messages that “feel like a story.” Here’s what’s going on with your grey matter when you hear a good story:
- Neural coupling – This phenomenon has to do with a listener “synching up” brain states with the communicator. (Source: CyberCourse Wiki). In other words, a well-told story evokes the listener to turn that story into their own ideas and experiences.
- Mirror neurons – Stories fire up your mirror neurons – meaning the brain has developed familiar pathways that allow you to feel the same feelings as the storyteller. (More on that here.)
- Dopamine – When your brain experiences an emotional event, it releases dopamine into the system – and that helps it remember things with greater accuracy.
- Cortex activity – To process facts and figures, the human brain relies on two specific areas: the Broca’s and Wernicke’s area; whereas a story activates several additional areas, including the motor cortex, sensory cortex and frontal cortex.
Source: Fast Company Infographic, How Storytelling Affects the Brain.
For more brainy bites to apply to your marketing strategy, also check out these 5 Psychological Hacks to Inspire Your Copywriting Techniques.
Telling Stories Isn’t as Hard as You Think
Ok, so your customers’ brains are ripe for a good story. Now what? Where does that leave the swath of B2B marketers who describe their business as “really boring?”
Let’s first define what we mean by a “story.” We’re not talking about long-form, Oscar-worthy stuff here. Even the simplest idea can be communicated in a story-like format that will spur those brainwaves and cause your customers to feel something.
Here are some simple starter ideas that you can implement right away:
Start with data, then layer on a story.
Factual data and statistics make for compelling case studies. But remember what we just learned about cortex activity? Fact-processing only fires up a portion of brain. So try enhancing your data with an authentic story that triggers the senses and makes a more lasting impact.
Let’s say your business manufactures medical devices. Your company’s surgical device “increased patient eligibility for an arthritic procedure by 12 times.” Impressive from a business standpoint – but did you “feel” something when you read that fact?
Now what if we learned how that surgical device made Mauve Cutler eligible for a surgery that changed her life: with movement in her hands, Mauve learned sign language and was able to communicate with her six-year-old granddaughter for the first time.
Saleforce.com does an excellent job of weaving short narratives like Mauve’s into the facts and figures of its case studies, staying focused on the end users (i.e., the humans) behind its B2B products. Click into some examples like the ones below from the company’s Customers page.
Get personal with prospects who are curious about your business.
If you’ve been tracking your website visitors, you may find that the About Us page is one of the most frequently visited pages on any given B2B website. Why? For prospective customers considering using your products or services, they want to get a peek behind the curtain to get a better sense of you. So what’s your story?
Was your brand born from humble beginnings? A husband-wife team who turned rented garage space into a manufacturing workshop? Give visitors a few personal nuggets that humanize your business. Remember, honesty and authenticity will go a long way in differentiating you from your competitors.
The Story page on Life is Good’s website crushes this concept with a hilarious account of the unlikely success of “the little brand that could,” visually depicted with mom quotes and photo clippings.
Let your customers tell the story for you.
Your brand story doesn’t have to revolve around your company’s founder or executives. You can also let your customers take the lead role by allowing them to recant stories on how your business made a difference for them.
There’s no single best way to do this – you can weave these stories into case studies, as mentioned above, write a few customer story blurbs on your website, or create “customer spotlight” videos to share on social media.
Customer stories not only add that much-needed emotional touch, but they up the trust factor and lend “real” credibility to your business. Stories like this one for Western Union are a great example.
Use imagination to turn mundane products into meaningful narratives.
Think your product or service isn’t story-worthy? Remember, the sky’s the limit when you’re struggling for ways to connect your customers’ emotions to a so-called “boring” business – so don’t be afraid to get imaginative!
For my money, there is no better example of this than Duracell, who knocks this concept out of the park by taking the most commonplace product (a battery) and creating a series of fictional events around its product. Duracell’s stories range from intense (a hospital patient whose life relies on a battery-powered machine), to humorous (a clumsy camper whose flashlight dies at the most inopportune time), to heart-warming, like the video below. (Warning: grab the tissues for this one.)
Keep in mind, you don’t need a full-blown, big-budget campaign like Duracell’s to leverage the power of storytelling. Your customers’ emotions come free of charge – and their brains are ready to hear your story.
More on storytelling marketing? Take a deeper dive with invaluable writing strategies from novelist / fiction writer Robyn Bradley (who also happens to be a writer for PMG). Read her 5 writing tips here.