How to Use the Power of Storytelling in B2B Ads
“Consumers believe stories. Without this belief there is no marketing.”
Bestselling author and marketing expert Seth Godin is on to something. In fact, 92 percent of customers want to read words in the form of a story. And it’s not just their preference — it’s how the human brain is wired.
When customers read data only, the language area of the brain works to decode the meaning. But when you tell a story, everything changes because the parts of the brain that handle language and other important functions light up, as if you’re personally experiencing the event.
This subtle change to storytelling will instantly make your brand more memorable.
But what about B2B advertising? How can you use the power of storytelling to draw in the audience and supercharge engagement? Check out these four examples to inspire your efforts.
Google: Infusing a story with greater emotion
Google struck an emotional chord with their audience when they published the “Reunion” video. Using storytelling, the video highlights the real power of search engines. The clip starts with a man from India who is telling his granddaughter about his closest friend from childhood. He explains that they haven’t seen each other since they were very young, when their country split into two nations and they were forced to leave each other.
The granddaughter is so touched by the story that she immediately turns to Google to located her grandfather’s dear childhood friend in Pakistan. The result is a tear-filled reunion when the two men meet again as adults.
This advertising was widely successful, receiving more than 13 million views to date.
Key takeaway: Powerful stories can show the capabilities of your product without ever directly promoting it. Search for a specific problem that a customer faces and find the emotion associated with that problem. Then put that emotion at the core of your advertising to reap more powerful results.
GE: Leveraging storytelling to expand your reach
Beth Comstock, CMO of GE, said, “Behind every person, behind every company, behind everything, is a story of how it got there — and the most relevant stories connect on a personal level.”
For example, the company created advertising focused on the human experience, linking the concept of a childlike imagination to the innovation of GE products. Check out this clip from their “What My Mom Does at GE” campaign:
The child in the video explains, “My mom makes trains that are friends with trees, a hospital you can hold in your hand, and amazing things that you can print.” It looks at GE’s innovation from the viewpoint of a child, which stirs up emotion and interest from the audience. The video was wildly successful, capturing more than 2 million views to date.
Key takeaway: The trick to using storytelling successfully in B2B advertising is to not always talk directly about your products. Instead, use the power of emotion and storytelling to show what those products can do.
Apple: Making inspiring connections
Known for its creativity and innovation, Apple created a clever campaign titled “Your Verse.” It used storytelling to pay homage to the great poet Walt Whitman and kicked off with a gorgeous new commercial for the iPad Air. The campaign features a compelling voice-over from “Dead Poets Society” about the value of poetry and contributing a verse to the “powerful play” of life.
The advertising, which first premiered during the Sunday NFL games, shows the product enhancing people’s enjoyment of a variety of passions ranging from art to sports to storm chasing — and being used in various environments, including mountaintops and coral beds.
The audio of the commercial says, “But poetry, beauty, romance, love —these are what we stay alive for.”
Key takeaway: Apple shows how technology can change lives using a campaign that’s clear, inspirational, and crafted to leverage the power of storytelling to link creativity to technology.
Boeing: Tapping into employee talent
Boeing infuses storytelling into marketing and advertising by tapping into the predictions of their employees. For example, the company published an article titled “Vacations to Planet Earth” where Boeing engineers weigh in with their travel predictions for the next 100 years. For example, it says:
“One hundred years from now, a family makes vacation plans and takes the kids someplace they’ve never been before — Earth.
“The travelers lock up their residence on their orbiting space colony, built by Boeing, and climb aboard a hypersonic commercial airplane, also produced by Boeing, and fly off to see what those colorful oceans and sprawling continents below look like up close. Sound too far-fetched?”
Key takeaway: Solicit employee insights to make your advertising more interesting. For example, the obvious angle for the above article may be to visit space on a Boeing aircraft, but engineers flipped the obvious to imagine that people are living in space instead. Unexpected turns capture more attention, and those closest to the products and customers help reimagine these advertising stories.
Zendesk: Creating a fictional story
Most marketers know that the stories you tell don’t always need to be real. They can be fictional, based on buyer personas, and told with a specific goal in mind. For example, Zendesk, a provider of customer service software, launched a campaign called “Zendesk Alternative.”
The campaign highlights grungy musicians who are completely fictional. The marketing is designed to be comical, saying that the only “alternative” to Zendesk is a fading rock band. The campaign brought the company increased traffic and engaged its target audience with greater depth — without directly promoting the company’s products.
Strive to design advertising that entertains and appeals to the audience’s playful side while still addressing major pain points.
Key takeaway: Take a trip outside reality when designing your next advertising campaign. Use storytelling to hook the audience and test different approaches to determine which approach works best for your brand.
4 Critical Pieces of a Great Story: Unraveling the Details
Telling a story that drives your audience to action is like baking a cake. When you leave out an important ingredient, the cake may fail to rise into a delicious finished product. The recipe for storytelling starts with four critical elements. Integrate these ingredients into your next story to instantly make it more engaging and compelling.
- First, find your hero. All great stories start with a hero. Old Yeller is about a 14-year-old boy named Travis. The Great Gatsby is about a young man named Nick who serves as a confidant for those with troubling secrets. Every story needs a truly great hero, but who is the hero in your B2B story? The answer is simple: It’s the customer. Put your customer at the center of every story.
- Find your customer’s problem. All great stories showcase problems. Marketers are great at this point. They know how to identify a pain point like nobody else. But when you’re telling a story, you also need to understand the customer’s goal. For example, let’s say the customer manages several social media channels, but the process is so time-consuming that a more efficient solution is required. Understand where your customer is today and where they want to be in the future, and then integrate these details into the story.
- Illustrate the conflict. All great stories have a conflict. For Snow White, it was the fact that her stepmother was jealous of her and wanted to do away with her young rival. For your story, it’s what makes your business a necessity in the customer’s life. It’s also what stands between your customer and accomplishing their goal. Illustrate the conflict and show the customer how they can overcome it.
- Provide a mentor. All great stories also have an amazing mentor for their stars. The Karate Kid had Mr. Miyagi, Luke Skywalker had Yoda the Jedi master, and Marty McFly had “Doc” Emmett Brown (in Back to the Future). So who is the best mentor in your next advertising story? The answer is always the same: It’s you. Your business can “rescue” the hero from whatever problem he or she faces.
Multiplying the impact of advertising
Using the power of storytelling is not about creating just any story for the customer. It’s also about getting to the heart of what is the right story. Savvy marketers understand their customers, as well as their customers’ problems and pain points, but now they must find that story that hits home.
Then, the product and its solution need to be gently weaved into the background as the story shifts from being product-focused to customer-focused. Because when the customer is the star of the story and you step into a mentor role, the results are instantly better.