Storytelling has become integral to content marketing over the last decade, especially for B2C organizations. But as B2B marketing becomes increasingly personalized and focused on close relationships with buyers, marketing teams are working to define exactly what “storytelling” looks like from company to company.
Because there’s no single vehicle for storytelling, only tools that can be employed, companies often need to rethink their entire marketing strategy – often a daunting task. It’s not simply a matter of producing mountains of content and hoping people will engage.
At its heart, storytelling is about human connection. (The same can reasonably be said for marketing.) Storytelling is part of our DNA, going back to the time when humans were painting pictures on cave walls. We still engage in it constantly, from the moment we wake up in the morning.
Even in its simplest form, it occurs on two levels. The first is conscious: you might sit down with a colleague at lunch, and describe something that happened that morning. But on a more unconscious level, we all create an ongoing narrative about ourselves, in the way we dress and act, in our values, and in the work we choose to do.
When a narrative is told on a large scale – let’s say an opera or a major conference – it may include a phantasmagoria of sights and sounds, physical props and elaborate staging. Everything works together to create an impact on the audience.
Storytelling has always incorporated the senses on some level and tends to follow a structure of some kind, but today it may also include virtual reality, immersive theater, and other imaginative media. Technology has transformed the look of storytelling, even if its nature remains grounded in prehistory.
Storytelling Like a Cave Man
Let’s go back to the cave for a moment and consider how stories work. A hunter draws a picture of a bison and elaborates for his audience through words and gestures. He describes how he found the creature and fought it.
Several things are happening here. The story has a kind of structure, but more importantly, it creates an emotional response. The audience knows what’s at stake. They find the story thrilling. They also come out with a new respect for the storyteller, which will matter the next time they’re looking for someone to bring home dinner.
Looking at prehistoric art today, especially complex, sophisticated art like the Lascaux cave paintings in southeast France, we see another aspect worth noting. Archaeologists point to such works as an example of a distinctly human consciousness that emerged tens of thousands of years ago.
The paintings reflect an important turning point in human development that has sometimes been called “the mind’s big bang.” Humans have been on a trajectory ever since, producing increasingly complex artistic, scientific, and technological developments.
Yet the role of storytelling – connecting on an emotional level and moving your audience – remains unchanged.
This was illustrated by David Lewis, Founder, and CEO of DemandGen, while speaking recently at Big Sky Big Ideas in Bozeman, MT. Lewis opened his talk with a personal story, during which he clicked to an image of a young girl. He paused and went back to the former slide, saying that he didn’t mean to skip forward.
In that moment, the audience was hooked. Who was that girl? Later, Lewis revealed that it was his daughter, and his story described how his family had come together during a health scare. Lewis had made the difficult choice of going ahead with the launch of his new business, despite the circumstances.
The message of his story: Don’t let adversity keep you from realizing your goals. But on another level, Lewis shared how he’d used a story arc and a key tactic of neuromarketing to captivate his audience.
Stories affect us on a number of levels. They help us understand a situation better by giving us context. The spur us to action by generating feelings of anger, sadness, or joy. They touch on our secret fears and make us want to find solutions.
But most of all, stories build connections. In business, they can help you and your customer meet on the same level. When common ground is established, others are much more likely to see value in what you do and to trust you.
Stories are Business
Consider this: according to research by Google, in partnership with Motista and CEB, So in the age of personalization and account-based marketing, stories really do matter now, more than ever before.
Your business has stories it already tells – through customer case studies, or through other stories related to company outreach and activities. You tell these stories on your website, in your social media, and at events.
But storytelling isn’t just talking about something that happened; it’s an ongoing narrative. It’s part of the relationship you’re establishing with your customers. This relationship is personalized, tactile, and works on the human level.
As organizational storytelling becomes increasingly sophisticated, B2B marketers will need to develop best practices in order to create effective content strategies.
In the meantime, human connection is a great place to begin – and that can be as simple as sending a personal package, or sitting down for a conversation.
Curious to find out more of how PFL can help you connect with customers? Give us a call at 800-930-5088.