You’ve heard it before.
Always. Be. Selling.
It’s the great sales acronym of the age. We at PureB2B would beg to differ. For us, the acronym is still ABS, but here we’re trying to change its meaning.
Now it stands for Always. Be. Storytelling.
Storytelling in sales and marketing is nothing new, but the need to put it at the heart of your efforts has never been more apparent. There is more data, more charts, more graphs, more arguments and fact sheets circulating the Internet than ever before and that number is rocketing higher at a depressing rate.
So the question facing you now is not how can I create content?
It is now, if I create content will anyone even see it?
No, seriously, if you create content that everyone else has made over and over again then no one will ever see it. The truth is that fact sheets, product descriptions, vendor checklists, demos and hyperbolic statements might have their place, but in order to woo customers, companies will ultimately have to come to rely on story.
We know you’ve heard it all before, content marketing has absolutely taken over the entire Internet and content marketing informs us all ad nauseum that telling stories is a good thing. This is true. The one thing that many people aren’t talking about is how to tell those stories well.
Story is hard. Story is complicated. Story is messy. Great stories are not something that can be undertaken lightly.
So how do you tell a compelling story?
In Hollywood, when anyone sits down to write a screenplay, they ask three simple questions. Who is my hero? What does she want? What is keeping her from getting it?
In three acts, the protagonist goes from zero to hero and audiences everywhere thrill to see her act, grow and change over time. They identify with her weaknesses and aspire to her strengths. The audience invests in the hero and if the story is good enough, they are completely swept away. They grow and learn with the hero and in a really great film, come away changed.
So how is this accomplished?
In a word: structure.
The story may (or many not) feel very organic, one scene flowing into another, but underneath all the dialogue, moving moments, action hits and plot points there is an ironclad structure undergirding the entire story.
The legendary Billy Wilder describes structure as being very simple.
In the first act, you get your hero stuck in a tree. The first act describes the setting. It sets the tone for the rest of the story and introduces the world and the characters. (Set the scene. This is before the problems start).
In the second act, it starts to rain. The tree catches on fire due to the sudden lightning storm and then someone starts to throw rocks at your hero. (You engage your problem and escalate the conflict).
In act three, you get your hero down from the tree. (You solve the problem and the hero rides off into the sunset).
So who is your hero? Believe it or not, your hero is your customer, not you. What does your customer want? And how can you help them achieve it?
Simple, right? Well, sort of. Take a look at any recent Hollywood flop and you’ll realize that getting the story right is harder than it looks. So, if Hollywood, those masters of storytelling can’t always get it right, what does that mean for we mere mortals?
Don’t worry; we’re all better storytellers than we think.
Story is all around us. We tell ourselves a story to get ourselves out of bed. We tell ourselves stories as we nervously walk up to the restaurant for our blind date. We tell ourselves stories as we tuck our children into their beds for the night. What will their future hold?
We tell ourselves these stories.
The same is true in business. When we consider a new product or partner we are always seeking, testing, evaluating and matching up our stories to theirs. Are we a good fit? Can this product truly help me? Will they answer my calls if I have a problem? How will this affect my company in the long run?
We tell ourselves these stories.
Customers are the heroes of their own story. They have a problem and they’re seeking a way to overcome it. This is where your product, your content and most of all, your story comes in. You need to take a step back from framing your content as the hero and recast it as the plucky best friend. Your goal must be to insert your brand into your customer’s story as a supporting character, willing to do anything to help them overcome any and all obstacles or antagonists that come against them.
You must find a way to insert this supporting act sub-plot into whatever kind of content you’re creating. Not only that, but you can use the fantastic tools available to you through our brave new digital world and get social, start blogging, hop on Instagram and Facebook and start telling people the story of your brand.
But, you might say, my brand is boring. We’re a business-to-business company; we have no story to tell.
Not so, my friend.
Tell people where you’re coming from and where you’re going. Tell the story of an average day in the office. Tell stories about your employees. Tell stories about your customers. Allow your employees to tell their own wacky stories. (Wistia is especially good at doing this with their Non Sequitur Fridays series written by employees from all levels of the company). Share your triumphs as well as your failures. Be genuinely genuine. In other words, be awesome.
Tell your story.
Story is powerful. It is one of the only mediums that can break down our very human resistance to change. A story can change a mind when even data fails to make an impact.
So the next time you sit down to write your next twitter post, fact sheet or Instagram caption, remember to stop and ask, “What kind of story am I telling here? Does it fit into our larger goal? What act does this fall in? Did I leave the oven on this morning?” Oh, wait… maybe that’s just us…
Here at PureB2B we’re working on a Triple H operational theory; we strive to be human, helpful and humorous in all of our interactions. That’s our story and we’re sticking to it.
What’s your story?