Storytelling is the latest buzzword in B2B marketing. Everyone says they’re doing it, but it’s hard to find stories that truly resonate with audiences. An analysis of NewsCred articles found that an average of only 37 seconds was spent reading each one. That’s not engagement, that’s a drive-by view.

Storytelling has been proven to engage the brain in ways that factual or statistical information alone cannot. It’s the one vehicle marketers have at their fingertips to allow their audiences to see themselves in the experience, rooting for the hero as if he or she were them. Stories allow your audience to see the path forward—hopefully by taking advantage of whatever it is your solution enables.

Here’s the rub: I see the advice everywhere that stories should be about your brand, company, and products.

It makes me cringe every time.

Here’s why: The heroes of your stories must be your buyers and customers, not you.

It’s all about them, right? You don’t provide a product because it’s a product. Your company develops products and solutions that enable capabilities your customers don’t yet have to help them achieve a better outcome that contributes to attaining business objectives.

How to Create the Foundation for a B2B Story

You must start with your audience. Personas would be my first choice. (Naturally!)

A story will only engage the audience if they can see themselves in it, wrestling with a problem they need to solve. Relevance is imperative. Your persona is the hero of the story.

Pick a problem you know is a trigger that moves them off status quo. This problem is the antagonist or villain of the story. It is what’s getting in the way of the hero reaching his or her goal.

Then draft the backstory. The backstory is what leads up to your hero’s need to act to solve the problem. Stories always start with trouble (conflict). If everything was grand, there’d be no story. Think about how boring it would be. But as soon as there’s something that’s not right, that’s impeding your hero’s progress toward a goal, then you’ve got tension. And it’s that conflict and tension that draw people—like your hero—into the story.

Here’s an example of a simple backstory:

A CTO and founder of a startup SaaS company that’s raised an impressive investment round is building a new application with a business model dependent upon low-price, high-volume sales. He knows that, at launch, the delivery and support of his application must be rock solid, the site stable and reliable – regardless of how much traffic hits it. This product launch has a lot a lot riding on it—including his career. And he knows his target market is cautious about adopting new technology. But the opportunity is huge.

He’s formed a great core team focused on the development of this revolutionary application. He is trying to decide how to support taking the application to market.

He can:

  • Build the infrastructure in-house: hire the team, buy the hardware, develop the network, co-locate the servers, etc.
  • Build it in-house and spin up the servers from Google or AWS to host it in the cloud—but this means hiring the team to build and support it
  • Outsource the infrastructure to a managed services provider and keep his team’s focus solely on core product development, delivery, and service
  • Use the vendors the companies in his investor’s portfolio uses to try and find economies of scale

Some of his concerns include:

  • A move up of launch date that means he must get the infrastructure up faster than he’d planned
  • Concern about security and compliance in the cloud—his customers will be all over this
  • A reluctance to split his or his team’s time between innovations for the new product and managing the infrastructure
  • Scaling the infrastructure if volume grows faster than forecast
  • Controlling costs to keep slim margins in the acceptable range—they’re already slim in the best of scenario forecasts
  • Minimizing any perceptions that will get in the way of his potential customers embracing this new application

Once you know all of this, you’ll be able to generate the “chapters” of your story. The third character in your story is the mentor. The mentor brings information, tools, and knowledge that the hero needs to vanquish the villain. The mentor is your brand’s role in the story.

Drafting the Story

Assess your hero’s backstory to develop ideas for how your brand can write the story. Given the above backstory, your idea list may look like this:

  • Share deep insights about the challenges of taking a new SaaS product to market and how cloud compares to an on-premise deployment for scale, uptime, responsiveness, and rolling out product updates
  • Produce content that talks about the role a managed services team plays in collaborating with the core team to make sure the infrastructure supports new product developments and customer demands
  • Help him to understand how the security and compliance measures you can provide will be a selling point for his customers—and his investors
  • Show him how a pay for what you use model will help him keep margins where they need to be
  • Share your insights about how the future trends you see for the industry will be easier to address with a cloud infrastructure and why this is important for his app and his customers

You’ll need to organize your ideas so the story builds with each new chapter (think content asset) and that the whole of the content will serve to orchestrate your buyer’s progress toward achieving his goal.

As you create the content, make sure that the context is evolving with what your buyer has learned from you along the way. Movement is important for progress. Your content should create connections that help extend engagement and prompt shifts in intent.

Just as when you finish the chapter of a book, you can choose to put it down until returning later or to turn the page and continue reading. Make sure your story always connects to a next step and that you’re building anticipation for what comes next with every interaction.

Never Lose Focus on the Hero of Your Brand’s Story

There are many angles B2B storytelling can take and a number of chapters to unfold that will be integral to helping the buyer build the trust and credibility he needs to take the risk of choosing to use an outside vendor—especially with so much riding on this launch. There will be a lot of information he’ll need to build the business case and the confidence to make a decision.

Storytelling gives you the opportunity to support him every step of the way.

But remember, none of the stories this buyer needs revolve around your product or solution as the hero. Your solution is simply one component of the business the buyer is building.

The story you need to tell is one that builds the buyer’s confidence that he’s making the best, lowest risk choice that will lead to his SaaS app succeeding in the marketplace—and help to elevate his career.

Check out one of our favorite marketer’s fairytales, and don’t forget to subscribe to hear more stories every week.

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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.