For those of you who have been reading my blog, you’ve come to know (and perhaps even appreciate) that I like to hone in on common marketing buzz-words of the moment to get to the bottom of what they really mean. Effective “storytelling” is another one that’s up at the top of my list. What’s funny about this buzz word is that it’s nothing new—the idea of storytelling is centuries old. You could even argue that it is perhaps the oldest marketing tactic out there. Storytelling, or the “social and cultural activity of sharing stories,” is now moving into the B2B world as a means to enhance a company’s image or identity, and create brand “stickiness.” Storytelling is not just about relating your company’s history to others; it’s about creating story-like content that speaks to your audience in fun and relatable ways. It’s personable, and invites the listener/reader to learn something new. It can relay use cases or case studies for your services and solutions by providing useful and valuable information in the form of a story.
One very important thing to keep in mind here is that people remember stories. I don’t know about you, but I have a lot of difficulty remembering exact facts and figures, dates and historical timelines. Although often this type of information can be useful when telling a story, it’s not the type of thing that’s necessarily going to stick (with me) or that will bring your story to life. And what many people miss about storytelling is that every story needs to have a point. Otherwise, your “story” becomes like a journal entry — a factual list of events in chronological order. Kind of like my 3-year-old son telling me about his day, “And then we went to the beach, and then I jumped in the waves, and then I played in the sand, and then we came home…”
These types of “stories” aren’t compelling or interesting because there’s no lesson to be learned, best practice to develop or insight to be had.
So how can you be an effective storyteller when creating B2B content? Here are some tips to get you started:
Don’t forget your key messages – write with purpose
Nearly 20 years ago, I started my career working for a public relations firm in Washington, DC and one of my clients at the time was a wonderful non-profit organization called the Foundation for International Community Assistance (FINCA). (Yes, I will make a little side-note to promote them since they do such a wonderful job of helping impoverished woman create micro-enterprises to work their way out of poverty). We were contacted by them because they wanted to increase their donor base and they were having trouble getting their messages out in the media (which honestly was challenging for everyone at that time since the headlines were all about Bill Clinton and Monika Lewinsky!).
We started by looking over all of the content they had. Not only did they have a lot of content volume-wise, they had so many amazing stories! They wrote about real people whose lives had been changed because of micro-loans they received from FINCA to create small businesses. They demonstrated the lasting impact that the organization’s work was having in third world countries in Latin America. They had colorful photos to illustrate their content and bring it to life. But they were missing one fundamental thing; not once in their content did they ever once ask readers to give a donation to help. They wanted donors to give them money, but not once did they convey this fundamental key message in their writing.
We confronted them about it and they admitted that we were right. They had been afraid to ask, so they shied away from doing so. (They have since changed their policy in this regard!) Which brings me a fundamental lesson about content writing — don’t forget its purpose. If your goal is to raise awareness and educate, then do that. Use a success story to convey your message that your solution can help a certain type of business in a highly precise way. And don’t forget your call-to-action which should point readers in the right (next) direction, whether that be to visit your website, share your content with a friend, get in touch with you, request a demo or all of the above.
Find your voice
You don’t need to be a novelist to have your own unique writing style that defines who you are as a writer. Even if you are only writing the occasional company blog post, short tweet or comment on social media, it’s important to be consistent and to feel comfortable with the language you use. Storytelling by nature uses informal language, and luckily in English, we tend to write the way we speak. You can use that as a basis for telling a great story — as if it were one that was being orally transmitted.
The way you get your message across is not only a reflection of yourself, but of your company, so it’s important that you enjoy what you’re doing — otherwise the language is likely to fall flat. Some people like to use metaphors when writing; others don’t. Both are fine as long as you don’t force yourself to write in a style that doesn’t feel right for you.
Finding your voice takes time, but it works best when you write about topics that interest you. (It also helps to have the creative freedom to say what you want, which is not always easy when B2B content writing can be limited by nature of the business objectives at hand). If you don’t feel that you have what it takes to create content yourself, then don’t. Some people don’t have the talent or skill to be good at writing, just like there are some people that aren’t cut out for a career in sales. In order to become a gifted writer (as is also true with sales), you’ll need a lot of practice, the ability to react positively from even the most negative of criticism, and a thick skin.
Stop searching for the next catch phrase
Catch phrases are great. We remember them long after they stop being used. They almost become like mini-slogans to help make your messages memorable, and they can even help your content go viral. But, unless you’re Malcolm Gladwell, it’s unlikely that you’re going to invent the new catch phrase of the month, so stop spending all your time trying to write the perfect sentence and just write. Again, great writing starts with a great story so that’s what you want to spend your time on. Understand how the story itself can bring value to your readers, then determine the most compelling way to tell that story to your audience. Using different media (print vs video) can also be an interesting way to diversify and keep your content “fresh”.
Tell your story
One of the most fundamental aspects of effective storytelling is making sure your story gets heard. Content promotion ensures that your asset is available to your key target audience in the format they want to see it in, on the channel they are most likely to engage with it. Word-of-mouth recommendations are proven as one of the most persuasive ways to influence decision-makers; so give people a good story to share with their friends, family and colleagues.
The moral of the story is…
Having a solid conclusion that reiterates your main point is the strongest ending you can give to any story. Making sure your call-to-action is apparent will also help guide your audience to the next step. Knowing how you are going to end your story is perhaps the best way to start it. When you are sure of the direction you are going in, it’s easier to take your story from point A to point B. You don’t necessarily need a moral to your story, but a purpose, yes.
For me, the most compelling stories are the ones that are true, and that have a happy end. (Maybe that’s because I’m American and have cultural ties to big Hollywood blockbuster movies, who knows?). At the end of the day, the end of your story needs to leave the reader or listener with a sense of satisfaction. They got something out of your story — they learned something and are compelled to action. When the action is followed-through on, you know your story was effective (it served its purpose).
Now all you need to do is get to it!