The author's views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.
Meet the One Rand Man, an average 30-something-year-old living in Cape Town, South Africa. As an architect, he’s living his best life, eating out at swanky restaurants, buying rounds of tequila shots for the whole table, and splurging on clothing of the highest quality. He rarely tracks his finances.
But one day, he wakes up and realizes the more he makes, the more he spends on his extravagant lifestyle. He gets curious, so he orders his entire monthly salary to be paid in one rand coins. Yes, you heard that right. The One Rand Man is now on a quest to understand just how much he’s spending in hopes that he’ll spend less by using coins to purchase everything.
Sanlam Life Insurance took on his social experiment as a marketing tactic to teach people how to better manage their money and make smarter financial decisions. And this story blew up — we’re talking thousands of hits on Youtube and plenty of positive publicity. This B2C business used the One Rand Man’s story to educate consumers on the power of making educated financial decisions. And where do you think those consumers turned to when they needed financial assistance? Of course, Sanlam.
What about B2B businesses, though? Does the same concept still apply? The truth is that many of you might believe incorporating this marketing tactic is time consuming or irrelevant to your business audience, but the truth is it works — with flying colors.
For those in the B2B world, you’ve probably heard of B2B referred to as “Boring 2 Boring.” Well, it’s time to end that and spice things up a bit. So, let’s explore marketing storytelling techniques you can use to take your B2B marketing strategy to the next level.
You’ve probably turned to the usual suspects in your marketing efforts — urgency, fear, and shock. By doing so, you’ve hit your ideal customers' pain points with discounts and shiny offers, however, the power of a story can take those one-time customers and make them brand evangelists.
Why does this matter? The most powerful form of marketing is word-of-mouth referrals.
Story-based marketing pulls at heartstrings and cultivates trust. Instead of thinking about your customer as a sale, and them thinking about you as just a product or service, you’re creating long-lasting relationships that break through the barriers of consumerism.
This is especially helpful for B2B businesses, where products and services can often be challenging for consumers to understand. Storytelling humanizes your brand and simplifies complex B2B topics by offering an alternative perspective.
There are numerous benefits to utilizing storytelling as a marketing tactic, in particular, decreased customer acquisition costs and shorter sales cycles. When done right, story-infused messaging elevates and scales your business quicker than you believed possible.
Dove portrays a sincere and authentic personality that’s inclusive for all no matter their skin tone, body shape, or complexion type. In a world where fashion brands and cosmetic powerhouses tell women how they should look, their story-infused messaging is a refreshing narrative changer.
Humans relate to other humans. So, think about how you can highlight the stories behind your team to create a connection with your target audience. As a B2B SaaS business, Dubsado does a really dashing job of highlighting their team’s backstory with super spunky copy. By simply incorporating the story behind your employees, you’re standing out from the sea of other businesses in your industry.
To mention another example from Dove, this campaign showcases a little girl’s future being heavily influenced by all the beauty ads, and urges parents to start a conversation with their children about the industry before the ads do.
By explaining how these ads potentially influence the minds of young girls, Dove creates an emotional connection with parents. They don’t just buy Dove for the product benefits, they purchase from a brand that stands for an inclusive and positive message.
Let’s look at a video created by Zendesk called, “Sh*t Support Agents Say”. Zendesk is a B2B SaaS company that makes businesses better by appealing to both their teams and customers. In this video, they pull on the relatable emotions of a specific group of people within a business: customer support agents.
Think about a specific group of people within a business industry you’re targeting. How can you create a story-driven video that pulls on an emotion? How could you craft content around current events or values that matter to you and your target audience? By taking a stance, and weaving it into your brand messaging, you’ll create lasting impact and urge your audience to truly care.
The image below is a snippet from the Dollar Shave Club website. This brand is well known for making it easy and fun for new customers to engage with their products and services.
Website visitors can quickly identify the right products and understand how they can become a member through the “Easiest Quiz Ever”, about their daily grooming routine and product needs.
This way, customers feel motivated as well as excited to see how Dollar Shave Club’s products could elevate their daily routine.
Let’s put this idea of motivating people to work for your B2B business. Motivating others doesn’t mean you need to stop what you’re doing and create a new quiz. Look at Zeb Evans, CEO and founder of ClickUp (a project management software). Each week he posts videos on Linkedin that motivate his target audience to join in on the conversation pertaining to work culture, localization, and even some of his biggest lessons scaling his team.
You can simply motivate your target audience to first engage with your brand by sharing behind the scenes moments and lessons you’re learning along the way. This inspires others and makes you more approachable, too.
Canva does an excellent job of creating content their B2B and B2C audiences love. They understand that in order to retain their customers, their offering should not be just about design principles and templates. Their carefully curated blog touches upon various topics, such as case studies (how a redesign boosted a non-profit organization’s impact), efficient organization skills (teaching school teachers how to organize their digital notes), and how-to design guides.
Canva is not just a leading brand for amateur designers, but is also a go-to destination for its users to learn more about several aspects of their daily life at work.
Map out the types of people that work at the businesses you’re targeting. You have graphic designers, content marketers, business founders, and various other titles. Think about them and create blog content to appeal to their specific areas.
Maybe you do a series geared towards how content marketers could create more productivity in their daily lives by using your product or service. When you pose a solution to their individual stresses, they’ll be more likely to stick around if they feel seen and heard.
To piggyback off the last point, because Canva’s blogs are super helpful, they’ll very likely get shared and act as free promotion on various channels.
Let’s take a peek at how Eddie Shleyner, the founder of Very Good Copy, incorporates this into his business. Each week he provides fresh micro articles with story-infused, quick writing tips. At the end he encourages — and makes it easy for — his audience to share with others.
Creating rich, educational, and snappy content for specific individuals within your target audience, and then making it easy for them to share with a friend, is a sure fire way to get lots of referrals.
Most of us would gladly binge watch Netflix given a day off and some freshly popped popcorn. We crave stories, and are ready to invest our time in those ones that pique our curiosity and help us relate.
One great example of this is the B2B software company in the UK called Advanced. In their “right the first time” campaign to increase brand awareness, they literally wove in fairytale elements from stories like “Jack and the Beanstalk”.
This helped their complex industry become more digestible. In fact, the CEO of ILTA mentioned he wanted his software to be “like the Goldilocks story: not too hot, not too cold, but just right”.
When applying this to your own B2B business, think about stories you read as a child and weave that into a “story-telling” animated video (or blog) series, but instead of the original characters, use your company characters (you being the trusty friend, your customer being the hero).
Using storytelling gives a unique and exciting edge to your brand messaging, as it helps people relate and engage with your content. So consider how you can use everyday stories we tell our kids in a new product or service you’re launching.
Instead shoving “buy now!” or “purchase here!” CTAs down your customers’ throats, focus on copy that makes them laugh, piques their curiosity, and makes them feel in control. Take Barkbox, for instance: they do a really great job of using humor. In this tweet, you can see how their CTA totally makes their audience feel in control.
How can you be a bit more witty in your B2B copy? Look into what’s trending on social media, so that you can play into the bigger story of what’s happening in people’s daily lives and be more relatable. For example, Dave Harland is a well-known B2B copywriter in the UK and is popular for his witty and sarcastic LinkedIn posts that reflect his copywriting style and skills.
As I mentioned earlier, it can often be challenging for B2B businesses to incorporate storytelling into their messaging because they’re not always talking to the decision maker, unlike B2C consumers. However, it is possible, and I’m going to show you exactly how you can break it down to build it back up— with a story.
Just like you have a playful, serious, humorous, or charismatic personality, your brand has one, too. Think of it as a living, breathing being. To truly humanize your brand, it's important to give it a personality. Here are some common brand personalities that might resonate with your brand:
Educational: like the Moz Blog you’re reading from right now. Does your brand consistently create content to inform others about a different perspective, how your products work, or how-to do something?
Entertaining: like Netflix. Is your brand meant to distract others from the chaos of the world, and for a moment just forget their worries?
Disruptive/Rebellious: like Harley Davidson. A wild-at-heart kind of brand that’s not afraid to take risks.
Sensual and Luxurious: like Red Saint Botanical, a true spirit-based beverage brewed from rare teas. Does your brand ooze sophistication and scream refreshing?
Efficient and Motivational: like Nike. Maybe your brand’s heart beats like a champion and is eager to motivate others.
Happy: like Coca-Cola. If your brand’s sole mission is to cultivate joy, laughter, and radiance then happiness is its identity.
Even with B2B, your brand personality doesn’t have to fit in one of these boxes, as they’re simply suggestions. Play around with identities and characteristics that feel right to you by diving deeper into your brand values.
Every piece of content that you publish should tell a story. Whether it's an email, newsletter, Instagram post, or blog article, the messaging should be universal, memorable, consistent, and organized. Focusing on these elements will strengthen your content strategy and make it more powerful, and therefore unique. Let’s now take a look at content authenticity in action.
Since 1973, Patagonia has always put out authentic content, constantly showcasing its brand values, company culture, and ethics. It's evident through stories like trail runner Felipe Cancino’s of running through the Maipo River Valley, showcasing how Alto Maipo hydropower is greatly affecting the ecosystem, that Patagonia cares about our environment.
In another story, Daniel taps into the mind of a beginner by teaching his daughter to surf. It's clear that Patagonia not only cares for the environment, but also about how bonding over an outdoor activity cultivates healthy relationships.
As you can see, consistently pushing out content that aligns with your values and brand personality builds a strong bond between your business and customers that can’t be broken.
Microsoft is both a B2B and B2C brand that offers a wide range of products. In an effort to share business-related stories about how their products are used, they developed Microsoft Story Labs. This was a true win-win, because Microsoft now has user-generated content to share across other channels, and users become more connected to the brand by sharing their stories.
Displaying strong emotions helps consumers understand they’re not alone and that they can help a cause greater than themselves, especially when they have a brand by their side.
Toms is a great example of this. On their impact page, they outline their aim to use the profits from their business to contribute to the issues of food scarcity and lack of resources in minority communities.
Overall, consumers are keen to see a strong emotional connection to greater issues that matter, and they’ll be more likely to support a brand that displays this.
Your audience is made up of individuals, so the emotional element (which is often overlooked in B2B) needs to be a large component to drive the message home. In the same way that B2C does, write out their fears, joys, and anxieties and tie that into how your business could elevate or diminish those feelings.
Freaker USA, a brand that created a funky universal jacket, wrote this on their about page: “Your little one’s sippy cup can be just as freaked as your 40oz Colt.”
This copy shows how well they know their audience. They understand sometimes parents need a one-size-fits-all product that will keep a child's milk warm (and stylish) and something for their own adult beverage.
Simply ask your current clients through interviews, or conduct market research on look alike audiences to get to know them better. Get to know their quirks and nuances by asking them open-ended questions so that you can get first-hand insight that you may not have gotten otherwise.
A business that has managed to understand even the tiniest details about its customers can really nail their paint points. Knowing their basic age, ethnicity, or location isn’t enough — get to know what they like at Starbucks, how they celebrate their birthday, or what Netflix shows they watch. When you understand these specific details, you can surprise them and communicate in their language to stay top of mind.
The bottom line? The better you know your audience, the deeper your relationship with them can be.
Snapchat’s Bitmoji app launched in 2016, allowing users to create their own emoji (bitmoji) based on their appearance. Snapchat managed to bring out customers’ inner child through the creation of cartoon-like figures, which they can exchange amongst their contact list.
People want to feel unique, and they’re drawn to messages that appeal to their personality and way of thinking. The more ways you personalize your content, user experience, or messaging to showcase this, the more they’ll be tempted to try your brand.
Plus, using personalization on your website is a surefire way to grab your audience’s attention. For example, you could offer a targeted lead magnet like a marketing template for those in that sector, or you could integrate a chatbot with pre-set answers so they’ll be directed exactly where they want to go.
As the years go on and we become more integrated with technology, data will continue to play a huge role in how we personalize experiences for consumers.
For instance, Refinery29 used data to showcase how plus-sized women are not adequately represented within images online. They incorporated this data in their brand strategy, and started shooting images and redesigning illustrations to accurately reflect real women in the US.
By using data and tying it to topics your B2B brand cares about, you can quickly form new and interesting stories, which in turn create an emotional connection with your audience. Collect data on your own marketing campaigns — social media in particular — to find stories that are already working for your brand, and scale accordingly.
Storytelling not only solves some of your biggest B2B business issues (you’re familiar with dreadfully long sales cycles or unengaged prospects), but it can also nourish life-long relationships with customers to create a bigger impact. At the end of the day… isn’t that what we as marketers want?
The marketing storytelling techniques that B2C businesses use are very similar for B2B businesses, too:
Knowing Your Audience
Use of Data
You’ll come to find that the benefits always outweigh the effort a B2B business spends on this process.
By studying B2C brand storytelling (like the One Ran Man story from earlier), you can apply that same mentality and strategy into your B2B business to reap the same benefits.