Storytelling is a loaded word. It needs a lot of de-mystifying, de-stigmatizing, and de-regularizing. After the marketing industry grabbed a hold of it in the early 2010s, ‘storytelling’ became a cliched content movement; it was a keyword stuffer used to gain likes.
As much as we may find ourselves cringing when we hear “storytelling” in the context of marketing, the truth is, it’s important. And today, storytelling in B2B video marketing is critical –– despite the cliche.
What is Storytelling?
The National Storytelling Network defines storytelling as “an ancient art form and a valuable form of human expression. It is using words and actions to reveal the elements and images of a story while encouraging the listener’s imagination.”
Stories are a part of human nature. Before we developed a way of writing, we were still telling stories to educate and entertain. It’s a way to share information and pass on a lesson –– whether that’s teaching the clan which berries from which bushes are safe to eat, or conveying why your healthcare SaaS is better at delivering optimal care solutions to patients.
It’s engraved into our brains to listen when somebody says, “Let me tell you a story.” In fact, studies have shown that listening to character-driven stories releases oxytocin, a chemical that is connected to feelings of love and empathy.
The Elements of a Story
Stories need structure. All of the best films follow the same basic structure: an exposition, rising action, climax, and resolution. In the B2B world, this involves establishing your audience’s challenge, introducing the solutions you provide, and demonstrating how their world is transformed after adopting your solutions. Not exactly The Avengers… but you’ll grow your user base.
Stories need characters. Whether it’s an aspirational hero like Captain America or a relatable hero like Phoebe from Friends, the character is the proxy for the audience. Businesses have characters, too. No matter how you feel about the Geico gecko, Flo from Progressive, or Tony the Tiger with Frosted Flakes, you probably know them, which speaks volumes about effective marketing. In B2B marketing, your character could be the Mailchimp chimp, but it could also simply be a proxy character representing your target audience (i.e. the C-suite executive, the compliance manager, or the sales rep).
Stories need themes. Your theme is that underlying idea that you’re trying to explore or express through your story. Good vs. evil; true love vs. family rivalries; sticking with your existing but inadequate marketing platform because it’s easy vs. adopting a new but unfamiliar technology at a higher cost.
How B2B Marketers Can Use Storytelling
Storytelling became a buzzword for a reason: it works. So if you’re a B2B video marketer, you should be applying the principles of storytelling to your content, too. Let’s look at an example.
B2B video marketing can certainly take advantage of aspirational storytelling: create a proxy character ‘hero’ who goes on a journey from where the audience is now to a new and better place.
For a B2C example, think about a laundry detergent commercial. Our proxy hero, a suburban mom, faces the challenge of getting grass stains out of some pants. The simple act of dropping a pod into the washing machine solves the problem. All set in a clean, bright laundry room with a giant window. Now, your audience thinks, “If I use this detergent, my clothes will be clean, my laundry room will look like this, and I’ll be as happy as she is.”
The same principle applies in the B2B space. In our video for Contract Hound, a cliched storytelling trope was given a satirical spin. It was designed to catch viewers’ attention and get them engaged quickly before showing off what Contract Hound software could do. And while it pokes fun at the trope, it also benefits from its predictable story elements: in the end, our proxy hero, Chloe, reaches a new and better place from where she started –– a place where she can easily onboard new customers. Also, shut up, Joe.
Basically, effective video helps us achieve our desired future state.
Write Your Own Story
People hate to be sold. But they love to buy. The quality of your product and service features is ultimately what will keep your customers once they’ve decided to buy, but good storytelling can help you convince them to buy in the first place.
If you’re not already, you need to develop your B2B brand’s messaging with storytelling. Maybe your business is abstract or technical. Maybe your startup story isn’t as inspirational as you’d like. Maybe you feel like your brand’s story doesn’t have a climax. You can still tell a story. It could be a customer success story, a product story, your origin story, or the ongoing story of what you stand for. All you need is an audience.
For a few great examples of B2B storytelling from brands, check out this Slack campaign from Sandwich, or these customer stories we created for GlobalLink. For more on how to use storytelling in B2B messaging, watch this episode of The Video Reformation Podcast.