What Marketers Can Learn from Storytellers

What Marketers Can Learn from Storytellers
Savvy Guest - Mon Jul 19, 2010 @ 04:20AM
Comments: 18

Today's guest post comes from Chas Cooper of B2B Internet Marketing Strategies.

B2B marketers are storytellers of a different kind. Our customers are heroes and heroines. Our competitors are all treacherous villains. Dramatic tension arises when our customers' companies run into a major challenge that our handsome heroes and fair heroines overcome by wielding our trusty products.

So what can B2B marketers learn from the time-honored, tried-and-true techniques of great storytellers?

Surprise with the unexpected. Then hold back!
Want prospects to get past the subject line of your e-mails or read past the hook in the first part of your first sentence? Want that elevator pitch to lead to a meeting by the time you step off the elevator? Surprise your audience with something that makes sense to them, but then adds an unexpected twist. Then leave them wanting to find out more.

Storytellers use cliff hangers to keep an audience hanging on to every word. Will the hero hanging from the cliff climb to safety? Or will he plummet a thousand feet to his doom? Stay tuned for the next chapter, episode, blog post, white paper to find out.

B2B marketers can use cliff hangers to keep the prospect wanting to keep consuming content until our full message has been delivered. Or we can use cliff hangers to drive self selection. Want to know more? Register for that webinar. Sign up for that free trial. Subscribe to that newsletter.

Let's take an example. Take a look at this typical, dry case study in the usual Challenge/Solution/Results format we marketers all know and love a little too much. I'm not sure about you, but I have a hard time getting past the first paragraph without falling asleep. Now imagine if this same case study had been set up first with the unexpected surprise, "By pulling the plug on building their CRM system, Dell, the PC giant, ended up generating over $200 million in deals and getting over 1,000 partners per month." The seeming contradiction creates one obvious question in the reader's mind: How can pulling the plug on a system generate business? It's this curiosity that would make the reader want to learn more. Also, the answer to that question goes straight to the heart of Salesforce's value proposition: When you use Salesforce, you don't have to waste time and money building your own systems, because you just use the system Salesforce has already built.

Inspire with a greater purpose.
Great storytellers weave epic sagas of life and death upon which the fate of the world hangs in the balance as good and evil battle for eternal power. The characters of great stories are swept up in a greater purpose. They put their petty personal interests aside and submit themselves to the service of good against evil.

Sound like an Apple vs. PC commercial? Or perhaps Calgon taking someone away? Marketers who elevate their message to a greater purpose also elevate the perceived value of their products, increasing price points, conversion rates and customer loyalty.

A fascinating study from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania showed that awe-inspiring content was more likely to be shared than any other kind of content, revealing key insights into how to create viral content systematically.

But what higher purpose does your B2B product have? Who in their right mind finds religion in buying a new IT system, SaaS subscription or cloud computing service? The answer: People who care about their careers, what their bosses think about their performance or their self image as a professional. In other words, "just about everyone."

B2B marketers can inspire buyers with the promise of career advancement, kudos from the boss, the envy of colleagues, that long deserved promotion, and just the simple self image of being an innovator on the cutting edge.

Take the entire green computing movement as an example that inspires with a higher purpose well beyond simple career advancement. Hardware manufacturers have built compelling value propositions specifically to inspire IT managers with a higher, greener purpose when making their hardware buying decisions.

Create dramatic tension and prove it's serious.
At the heart of every story is dramatic tension. Without a conflict or problem to be solved, there is no story. Storytellers create dramatic tension out of battles between good and evil, relationship conflicts between characters, or seemingly insurmountable obstacles on the road to an important goal. The reader keeps reading the story because they want to find out how the dramatic tension will be resolved.

Marketers can find sources of dramatic tension in the conflicts between their customers and the problems their customers face. How will Bob the IT Guy build that system in just 3 months? Can Bob the builder do it? Yes he can! He faces many obstacles along the way, but Bob finds a way to wield the marketer's products to overcome every obstacle.

For dramatic tension to work, you have to prove that the characters are worth caring about and the problem they face is serious. This is where marketers can tell stories about characters their market will identify with, characters who attack problems that are on the top of their prospects' priority lists.

Going beyond the dramatic tension of how to solve high-priority business problems, marketers can also find dramatic tension in interpersonal workplace politics. IBM turned this sort of dramatic tension into a leading sales strategy with their now-infamous FUD tactics (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt). The pitch IBM sales people used routinely: "No one ever got fired for buying from IBM, but if you buy from that smaller company and it doesn't work out, you might not have a job in six months." Now that's dramatic tension!


About Chas. Cooper
Fellow blogger for B2B Internet Marketing Strategies, Chas. has over a decade of experience as a product marketing professional for cloud computing and software companies in the San Francisco Bay Area.


Comments: 18


1. Laura Lear  |  my website   |   Tue Jul 27, 2010 @ 07:57AM

This is such a great post, and thanks for including the examples and resource links. I really like the "cliffhanger" notion as well and will definitely look at ways to incorporate cliffhanger drama. It is amazing how we marketers have evolved and added "content creator and syndicator" to our job responsibilities. It is daunting at times, but also fun and a great creative outlet for us "author wannabes."

Also, I'm glad you enjoyed our whitepaper on using storytelling to increase revenue. Thanks for sharing it, and do let me know if you have suggestions for improvement or ideas for our round 2 piece.

2. Mark McClure  |  my website   |   Sat Dec 18, 2010 @ 02:47PM

@Chas, Just watch how the TV soaps reel us in with their pre-commercial crises... concluding with the cliffhanger ending.

Here in Japan the TV commercials get more frequent in the final 20 mins of a 60 min show. I take my hat off to the scriptwriters who make this work!

And yes, I suspect the very best b2b copywriters are probably voracious readers of fiction. Some may even be writers with a nom de plume. Adds a touch of imagineering (thanks Disney!) to their diet of white papers and case studies.

I'm re-reading Stephen King's book, "On Writing - A Memoir of the Craft". Although the first half of the book's billed as autobiographical, he weaves stories about the influences of his life on his writings like clues at a crime scene. Wonderful stuff.

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