Engaging hearts and minds: storytelling in the B2B context

Ever since homo sapiens developed language, stories have been used to deliver messages.  Because, by nature, human beings respond to a narrative.  

At best, stories move people in some way, change perceptions and even coax them into action. In essence, these are also the key aims of B2B marketing campaigns. Through storytelling, audiences map their own experience within the content, creating relevance and meaning which is personal to them. In this context, the end aim is still marketing-focused; to guide prospects in some way, move them through the pipeline, encourage them to take action, or to change their perception of a brand.  

Every story needs a hero 

A crucial element of effective storytelling is the role of the hero. David Attenborough has long understood that focusing on the specific drama of one small group of animals conveys more completely the narrative for a whole species. In recent years he has shifted his focus more specifically to global warming but he conveys his narrative subtly, using the same strategy. Who can forget the mother polar bear struggling to navigate the melting ice floes? She is the hero and we feel her pain. The emotional connection with this individual animal is likely to have generated more passion than any number of facts and figures.  

Consider also the story of Rosa Parks who refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white man in 1955 Alabama. Her courageous decision is considered to have ignited the American Civil Rights movement. It wasn’t that others hadn’t been agitating for change to the segregation laws, but that the story of one woman making a stand was the touch paper that prompted others into action, lighting a political fire.* 

In a B2B context, choosing a hero may not appear to be such an easy choice and does require careful consideration. However, one thing is certain: the business itself should not be the obvious hero. Instead, consider identifying an individual, whether a customer or an individual member of staff, and focus the narrative on their experience. 

When it comes to villains, it is best not to personalise but to present a challenge. The story can then demonstrate how the hero overcame that challenge. Overcoming metaphorical monsters is not, however, the only plot relevant to the B2B context. In our next blog we will discuss the seven basic plots of storytelling including rags-to-riches, quests, voyages, comedy, tragedy and rebirth. Perhaps surprisingly, these all have a role to play in the storytelling mix. 

A case study is not a story 

Although there are similarities, it is important to note that a case study is not the same as a story. It is a fine line to tread, but storytelling should be about more than an account of a satisfied customer. It is more subtle than that. A story needs to have flesh on the bones – setting the scene, introducing people with real lives, the challenges they face and how it makes them feel, how the narrative progressed and how they felt differently at the end. A story needs to engage on a human level, not simply state facts. When dealing with B2B messaging this can create a challenge but employees’ own experience or a carefully crafted narrative about customer experience can engage in the right way. 

Learning more about storytelling 

In our next storytelling blog, as well as discussing the seven basic plots of storytelling and how these can be used effectively in B2B communications, we will also explore how to identify audiences and how to relate to them specifically, an often- overlooked element of the process.  

If you would like to get a deeper understanding of how storytelling can enhance your B2B marketing and sales communication please contact our team by emailing [email protected].