By Chuck Leddy
Your customers are not machines, nor are they aggregations of data or demographics. Psychological research has continually shown that people make decisions with their emotions first, then later deploy data and reasoning to justify those already-made choices. As Psychology Today explains, “decision-making usually involves a mixture of intuition and rational thinking; critical factors . . .are often unconscious, which makes decision-making hard to fully operationalize, or get a handle on.” Indeed.
Even B2B customers with long, drawn-out purchasing processes often base decisions around “emotional” issues such as trust and likeability. To that point, research from Content Marketing Institute indicates 90% of top-performing B2B content marketers put audience’s informational needs first. In doing so, trust is being created – trust that your organization is a credible and reliable resource. The B2B marketers who can create great stories that connect their offerings with the emotions of their customers will be the ones who build long-term trust and drive lifetime customer value.
Whether you like it or not, customers continuously tell themselves a story about you. To help shape how they talk about you, you’ll need to engage them through stories. How can you craft such engaging, ROI-driving stories? Here are 7 considerations:
1. Understand and express your “why.” Customers want to know your brand and trust you. Why do you exist? Why are you doing business? What unique value are you offering? Stories connect customers and companies in ways that answer these existential questions: and when you provide answers, not via website FAQs but through real stories that connect to human emotions, customers will actually want to hear more from you, want to learn about your offerings, and have a deeper, longer-term relationship with you based on those emotional connections.
B2B marketers who can tell great stories will always have a competitive advantage over rivals who can’t. So start crafting and telling stories aligned with your company’s values and goals.
2. Neuroscience is behind why customers love great stories. When humans listen to a story, brain circuitry can actually be seen lighting up on brain scans. The neural activity within our brains increases by a factor of five as we hear stories. A chemical called oxytocin gets released within our brains and triggers pleasurable sensations — we feel things more deeply and care more about what we’re hearing, which is empathy. All these positive associations created by the story connect the listener to the storyteller and the brand. That’s the “magical” alchemy of storytelling: stories are memorable, and create a scaffolding upon which to put data, while random facts are quickly forgotten if disconnected to any emotional appeal.
3. Some basic elements of great storytelling. Joe Lazauskas, author of The Storytelling Edge: How to Transform Your Business, Stop Screaming into the Void, and Make People Love You, describes four elements of great storytelling. The first is relatability: “the stories we love are ones we can relate to, where we can identify with the story’s characters or situations because they seem familiar to us and connect with our own experiences,” he says. The second element is novelty. This is a survival mechanism — humans are hard-wired to recognize new things and decide whether they are threats or not.
The third element is tension, so something important must be at stake in your brand stories. “The storyteller’s job is to create a gap between what could be and what is, and this tension propels a story. Readers want tension, uncertainty, and change,” explains Lazauskas. The last element is fluency. Using big words is not important. The most popular stories are told at a simple level, in easily-understood language. Leave behind the business lingo, the undecipherable acronyms, and buzzwords. Customers want simplicity.
4. The stories B2B marketers should be telling. . . are about what makes you different, unique in your market, and describe how you offer that unique value to your customers. Of course, you must deeply understand the concerns and problems (“pain points”) of customers, and build stories and content that helps address those. When you tell stories that speak to customer concerns (especially around pain points and emotions), customers will reward you with their attention and their business.
5. Measuring the ROI of stories. As in every area of your business, you need to have the right metrics/KPIs that measure the success of your stories. It’s not about “page views” or “time on the page,” which may not correlate to achieving your business goals. Create “story KPIs” that align with your strategic goals. Pick a few key data points that show how stories/content helps drive your business goals, and share that information within the company. It may require you building some capability around marketing attribution and improved measurement of marketing activities, so get help here if needed.
As Lazauskas suggests, “create the best stories you possibly can, and then use your data analytic tools to monitor how they’re performing. Use that feedback to inform what stories you’ll craft next. It’s a dynamic, learning process.”
6. Keeping your B2B stories relevant and fresh. Focus first and always on your customer’s needs and find new ways to address those needs in multiple ways, through multiple channels. The stories may need to be tweaked a bit to accommodate the strengths and weaknesses of different channels. Lazily copying what your rivals are doing will have your customers tuning you out fast. Focus on quality storytelling that leverages what makes you unique, then iterate on that depending on available channels and formats.
7. Something to never forget. Stories have driven human behavior for centuries, have defined entire cultures over time, and will doubtless continue to do so. They will remain relevant in B2B marketing no matter what happens with marketing technology trends. In today’s digital age, B2B marketers have more opportunities than ever to stand out from the pack, share their messages, connect with stakeholders, and spark change. Telling great stories is the best way forward.
Remember, the B2B marketers who can create great stories that connect their offerings with the emotions of their customers will be the ones who build long-term trust and drive lifetime customer value.