ITL #200 Untapped potential: Tell me a good story and I shall listen

3 years, 7 months ago


Many B2B businesses ignore the power of storytelling in the mistaken belief that emotionally driven brand communication belongs only in the B2C realm. By Camilla Lercke.

There is an untapped potential for B2B businesses in storytelling. A good story simply triggers our curiosity and stimulates the need in all of us to identify and relate. That is why it feels so good binge-watching Games of Thrones or staying awake a little too late to read just one more chapter of a book.


That is what stories do to us. Storytelling is one of the most powerful ways to breathe life into your brand and your organizational communication. By giving your products and services an identity and by capturing and sharing stories, you can take your audience on a journey they long to experience. A compelling story can also change the way we think, feel, talk and act towards a brand.


So it should be old news, right?


Yet, in a B2B context too many marketing and communication professionals have turned their back on this powerful discipline cultured by our ancestors for centuries.  


There has been a prominent belief that emotionally driven brand communication belongs in B2C where consumers are actively looking to establish emotional connections with a brand.  But no one is immune to the power of a good story!


Strategy talk and statistics appeal to the intellect, but people aren’t inspired by reason alone. The people trading goods from B2B companies or looking for new career opportunities also make decisions based on their emotions and the attributes they ascribe to a brand. So it’s time to dust off the old way of thinking and realize that today there is no longer such a thing as B2C or B2B communications – there is only BUSINESS TO HUMAN.


Finding that purposeful narrative


When brands are to successfully use storytelling the momentous part comes down to defining your storyline. Finding that purposeful narrative that will draw your audiences to engage with your brand and vouch for your products. It requires organizations to look into their DNA and ask; why are we here? And what problem are we solving?


The answer to this is your story: that one, overarching narrative that will differentiate your business and glue it all together. From there it takes smart execution and a deep understanding of how to anchor your storytelling in the digital age, where branding is truly interdisciplinary and where seamless omni-channel interaction is expected by your stakeholders.


If you decide to set out on a corporate storytelling journey your mantra must be to tell a creative, inspirational and – most importantly – an authentic story. If the latter is not met, it will seem like another pile of corporate propaganda, and won’t resonate with any of your stakeholders.


Humanize your brand


I work with corporate branding and media relations at Chr. Hansen, a global bioscience company that delivers natural ingredients to the food, health and agricultural industries. Recently, we have been through the storytelling exercise ourselves. The project offered excitement, frustration, doubt and conflict before the tension was finally solved as our story suddenly became clear to everyone. In fact, one of the best learnings was to see the passion that everyone involved felt when discussing our raison d’être – our purpose.  


Because it wasn’t about inventing a new story. It was about uncovering the tacit assets of the organization; explaining the very reason why we are in business, and how our products and services are actually filled with great stories permeated with passion.


To us, our shared story is not just about selling more and better ingredients; it is to share the passion behind who we are, how we work and what motivates our employees to make a difference. Passion appeared to be that fifth element for us, which can fill out the intersection between our brand and our products, and which allow us to connect them on a human level.  


Give away control and embrace yours co-authors


Being able to deploy a one-voice narrative across all channels and towards different audiences will be the acid test that reveals the true strength of a story. In the digital age we can no longer separate corporate branding from employer branding, nor can we control if an investor or journalist comes across a message that was meant for a customer. The traditional communication disciplines are now intertwined and multifaceted, and impossible to manage separately.


Corporate communicators must see themselves as facilitators of the brand narrative rather than dictators of corporate messaging. With social media as an integral part of the media landscape, companies need to give away power and embrace the reality that today and in the future our stories are (also) being told by employees and customers. As corporates we can only engrave our narrative to a certain extent – our stakeholders have become our co-authors.


What hasn’t changed in our role as communicators is to simplify the complex. Stories make it possible for us to keep it simple, and by all means please do if you want your story to spread and live on. Always remember that what gets remembered gets repeated, and what gets repeated gets reinforced.


Storytelling through ambassadors: To trust and earn trust

A recent survey by Nielson shows that traditional advertising is eroding and that only 33% of consumers said they trust paid advertisements, while 92% trust peer recommendations. Getting employees to spread the word on social media, in their social circles or professional networks is the key to build trust around your corporate storytelling.

Successfully mobilizing employees as brand ambassadors can provide credible, trustworthy promotion and visibility to a brand. We know that consumers are 70% more likely to trust a post shared by a personal connection compared to content posted by corporates. This is simply because we trust the messenger. So in the lens of storytelling, there is an enormous potential for B2B companies to work strategically with ambassadors, as employees can help humanize a brand and build reputation, even very cost effectively.

In sum, B2B audiences also deserve emotionally compelling stories that evoke enjoyment and engagement. Let’s jump on the storytelling bandwagon!

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The Author

Camilla Lercke

Camilla Lercke, Head of Media Relations & Corporate Branding, Chr. Hansen.

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