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b2b brand marketing tips

“My heart speaks in puzzles and codes / I’ve been trying my whole life to solve.” Adele - ‘Love Is A Game’

One puzzle Adele has managed to solve is how to get fans listening to her albums in order. Because by removing the shuffle button off all album pages on Spotify, her records will now play in sequence by default.

"We don't create albums with so much care and thought into our track listing for no reason,” the singer tweeted last November. "Our art tells a story and our stories should be listened to as we intended,” she continued.

This got us thinking, maybe B2B brands could learn a trick or two from the people’s pop princess.

OK, hear us out…

We know that brand storytelling works - and not just in the B2C space. In fact, research from B2B Marketing suggests that 50% of B2B buyers are more likely to part with their money if they feel emotionally connected to a brand.

But you can’t build an emotional connection if you skimp on the details; the best stories take time to unravel.

Well from one B2B brand to another, we’ve put together a record that - if played in the right order - is sure to hit the right notes. Because at eight memorable tracks, there’s no time for skips - and little room to shuffle.

And, play.

Track 1 - Intro (Your Story)

“Hello, it's me…”

Before trying to identify with customers, it’s important to establish who you are first. What makes you unique and sets you apart from your competitors?

If you're struggling to find an answer, it's likely any story you try and tell will fall on deaf ears. Ensuring you’ve got a unique value proposition (UVP) - a distinct reason for being - should be any B2B brand’s number one priority.

For example, when Figma started in 2016 it was already joining a cluttered market of design tools. But to stand apart from the likes of Sketch and InVision, the brand focused on the collaborative aspect of its product. It now has over four million users and according to the 2018 Design Tools Survey of 2,800 designers, was used more often than InVision for UI design.

Not bad for a startup, eh?

But this focus on collaboration wasn’t just a UVP for Figma; it was their mission to make design accessible to all.

Beyond selling products, Figma’s trying to solve a problem.

Track 2 - What’s the Problem?

All the classic stories revolve around a struggle or some form of conflict. Successful B2B brands are on a mission to succeed in spite of this problem and have the vision to solve it.

If Chris Booker was right in The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, brands have a much better chance of connecting with customers if they adopt one of these classic narratives:

  • Overcoming the monster
  • Rags to riches
  • Rebirth
  • The Quest
  • Voyage and return
  • Romance
  • Comedy

Take LinkedIn for example. The B2B brand is on a quest to “...create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce.”

Sure, it’s a tall order to get there. But by highlighting the problem - global unemployment and job dissatisfaction in this instance - and striving to make things better, the company’s created a premise that any aspiring professional can relate to.

Check out our post From rags to rebirths - seven basic plots in modern brands for some more examples of how these tales are being used.

Sound a bit whimsical? Don’t worry, this is where the data comes in.

Track 3 - Grounded in Reality

Whether we’re conscious of it or not, data plays a big part in selling our stories. It’s our justification for spinning a yarn; evidence that it’s OK we do what we do.

And some B2B brands do it more intensively than others.

Microsoft uses data to drive every aspect of the narrative in its Story Lab series; just take this ‘Microsoft by the Numbers’ article for example.

So, the more evidence the better - right?

Well, not necessarily.

“We’ve been conditioned to believe that the more points of evidence we have, the more likely we are to influence people. Even if we’ve made them up! But while data may be factual and accurate, it’s not necessarily engaging,” said B2B marketing expert Dr Christine Bailey in an interview with InfoQ.

Data makes the most compelling storytelling when it supports a human element. So use your human intuition when handling data.

“I’m sure I’m not the only one who has cursed themselves for blindly following the satnav, even when your intuition knows it’s wrong. Don’t ever blindly follow your data – if it doesn’t appear to make sense, ask more questions,” says Bailey.

Because data often appears black and white. But the most realistic characters in stories? Well, they’re often a deeper shade of grey.

Track 4 - I Can Be Your Hero

Hopefully, rooting around in all that data uncovered some valuable customer insights. What are their pain points and, crucially, how are you going to solve them? It’s important to note because you can’t be something for everyone or you’ll spread yourself too thin.

Instead, take some time to discover your brand character and fill any personality gaps with your core values.
Just remember, not all hero brands wear capes. You could be a strong and silent Gandalf type like Google, helping people with your wisdom. Or you might identify with an everyday hero like Slack instead; one that’s just satisfied when they bring colleagues together.

Whoever you are, it's a valuable exercise for creating a consistent tone and sense of character in your comms and campaigns. And the more consistent you are, the more likely it is you’ll create a story that your customers can believe in.

After all, are you going to be the hero Gotham deserves or the one it needs right now?

Track 5 - What’s the Point?

According to an APAC study by Zeno Group, 96% of the 8,000 respondents surveyed believe brand purpose is important. However, only half believe most brands have a strong purpose.

All customers “...want to see their values reflected in not only the marketing of brands, but the behaviour of brands as well,” said Paul Mottram, regional president at Zeno, to PRWeek.

But haven’t we seen enough greenwashing to feel a bit distrustful of the stories brands are selling? So much so that ‘Purpose’ is starting to feel like a dirty word.

Well, it shouldn’t be.

Because when it comes to storytelling, purpose goes way beyond targeting Gen Z with empty environmental promises. It’s about finding out what’s important to your customers and telling a tale that hits home.
But only if it’s right for your brand.

Take Upwork’s “Hey World” campaign for example. Their audience covers anybody who’s looking for skilled contractors. And what does any good freelance designers know? Their fonts, of course.

In the industry, Comic Sans is almost universally understood to be dated - right? So that’s why it’s the perfect choice for the ad. By using it as the focal point of this lighthearted story, it speaks to almost every professional who’s worried about being left behind.

“Hey World” is a relatable story that gets straight to the point - that’s why it works.

Track 6 - Get Your Story Straight

The difference between telling a compelling tale and a shaggy dog story comes down to whether you’ve considered the two Cs: creativity and consistency.

Unfortunately, getting the two right can feel like a balancing act for B2B brands with complicated or techie products. But you only need to look towards the industry giants to see how it’s done.

Take Google’s comic for example. It enlightens and entertains with its story, whilst never feeling inconsistent with a brand that educates people for its day job.

“This comic was a great piece of content that elaborated on highly complex concepts in simple, accessible terms. Beautifully detailed, perfectly pitched, and addresses all the key questions developers might have about the browser,” said Anu Ramani from Isoline Communications.

So don’t be afraid to get creative. Just make sure the assets you’re using are consistently on-brand.

A Digital Asset Management (DAM) solution like Asset Bank or Dash can help ensure everyone who’s telling your brand story is using the right images, logos and other visuals. Not only does it keep things consistent, taking care of the admin frees up more headspace for the creative side of things.

Cue seamless track transition…

Track 7 - This Was Supposed to Be Fun

For too long, B2B marketers have felt the pressure to educate first - entertain second. But if the examples in this post can teach us anything, it’s that it doesn’t haven’t to be this way.

Despite being incredibly user-friendly, let’s face it, Dropbox isn’t the most exciting product.
However, that didn’t stop them from injecting some fun into their stories. The brand’s “What kind of a marketer are you?” campaign was a 20-page eBook masquerading as a personality test. But it wasn’t just fun for the sake of it; it got results. This clever campaign had:

  • 29:1 return on investment (ROI)
  • 2,207 marketing qualified leads (MQLs)
  • 12 million impressions
  • 36,000 engagements on Twitter alone
  • 68,000 clicks

Ad agency Transmission and Dropbox even won LinkedIn’s 2018 Marketing Award for the “Best Lead Generation (Over 200 Employees)” category for their work

Looking for a little more inspiration? You can find a few more examples of fun B2B campaigns here.
But how did Dropbox achieve such phenomenal results? Simple: by making their users the focus of its story.

Track 8 - It Was Always You

Letting users tell their stories can be a powerful promotional tool for brands. Makes sense when social proof is known to boost conversion rates by up to 15% (FortuneLords).

“Potential customers are more likely to believe what current customers say about your product than what your business says about it,” argues Oliver Bohn for The Drum.

“Case studies, testimonials and reviews are great for sprinkling a little more story onto your selling. Bringing your product or service to life with client stories will show your audience why they need your solution,” she said in ‘Why B2B storytelling matters and how to do it well’.

But don’t stop there. Google’s Small Business series is solely based on user stories. What’s more, Kickstarter’s entire proposition revolves around the idea. With $6,374,535,549 raised and 215,357 successfully funded projects (Kickstarter), it’s now the most successful crowdsourcing platform in the world.

So, what’s the moral of this story? Take a leaf out of Adele’s songbook - and don’t skip any chapters.

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