In my last post, “How to Use Storytelling to Bring Your Brand’s Narrative to Life,” I discussed why your prospects and customers must be the hero of the story and how to create the foundation for a B2B story.

This post shares some tips to help you ensure that your story will come to life in a way that will inspire your audience to act. In business storytelling, the point is to drive an outcome that helps both your customer and your brand. Entertainment is great, but it doesn’t grow revenues without purpose.

What I didn’t cover in that article is the importance of a progressive arc in your story—and how to create that arc naturally. In fictional stories, the point is to engage the audience from beginning to end. B2B stories must work a bit harder as engagement is one goal, but without progression that motivates action, your stories won’t be successful at driving contribution to revenue—the ultimate outcome.

The Difference between a Campaign and a Progression Machine

Many B2B marketers are still on the campaign treadmill. New month or quarter; new campaign. The problem with campaigns—as I’ve been saying for years—is that they have start and stop dates. Most campaigns are short-term programs. If your sales cycle is short, this can work if you can tell the entire problem-to-solution story during the time frame.

But what happens when your campaign runs for six weeks, but your buyers take six  months or longer to get through their evaluation and decision process?

The simple answer is they won’t be buying from you. They’ll be moving on to some other vendor who can give them the rest of the story they need to overcome all their conflicts and satisfactorily minimize perceptions of risk to get to the decision to act (i.e., buy).

Storytelling becomes the fuel for a progression machine when it matches the steps buyers need to take with the “chapters” of the story that help them make progress. Making progress means continuously learning what they need to know, as well as to convince stakeholders, to continue in pursuit of a course of action.

Leaving this to chance when a campaign ends before they’re ready is leaving the door open for an alternative.

Taking a serial-storytelling approach that covers all the bases of the problem-to-solution story gives you a fighting chance for successfully influencing a purchase. But it’s not just the progressive story that’s important; it’s in how you tell it.

4 Tips to Creating Stories that Fuel Progression

It goes without saying that the hero of your story will be based on a primary persona. But how you unfold and evolve the story will resonate more clearly when you incorporate the following elements into your story.

Trouble

If everything is going swimmingly for your hero, there’s no story. Stories begin with trouble. In a B2B story this means the pain point, challenge, or urgency that pushes your hero off being comfortable with the status quo. What’s the problem in the way of success?

Trouble becomes the premise for the story.

The key to using trouble as the hook of your story is in depicting it in a way that your buyer can relate to. You want them to be nodding along as they read or view because they can see themselves encountering that problem. And, remember, this may also be their wake-up call that status quo is no longer safe. Don’t presume that they already recognize the gravity of their situation.

Marketers tend to think that their buyers know they need to solve the problem. This isn’t necessarily true, or they’d have already taken steps to solve it.

Tone and Voice

The way you tell the story is critical to getting your buyers to engage. The tone and voice you use to tell your story must be relatable to your audience. There are many nuances to tone and voice.

Tone will affect the level of emotional resonance your story will have. Knowing your buyers well will help you use tone to have your story “feel right” to those who engage with it. A few examples include:

  • An academic tone can be perceived as boring and monotone
  • An authoritative tone can make your buyer feel you’re talking down to them
  • A casual tone can be off putting if the problem being solved is more serious or risky

Some elements of any of those three may play given your brand, but make sure to balance them against what matters most to your audience. Strive for a tone that combines authenticity and expertise. Tone is often the element that builds or breaks trust.

Voice is the words you choose to tell the story. This is where jargon and buzzwords can be either the kiss of death or the proof that you’re an expert in their field or industry. If you’re presenting your brand as an industry insider, then you’d better be able to walk the talk. Word choice is also a reflection of tone.

Consider the differences in:

  • Use vs. Leverage
  • Strong vs. Robust
  • Popular vs. Leading

You’ve all seen the terms on the right used in many About Us pages on corporate websites. When’s the last time you believed them?

Aim for simple and helpful. Understand which words they use to talk about the problem they’re solving and use those. Content that’s easy to digest and understand is much more engaging than content that requires effort. You want your ideas to shine through. Just remember that “easy to digest and understand” means different things to different personas.

Evidence

Buyers have been asking vendors for years to provide evidence that backs up their claims and hypotheses. How many times do you come across content that doesn’t source statistics or makes high-flying claims without reasonable support? Drives me nuts. But that’s beside the point.

The issue is that stories that don’t have a strong foundation will fail to engage over the long term.

We’ve all heard the term “marketing fluff.” It’s a reference to content without substance. Stories without substance are not believable. It’s one thing to have your audience relate to the hero of the story, it’s another to have them suspend disbelief long enough to let the ideas you’re sharing take hold because they’re believable and ring true. Don’t expect your audience to take leaps of faith without reason.

An even more compelling reason for incorporating evidence in your stories is a buyers’ growing expectation and reliance on social proof. This is when incorporating customer stories and use cases can help to orchestrate progression.

In a recent interview series for persona development for a client, I had a buyer tell me that if social proof wasn’t easily available (for him this meant others talking online about the vendor) that he wouldn’t put them on his short list. This reality is also why advocacy has become a part of the most successful brand narratives.

Self-Resolution

Using story as a progression machine must finally result in a “happy ending.” The best stories help the hero see themselves successful at solving the problem and believing they’ve reached the conclusion about how to do so because it’s their own idea.

This is akin to the adage, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink.”

It’s also one of my favorite things about B2B storytelling. Storytelling is not about selling or pitching. It’s about being the mentor that gives the hero (buyer) the knowledge and tools to solve the problem. Storytelling as a progression machine helps them work through all the conflicts themselves to arrive at the conclusion that the best way to solve the problem is with your help, your solution.

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Ardath Albee

About Ardath Albee

Ardath Albee is a B2B Marketing Strategist and CEO of her firm, Marketing Interactions. She’s written two books, the latest is Digital Relevance: Developing Content and Strategies That Drive Results. Ardath helps B2B companies with complex sales use persona-driven content marketing strategies to turn prospects into buyers and convince customers to stay. Follow her on Twitter at @ardath421.