A fav client of ours asked me to review a pitch recently because they wanted to try out some brand spanking new B2B Brand Storytelling.
They’re a big digital agency that builds and maintains websites you know and use frequently. But they’re behind the scenes, mostly handling site mechanics. Not a natural brand storyteller among them.
So, obvs, I’ve been super excited to work with them because when folks that data-driven decide they have to start engaging in B2B brand storytelling, you know that the work is really starting to seep into the world’s collective consciousness.
Now, straight up, I have to say, it’s not easy to make a shift from pushing messages at people to engaging them in a way where they come to the conclusions you want them to.
Don’t get me wrong. B2B brand storytelling is a way more effective and easier method of communicating — once you get going.
But making the switch is tough.
And the pitch showed just how tough that switch can be. It led with a story about the sales lead having a conversation with his aunt and explaining the concept of e-commerce to her.
Okay. Not really a story, but that aside, a cute enough anecdote in and of itself. Except THEIR clients are some of the biggest players in the e-commerce space. If THEY don’t have an understanding of what e-commerce is, we’re all hooped.
It reminded me, though, of a few good things I want to share with you to remember as you think through using stories to engage your customers as you embark on your B2B brand storytelling journey.
Your first stories will stink:
Chances are, they’ll ramble on, be somewhat pointless, and have little relevance to the people you’re talking to.
That’s okay. It’s like almost everything public-facing you’ve ever done. The first time won’t be your best. Nor should it be. You will grow into your stories and find more confidence in telling them.
Think back to your first speech. Or your first presentation. Or your first interview. You know how far you’ve come. You may be brilliant and everything you do now, but if stories are new to you, you might not be brilliant to start. It will come. I promise.
But just because you’re not brilliant now, that doesn’t mean you should hide them away until they’re perfect. In fact.
Tell them anyway:
The only way you’re going to know if and how stories work is to start telling them. The sooner you start trying them out, the faster you’ll get better at it.
You’ll quickly get a sense of what resonates and what doesn’t. If it’s working, you’ll feel people breathing to your rhythm. If it’s not working, you’ll also know. The people you’re talking to will change the subject, interrupt or otherwise extricate themselves from the conversation if they can.
So how do you start to tell stories that matter?
Start with the end in mind:
Telling stories isn’t an end in and of itself. Stories are a tool you use in your B2B brand storytelling toolbox to achieve a certain goal. You might share a story to show values alignment, or to brighten the dark path they’re on, or to simply build rapport and trust.
Whatever your goal is, know what you want coming out of your meeting — and know why you plan on telling the stories you want to tell.
Know your audience:
If a story doesn’t have relevance to that audience, don’t tell it. I don’t care how well it played on your mom or anyone else, it has to make sense for the person you’re talking to now.
Good stories aren’t one size fits all. In fact, the same story can be told a few different ways to illuminate completely different points even. You might leave out certain details for one audience and really focus on certain elements for another.
They’re all true; it’s just ensuring relevance for the people you’re sharing them with. And some stories just don’t have any relevance whatsoever to your crowd.
It’s not about you:
I know we all want people to like us and we have certain things we want people to know about us or our brand. All in good time. People can tell when you have an ulterior motive or their interests don’t come first, so really try and think of how you can use a story to add value to the person you’re talking to.
Build a Brand Story Bible:
You are a wealth of stories, some of which you’ve forgotten. Spend some time thinking about your stories. Get curious about your own life, career and brand. Jot things down that are inspiring, and, even more important, humbling.
Honestly, people learn more about you through your failures than from your success. People trust people who will talk about what went wrong more than someone who constantly has to put themselves in a good light.
We advocate creating your Brand Story Bible — a spreadsheet of links to written or video versions of all of your stories, including who can tell them, what they illustrate, and even where you told them last so you don’t end up being that guy who tells the same story at every event.
Learning how to tell stories while in all kinds of social and professional circumstances is an essential piece of B2B Brand Storytelling. In B2B, relationships can last for years, even decades.
Stories can jumpstart those relationships — but only if you tell them!