Once upon a time, there was a brand. Not just any brand, but an enchanted fairytale brand. And that brand was prettier than all the other brands in the land. Birds and animals flocked to frolic and play at its feet. Flowers burst into bloom as it passed by. All the people loved it. And that's why you need to buy its product.

Wait.

Storytelling is a marvelous engagement tool, but in B2B, the story has to have some real-life grit. The puff pastry that passes as content in a lot of B2C campaigns just won't make a business buyer put his job on the line. I'm not saying B2B marketers should just pack every outreach execution and every web page with technical specifications, because I hate that. It's as good as useless for 90% of the buying cycle. Specs do have their place and are invaluable for that 10% evaluation/comparison phase of the cycle, but they're not the story.

So what makes a good B2B story? First you need a compelling cast of characters. The type of people that people can get behind. Your lead character might be the brand itself. Or a product. The best is when the hero of your tale is the customer using the product or collaborating with the brand. That lets your audience really identify with the character and start to imagine themselves in the story in the leading role. And it lets your brand or product play the role of the loveable sidekick who helps save the hero from a sticky situation.

Next up, we need some tension in the plot. We need some good, meaty challenges for our hero to overcome. Otherwise, let's face it; our story would be as boring as watching paint dry. Unless, of course, the story is about fast-drying paint and is intended for interior decorators. But I digress. We need challenges, and in a good B2B story, those challenges have to be business challenges. Something like meeting new environmental regulations, or reducing operational costs, or improving worker safety.

Now, how does our hero — be it brand, product or person — overcome those challenges? It's time to talk about the features and benefits of the tools our hero brings to bear on the problem, and it's time to be truthful. The most compelling B2B stories frame this part of the tale with third-party verified performance data, not unsubstantiated marketing claims and NEVER greenwash. Leave that to the puff pastry types.

So let's look at the Storytelling 101 checklist of elements to see what we have so far…

  • Who: the hero character - brand/product/service/customer
  • What: the 'supporting characters' - brand/product/service/customer
  • Why: the challenges to be overcome
  • How: the features and benefits

Wait! What about When and Where? If your Who, What, Why and How are solid, and you tell your story in a compelling style, When and Where begin to matter less and less. Provided that neither is an obstacle to relevance and resonance with your target audience, a good B2B story can last a long time, and travel a long distance. Some case studies and storylines we've developed for our clients are still in circulation after 10 years, and have appeared on multiple websites, in brochures, in print advertising campaigns, on landing pages, in videos, at industry conventions, in the trade media and are now being used as social media and marketing automation fodder. And they've gone around the world.

So, when you sit down to tell your B2B story, remember your audience and what interests them. Make the story one they can really get into. Make it believable, and assemble a cast of characters people want to get behind. Give it meaty plot and a happy ending. Make it compelling, and get your prospects to begin to imagine themselves in the starring role of the sequel.

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