Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Is B2B storytelling possible?

Storytelling is the buzzword of the year in marketing and communications, and most often described as an essential tool for reaching public audiences of all kinds. But does it work for B2B or other specialized communications?

That's a question I get whenever I lead a storytelling workshop in the business world, and I have a two-word answer: You bet.

Here's why: Storytelling, an ancient art that's so consistently effective on listeners that researchers say we're hard-wired to receive information this way, doesn't discriminate. Neither do your listeners, whether they're businesses or consumers, scientists or citizens. Everyone appreciates a good story, well-chosen to the task. And it's not a company that's buying your product or service. It's a person you need to reach and inspire to act.

Take product sales to businesses. This Harvard Business Review article on social media and product launches notes General Electric's Instagram account, which is "a window into the science behind some of GE’s most cutting-edge technology. Through visual campaigns on Instagram, the culture and history of the 120-year-old company is brought to life and followed closely by brand fans." It's unabashedly geeky, inviting potential buyers to get a glimpse of product features as well as behind-the-scenes manufacturing processes. IBM Research does much the same with its Pinterest account, sharing research news and technical details about cutting-edge products and services. Both are great visual storytelling efforts, reaching individuals who'll make product buying decisions.

Another HBR article, Why self-image matters in B2B sales, goes further, identifying just what you need to communicate to make the sale:
Our research shows that understanding the personal motivations – particularly around identity — of key people in a buyer organization are every bit as important to a sale as convincing them of the superiority of your solution. 
This becomes even more important as the number of people involved in buying decisions has grown. Today, between five and six decision-makers typically have to agree on a purchase before it can happen. If a seller doesn’t have an advocate in the organization to help drive the consensus, a so-called “mobilizer” who is personally motivated to champion the deal, the sale can stall.
The authors say that "offerings that provide identity value, positively reinforcing a customer’s self image, had a powerful effect on turning these customers into mobilizers." So if you use stories to reinforce who they are as individuals, you give them not just motivation to buy, but a story they can use in turn to influence other decision-makers to close the sale.

The tough part: While storytelling's the buzzword of the year in marketing, it's rare to find marketers with the training and practice needed to be effective at this skill. I've led storytelling and messaging workshops for companies like Wrigley and IBM that share structures, language considerations, and practice to get a team of storytellers started, drawing on my experience as a coach of TEDMED and TEDx storytellers. Interested in helping your B2B sales or marketing team learn how to put storytelling to good use? Email me at eloquentwoman AT gmail DOT com.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Jim Pennucci)

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